AUSTIN (AP) – Race by race and point by point, Lewis Hamilton is tightening his grip on the Formula One world championship and squeezing out Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.
But not so far as to eliminate his rival as a title threat. Not yet.
Hamilton won the U.S. Grand Prix on Sunday, moving 24 points clear of Rosberg with just two races left. It was Hamilton’s second win in Texas in three years, his 10th on the season and fifth in a row.
“This whole season has been incredible,” Hamilton said after playfully taking former world champion Mario Andretti’s black Stetson cowboy hat on the winner’s podium. “I pushed as hard as I could.”
Mercedes had another 1-2 finish in a dominating season that has pushed Hamilton and Rosberg well clear of the pack in the title chase. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was third for his eighth podium finish on the season.
Rosberg could still find a way to steal the title from Hamilton. Formula One moves to Brazil next weekend and the final race in Abu Dhabi will be worth double points in a rule change this season.
“Full attack,” Rosberg said. “We’ll try to be on the pole and win (in Brazil). There’s a lot of points to be had.”
Hamilton said aggressive driving got him this far and he won’t try to dial it back over the final two races.
“We’re hunting for those points. So far, I’ve done what I’ve needed to do. I should continue to do the same,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton’s victory also was career win No. 32, which passed Nigel Mansell for the most Formula One victories by a British driver. Hamilton won the world title in 2008 with McLaren.
The Mercedes drivers have waged a season-long duel for the title, a tense back-and-forth that has strained their long friendship, and Sunday’s race was more of the same.
Rosberg started from pole position and Hamilton chased him for 23 laps, steadily keeping up the pressure and slowing gaining on him. Hamilton finally made his move on lap 24, squeezing inside Rosberg’s left on the tight 12th turn out of the long straightaway.
It was the same spot and a similar move to Hamilton’s pass of Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel that propelled him to the victory here in 2012.
“There wasn’t a place in the race where I didn’t think I would catch him,” Hamilton said. “It’s such a great feeling to have a race like that.”
Dropped into second, Rosberg couldn’t keep up and Hamilton put more time between their cars with every lap. Hamilton had the more muscular car through the week’s practice sessions, but lost the pole position because of braking problems that dogged his session.
After taking the lead, Hamilton quickly built a gap of more than 2.5 seconds. Rosberg tried to claw back but didn’t have enough race left to do it. By the final laps, the biggest challenge for Hamilton was not getting caught up or wrecked by other drivers battling for final position.
“I knew there was a chance he would try. I went halfway defensive,” on the pass, Rosberg said. “Later I started to find better rhythm, but it was just way too late.”
Vettel, the defending race and world champion, started from pit lane after incurring a penalty for using his sixth engine of the season. He fought all the way back to finish seventh.
Vettel has been surpassed within Red Bull this season by Ricciardo, who has won three times. Vettel is leaving Red Bull at the end of the season, but has yet to confirm where he’ll drive in 2015.
Ricciardo was pleased to get another podium finish.
“As we know Mercedes is a bit out of reach so third, I think third is the best we could do today,” Ricciardo said.
The race started with just 18 cars, the smallest field in nearly a decade after financial problems forced teams Marussia and Caterham to drop out.
Saturday’s practice and qualifying was dominated by speculation that three more struggling teams, Lotus, Sauber and Sahara Force India, could stage a protest by either boycotting the race or pulling out after one lap. Neither threat materialized.
The race went under safety car on the first lap when Force India’s Sergio Perez collided with Sauber’s Adrian Sutil, knocking both drivers out. The crash was a major blow for Sauber, which hoped to capitalize on Sutil’s first top-10 qualifying position of the season.
“He completely hit me. He ruined the race and I had to stop. My car was completely broken,” Sutil said.
Force India then lost its second car when Nico Hulkenberg retired in the 17th lap.
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