Even when it was all over, the dust had settled, and Kimi Raikkonen had gone off to start celebrating his first win since rejoining Ferrari, Lewis Hamilton preferred to talk about the racing and the problems he’d experienced with his Mercedes in the US GP on Sunday, rather than the fifth world championship which he was not quite able to clinch.
“Honestly, I didn’t give a single thought to the championship over the weekend. I was just here to win the race. I figured if I can do that maybe we’d win the championship, but I only thought of winning the race and there were a lot of things against us today.”
He said that Mercedes’ usual post-race debrief had revealed a lot of things that could have been done better.
“Ferrari have gained some pace, and we had lost some. When we were in those meetings, we all take blame together, and we keep working and keep pushing. The guys do great analysis and we’ll come back stronger at the next race.”
That’s at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City next Sunday, where he clinched his fourth title last year.
“We were not quick enough here in Austin. We were still in a great position so that was frustrating because I want to win the constructors’ title for the team, too. But we had lost performance in some areas, and we think we know what they were.”
He said there were a couple of things, which he wasn’t prepared to disclose, but Mercedes spent race morning reverting to older specification water pumps in their engines after a new one on Valtteri Bottas’ car leaked and Hamilton’s showed imminent signs of a similar problem.
"You saw the car was in a million pieces this morning, so that wasn't ideal for the race. Probably if we hadn't had to have a morning like that, our race outcome would have been a bit different.
"But there was more on top of that, which we've just been talking about, and to how much of an extent that affected us. In the race there was some debris, some damage on the floor, all these different things add up. We lost a couple of tenths with that, though you have to assume everyone else had the same thing.
"We had another problem that we just discovered but we don't know how much time that cost. It was an outlier. We were forced into a two-stop race for certain things we had that weren't ideal with the car, and we didn't know that was going to be the case when we got into the race. If we hadn't had the problem we've had, tyre usage wouldn't have been anywhere near as big an issue as it was."
He suggested that Ferrari had outsmarted Mercedes by not making an early it stop under the virtual safety car on the 11th lap after Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull broke down; Hamilton did and was thus forced into a two-stop strategy when his car began blistering its rear tyres in his second stint in an exact repeat of the problem that had cost Raikkonen victory in Italy and from which he himself had benefited.
He seemed less concerned about backmarkers, behind whom he lost eight seconds between the 30th and 36th laps, than he had been when he yelled over the radio about them ignoring blue warning flags during the race.
“It wasn’t entirely their fault. They’ve got their own race to run, and as soon as you get within five seconds of then you feel their aero wake and your advantage starts to disappear. On this track I couldn’t get closer to them and had to lift off. It’s a fundamental issue in the sport, and there shouldn’t be such a massive difference between the cars. They need to change the rules to get the gaps closer, then people like McLaren and Williams won’t be three seconds off the pace.”
A true racer, he said he loved his wheel-to-wheel run with Max Verstappen, though had he succeeded with the move that he so nearly pulled off on the Dutchman on the 54th of the 56 laps, second place would still not have clinched him the title as arch-rival Sebastian Vettel claimed fourth from Bottas a lap later which would have prevented Hamilton from scoring the eight points he needed over the German to put the championship beyond dispute.
“I really enjoyed the racing and the wheel-to-wheel run with Max. It was exactly what it is like with anyone else, he placed his car the same way anyone else would. He didn’t do anything revolutionary, but it’s probably the closest battle we’ve had. When I was alongside him he was in my blind spot so I didn’t know where he was. Other guys might be prepared to risk it for the biscuit, and part of me wanted to take that risk for the win, but another part of me didn’t want to lose ground because then Seb could have finished third. Had it been Seb and me racing, fighting for the championship, I would have been tighter and more aggressive.”
Heading into the final three races Hamilton holds a 70-point lead over Vettel with 75 up for grabs. Which means he has to finish seventh in just one of them, even if Vettel wins all three, to match Juan Manuel Fangio’s tally of five titles.