AUSTIN -- Lewis Hamilton has one hand on the 2017 world championship trophy after he beat title rival Sebastian Vettel to victory in a compelling U.S. Grand Prix.
The win means he has to finish only fifth or higher next weekend in Mexico to secure the title, while Vettel must finish in the top two to stand any chance of extending his slim title hopes for another round. Hamilton's victory also ensured that Mercedes took the constructors' championship for a fourth consecutive season, a feat that matches Red Bull's period of dominance between 2010 and 2013.
Although his title chances are effectively over, Vettel would not go down without a fight. After starting second on the grid, he wrestled the lead from Hamilton at the start of the race with a bold move on the inside of Turn 1. But the Mercedes proved to be the faster of the two cars around the Circuit of the Americas on Sunday and by lap six, Hamilton reclaimed the lead with an equally decisive move on the inside of Turn 12. In both circumstances, the two championship rivals left each other just enough room to avoid a collision, but Hamilton came out on top, thanks to superior power and grip around the 5.5 km circuit.
Ferrari took another roll of the dice by pitting Vettel for a new set of tyres on lap 17, forcing Mercedes to change its strategy and do the same with Hamilton two laps later. Mercedes' indecisiveness about when to pit was almost punished, as Hamilton emerged from his tyre change just a handful of metres ahead of his title rival. The scarlet Ferrari slewed sideways on the exit of Turn 1 as Vettel mashed the throttle in pursuit of the Mercedes on the approach toward COTA's sweeping esses, but it proved to be in vain, as Hamilton again stretched his lead to more than five seconds over the following 10 laps.
With Vettel's championship hopes visibly slipping from his grasp, Ferrari took one last gamble on lap 39 by pitting car No. 5 for a second time. The tyre change dropped Vettel to fourth but put him on the quicker super-soft tyres, effectively giving Vettel the fastest car on the track at the price of a 25-second deficit to Hamilton. Vettel was able to fight back past Valtteri Bottas for third before his teammate Kimi Raikkonen let him through for second, but Hamilton, who stuck to a one-stop strategy, remained too distant and crossed the line 10 seconds clear of the Ferrari at the finish.
Behind the lead two cars, the race ended with a controversial incident, as Max Verstappen, who started 16th on the grid, swept past Raikkonen for third on the inside of Turn 16. The move looked spectacular through one of COTA's most iconic corners, but Verstappen cut the apex in the process and was immediately hit with a five-second time penalty. That dropped the 20-year-old back behind Raikkonen in the final classification as well as providing a major talking point in the aftermath of the race.
After a race-long struggle for performance, Bottas finished fifth in the second Mercedes -- more than 30 seconds behind his teammate Hamilton. Esteban Ocon took sixth for Force India ahead of Carlos Sainz, who impressed on his Renault debut to beat Sergio Perez's Force India to seventh place. Felipe Massa scored two points for Williams in eighth ahead of Daniil Kvyat, who snatched the final point on offer on his return to the grid with Toro Rosso.
Fernando Alonso and Daniel Ricciardo were both on target to finish in the points before engine issues saw them retire midway through the race.
The next round of the season takes place in Mexico City in a week's time and, barring an issue for car 44, is likely to see Hamilton crowned a four-time world champion.