Circuit of the Americas Hosts Decisive Round of F1 Championship
The Circuit of the Americas in Austin TX hosted the seventeenth of twenty rounds for 2017 Formula One Championship this past weekend. Opened in 2012, the spectacular racing facility is the first venue in the United States built specifically for F1 racing. In previous years, racing's elite world sanctioning body held F1 championship events at Watkins Glen, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the street circuit at Long Beach CA. The 3.4 mile Austin track has been praised for its natural topography and dramatic elevation changes with a steep, uphill run into Turn One. Track builders also used signature corners from other Formula One venues as inspiration for the 20-turn course that runs counter-clockwise.
After early rounds of practice saw annoying bursts of rain that made the slippery surface somewhat unpredictable, Sunday's event was run in stellar weather conditions. Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel entered the weekend with a slim chance of catching championship points leader Lewis Hamilton, who claimed the pole in Saturday's qualifying. Vettel started alongside the Mercedes driver in second position and traded places several times during the opening lap. Once Hamilton reeled in the former world champion, he only relinquished the lead during an early round of pit stops. With three races remaining in the chase for the world title, Hamilton's victory extended his lead to 66 points.
This year's track proved to be extremely race worthy, as several drivers posted spectacular performances on the hot Texas pavement. Most notable, was Red Bull's Max Verstappen. The Belgian-Dutch driver entered the Grand Prix of the Americas having just won the Malaysian Grand Prix on his twentieth birthday. Just another accomplishment in a budding career that includes being the youngest drive to ever compete in F1, the youngest driver to lead, the youngest driver to set fastest lap, the youngest driver to score points, the youngest driver to stand on the podium and youngest winner of a Formula One Grand Prix in history. On this day, Verstappen would start seventeenth due to grid penalities levied for changing power plants.
At the penultimate corner of the last lap, Verstappen caught Vettel's teammate, Kimi Raikkonen. The former world champion was struggling to find traction running on older tires and couldn't defend his position as Verstappen passed the third-place Ferrari driver in a tight corner. While the drivers waited for the podium ceremonies, officials announced a 5-second penalty for Verstappen who had dropped all four wheels off the inside of the track while overtaking Raikkonen. With three races left on the 2017 schedule, teams head south for the Mexican Grand Prix at Autodromo Carlos Pace. Although still mathematically alive, Vettel's chances for a fifth title are "slim to none."