Lewis Hamilton took a big step towards a second Formula One world championship on Sunday with his 10th win of the season in a U.S. Grand Prix that saw Mercedes equal the record for one-two finishes.
The Briton stretched his lead over team mate Nico Rosberg to 24 points with two races and a maximum of 75 points remaining, a gap that guarantees the title chase will go down to the final round in Abu Dhabi whatever happens in Brazil.
“It’s been an incredible run. This whole season has been incredible really,” said Hamilton after his fifth win in succession.
Rosberg led from pole position but Hamilton saw his chance and grabbed it when the German went wide into turn 12 on the 24th of 56 laps.
Hamilton went through on the inside, forcing his team mate onto the runoff on the exit in an emphatic move that left no room for reply and summed up the confidence and momentum he carried into the race.
“I was quite a bit back but I felt very confident, there was a big headwind into 12, and I just felt like I was waiting for the moment really, to just be just close enough to throw it up the inside,” said Hamilton. “And that’s what I did.”
A dejected Rosberg told former champion Mario Andretti in a podium interview, with a sea of fans spilling onto the track below in the Texas sunshine, that losing again to his team mate “kind of sucks”.
“It took too long for me to find my rhythm. Once Lewis got by I found my rhythm but it was too late,” he said.
The pair finished 4.3 seconds apart to equal McLaren’s 1988 record, set by Alain Prost and the late Ayrton Senna, of 10 one-two finishes in a season — even if there were fewer races back in those days.
Hamilton is only the third driver and first non-German, after Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel, to win 10 races in a single season.
He is the third Briton, after Jim Clark and Nigel Mansell, to win five in a row and is now also his country’s most successful in terms of wins with 32.
“It is such a privilege to represent my country and to be top of the drivers’ standings. The car was great today,” said the race winner.
Hamilton’s second victory in Austin came six years to the day since he won his first world title in Brazil in 2008 but he will have to wait until Nov. 23 now to know if he is to be champion again thanks to the novelty of double points for the final race.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo finished third for Red Bull in a result that mathematically ruled him out of a title battle that is now a straight duel between the Mercedes drivers and guarantees their team both titles.
Hamilton has 316 points to Rosberg’s 292.
Behind the top three, Williams pulled further away from Ferrari in the constructors’ championship already won by Mercedes with fourth and fifth places for Brazilian Felipe Massa and Finland’s Valtteri Bottas respectively.
Without a slow pitstop, that allowed Ricciardo to get ahead, Massa might have been on the podium.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was sixth and Red Bull’s Vettel, the quadruple champion and last year’s winner who started from the pit lane due to an engine penalty, took seventh after making up seven places in the last seven laps.
McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen was eighth.
Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne finished ninth for Toro Rosso but was demoted to 10th after a five second penalty was applied for forcing Lotus’s Romain Grosjean off the road.
That elevated Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado to ninth for Lotus, his first points of the season.
Sauber’s hopes of a first point of a nightmare season, after Adrian Sutil had qualified 10th, disappeared when the German was shunted out on the first lap by Force India’s Sergio Perez, who also hit Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari.
The incident, with the wrecked Sauber left stranded and thousands of Mexican fans disappointed to see Perez retire, brought out the safety car for two laps as marshals cleared debris strewn across the track.
It was also an ironic outcome for both, given that much of the build-up had been overshadowed by talk of a possible boycott by Sauber and Force India as a protest against the unequal division of revenues and lack of support.
Only nine teams took part in the race, the lowest number since 2005, due to Caterham and Marussia going into administration.