Daniel Ricciardo lined his Infiniti Red Bull Racing chassis in third ahead of teammate Daniil Kvyat, both drivers having moved up a place because Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel took a ten-spot grid penalty for using a fifth engine and dropped to 13th. Continuing the two-up theme, Sergio Perez and Nico Hülkenberg were fifth and sixth for Force India. After that came variety: Felipe Massa in seventh for Williams, Max Verstappen for Toro Rosso in eighth, Fernando Alonso looking good in the rain for McLaren in ninth, and Romain Grosjean for Lotus in tenth.
When the lights went out, Turn 1 set the tone. Pole position is on the outside line at Circuit of the Americas, and Hamilton had got himself far enough under Rosberg by the time the two got up the hill that Rosberg had to stick to the outside through the corner. At the corner exit Hamilton used the entire track, pushing Rosberg wide, their cars touching. As Rosberg left the track and dropped back to fourth, Hamilton radioed to the team to say the contact was unintentional.
The two Mercedes' and two Red Bulls animated the front. Rosberg passed Ricciardo at the end of a Virtual Safety Car period employed to let the marshals clean the debris at Turn 1. Kvyat started chasing down Hamilton until the Russian ran wide and let Rosberg and Ricciardo through, then Rosberg ran wide on the next lap to let Ricciardo through. On Lap 15, Ricciardo passed Hamilton through the esses to take the lead.
After the first round of pit stops the Aussie still had the lead, followed by Rosberg, Kvyat, Hamilton, and Vettel. Then Rosberg got around to take the lead and Vettel closed in on Hamilton as the Brit duked it out with the Russian. Rosberg showed excellent speed, building up a nine-second gap on Ricciardo, but a Safety Car period erased that when Marcus Ericsson had to park his dead Sauber on the inside of the track after Turn 10. Another round of pit stops saw Hamilton and Vettel get past the Red Bulls, so that on Lap 36 of the 56-lap race the leaders were Rosberg, Hamilton, Vettel, Verstappen, and Ricciardo.
Then Kyvat smacked the barriers after Turn 19 when he put his rear wheels on the astro turf outside the track limits and the car whipped around. That bunched the field up again, so after a host of pit stops the order was still Rosberg leading Hamilton on Lap 48, followed by Vettel, Verstappen, and Fernando Alonso in the McLaren.
On Lap 49, Rosberg ran wide for the second time in the race, gifting Hamilton the lead. The Brit didn't waste it, leading the field for the next seven laps to the checkered flag ahead of his teammate. At the end of the race Rosberg was so miffed about the Turn 1 incident that he wouldn't talk and wouldn't smile, later on saying Hamilton "went too far." But seeing that Rosberg was leading the race seven laps from the end, we think the race was still his to lose.
Vettel came third, a position he had to earn by getting around Verstappen on Lap 47, the Ferrari and the Toro Rosso swapping places through a few corners before Vettel finally made the move stick. The top three gave us a familiar order at the finish, but Verstappen's fourth place was an excellent show of the young Dutchman's abilities.
Consistent but ultimately not a factor in the race, Sergio Perez scored fifth, another top finish for Force India after Hulkenberg crashed out when a front wing failure led to a collision with Ricciardo. There'll be even more good vibes at McLaren after Jenson Button took advantage of the conditions, his skill in the wet, and the copious retirements to finish seventh despite using the non-upgraded Honda power unit (after a promotion he made the final classification in sixth). McLaren might have done better if Alonso, who was in fifth place on Lap 49, hadn't begun to suffer from a loss of power in his upgraded Honda power unit that dropped him out of the points.
Carlos Sainz turned in a fantastic drive to finish seventh. The Spaniard had a huge wreck in the first qualifying session and so had to start from the back of the grid, by Lap 5 he was tenth and he kept everything rolling the right way until the end. He crossed the finish line in sixth but took a five-second penalty for speeding in the pit lane, hence Button's promotion. Pastor Maldonado took the flag in eighth for Lotus, Felipe Nasr behind him in ninth for Sauber. Daniel Ricciardo, after a great early stint, got the day's final point for tenth.
We thought this was a great race - it had conditions that were just variable enough to reduce gaps in the field, dry enough for slicks but still so wet that it encouraged all kinds of passing. The conditions rewarded the driver who could get closest to the slippery edge ,and immediately punished any loss of concentration. Of the 20 starters only 12 finished, with American driver Alexander Rossi putting in a good drive for Manor Marussia to finish in that last spot on the same lap as the leaders. Did anyone realize that F1 didn't need cost cutting or engine freezes, but just enough water?
Lewis Hamilton needed to beat Rosberg by two points and Vettel by nine in order to decide the Driver's World Championship. Winning the race achieved those two goals, earned him his third World Champion designation, and his 43 wins in total puts him in third place on the all-time wins list, behind Michael Schumacher and Alain Prost. Hamilton becomes the first Briton to win three World Championships since Sir Jackie Stewart in 1973, the first ever back-to-back British World Champion, and the first driver to claim the World Championship at a US race since Niki Lauda did it in 1977 at Watkins Glen.
Even though the season is decided, it isn't finished: the next race is in Mexico next weekend, we'll see you then.