The Iceman is back! Kimi Raikkonen claimed his first Formula 1 win in five years in a thrilling United States Grand Prix, as Lewis Hamilton’s 2018 title celebrations were delayed despite a Sebastian Vettel spin.
Raikkonen overcame poleman Hamilton at the start and withstood late pressure from Max Verstappen, who started P18, and the Mercedes driver to finally win in his second stint with Ferrari and clinch his first success since the 2013 Australian Grand Prix with Lotus.
Second position would have given Hamilton the title and he went wheel-to-wheel with Verstappen with three laps to go, but could not make it stick, eventually running off-track at Turn 18.
Vettel’s fourth position, having passed Valtteri Bottas late on in his recovery drive, means Hamilton leads by 69 points with 75 on offer in the final three Grands Prix.
Hamilton went into the Austin race needing to outscore Vettel by eight points to clinch a fifth championship.
He erred at the start as Raikkonen muscled past on the inside into Turn 1, but half a lap later the pendulum swung in Hamilton’s favour when Vettel spun to P15.
Vettel breezed past Daniel Ricciardo down the back straight but made a small mistake under braking for the next corner and Ricciardo cut back on the exit of the tight left-hander.
That gave Vettel the inside for the next right-hander, but the German had a small wobble, bumped into the Red Bull and ended up facing the wrong way.
Raikkonen kept Hamilton at bay until an early virtual safety car led to Ferrari and Mercedes adopting different strategies.
With the race neutralised as marshals tended to Ricciardo’s stricken Red Bull, which had stopped on the exit of the Turn 11 hairpin, Mercedes told Hamilton to do the opposite to Raikkonen under the virtual safety car and so he dived into the pits, committing to a two-stop strategy.
Hamilton resumed in third place, just nine seconds behind The Iceman, and within three laps had taken second from team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who slowed down on the start-finish straight to let him by.
By lap 18 of 56 Hamilton was already on the back of Raikkonen again but Raikkonen somehow resisted three laps of relentless Hamilton pressure before pitting – which proved crucial later on.
Vettel stayed out until lap 26, ceding places to Raikkonen and Verstappen – who had charged through the field in a stunning first stint on softs – as he struggled with fading tyres.
Raikkonen’s task was to stay within one pitstop – roughly 20 seconds – of Hamilton, while Vettel began to catch Bottas for fourth.
Hamilton’s 18-second lead was gradually eroded by Raikkonen and as the Mercedes’ ageing softs worsened, third-place man Verstappen and Bottas comfortably got inside Hamilton’s pitstop window.
He stopped on lap 37, which handed Raikkonen a 2.5-second lead over Verstappen, with Bottas 6.5 seconds further back and Hamilton fourth, 12 seconds behind the lead Ferrari and 4.1 seconds clear of Vettel.
Armed with fresh softs, Hamilton raced onto the back of his team-mate and was let through within two laps.
That put Hamilton third, 8.8s off the lead, but with Vettel stuck in fifth Hamilton only needed to pass Verstappen – 6.7 seconds ahead with 15 laps to go – to secure the championship.
He closed onto the back of Verstappen with seven laps to go, but was not able to make a pass as their battle culminated in an epic run of four corners side-by-side.
Hamilton ran wide as he finally attempted to pass Verstappen on the outside of the fast double-right near the end of the lap.
Moments later, Vettel passed Bottas at the hairpin to lose only two points to Hamilton as the title fight continues.
Behind the leaders, Renault received a late boost in its quest for fourth in the constructors’ championship as Nico Hulkenberg led home team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr for a best-of-the-rest one-two.
Esteban Ocon, Kevin Magnussen and Ocon’s team-mate Sergio Perez completed the points finishers.
There were four retirees from the race.
Long before Ricciardo ground to a halt in his Red Bull, Fernando Alonso and Romain Grosjean had their races ruined on the opening lap.
Alonso stopped in the pits after being wiped out by Lance Stroll on the entry to the esses, while Grosjean locked up and clattered into Charles Leclerc’s Sauber at the tight left-hander at the end of the back straight.
Stroll was given a drivethrough penalty for spinning Alonso, while Grosjean’s incident – which sent Leclerc, who eventually retired much later, to the back of the pack – will be investigated after the race.
Grosjean faces an automatic one-race ban if the stewards award him three licence penalty points, having already picked up nine in the last 12 months.
So congratulations to Kimi Raikkonen. Finally a race victory to the most popular driver on the Formula 1 grid. This achievement is sweet as this is the last chance for The Iceman to taste the winning champagne following the news to switch from Ferrari to Sauber next season. Enjoy this moment.
As for Lewis Hamilton, this was a tense race and that fifth championship will have to wait until Mexico. Roll on the next Grand Prix.
United States Grand Prix, race results after 56 laps:
1 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1h34m18.643s
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 1.281s
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 2.342s
4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 18.222s
5 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 24.744s
6 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m27.210s
7 Carlos Sainz Renault 1m34.994s
8 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 1m39.288s
9 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m40.657s
10 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1m41.080s
11 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Honda 1 Lap
12 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1 Lap
13 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren/Renault 1 Lap
14 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 1 Lap
15 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 1 Lap
16 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 2 Laps
– Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari Retirement
– Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault Retirement
– Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari Collision
– Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault Collision
1 Lewis Hamilton 346
2 Sebastian Vettel 276
3 Kimi Raikkonen 221
4 Valtteri Bottas 217
5 Max Verstappen 191
6 Daniel Ricciardo 146
7 Nico Hulkenberg 61
8 Kevin Magnussen 55
9 Sergio Perez 54
10 Esteban Ocon 53
11 Fernando Alonso 50
12 Carlos Sainz 45
13 Romain Grosjean 31
14 Pierre Gasly 28
15 Charles Leclerc 21
16 Stoffel Vandoorne 8
17 Lance Stroll 6
18 Marcus Ericsson 6
19 Brendon Hartley 2
20 Sergey Sirotkin 1
1 Mercedes 563
2 Ferrari 497
3 Red Bull-Renault 337
4 Renault 106
5 Haas-Ferrari 86
6 McLaren-Renault 58
7 Force India-Mercedes 48
8 Toro Rosso-Honda 30
9 Sauber-Ferrari 27
10 Williams-Mercedes 7