Lewis Hamilton came up short in his mission to win the Formula One world championship for a fifth time after he finished third at a thrilling US Grand Prix.
Hamilton appeared to be handed the title after Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel spun on the opening lap when he banged wheels with Daniel Ricciardo and dropped down the order.
But Hamilton lost track position when Mercedes elected to move him on to a two-stop tyre strategy, to take the chequered flag in third.
Kimi Raikkonen won the grand prix, his first victory in 113 races, ahead of Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, who started 18th.
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 21, 2018
Hamilton is now 70 points ahead of Vettel, who passed Valtteri Bottas to finish fourth in the closing stages, with 75 remaining.
The only lead driver on a two-stop tyre strategy here at the Circuit of the Americas, Hamilton emerged from the pits for a second time 12 seconds behind Raikkonen, and 10 seconds down on Verstappen, with 19 laps remaining.
“We just need everything now,” was the message from Hamilton’s race engineer, Pete Bonnington.
The rampant Briton did precisely that as he delivered fastest lap after fastest lap to reel in both the Ferrari and Red Bull cars. With eight laps to go, the top three were covered by a little more than two seconds.
Hamilton could smell championship glory, and went wheel-to-wheel with Verstappen in a dramatic finale, but the Dutchman held firm to retain the position.
At that stage, second would have been enough for Hamilton to take the championship, but a recovering Vettel fought his way past Bottas, meaning Hamilton would have then required to get past race winner, Raikkonen, too.
The championship battle will now go on to Mexico next Sunday with Hamilton needing to finish only seventh to join Juan Manuel Fangio on a quintet of titles.
“I thought we would have been able to do better today but it was great that we got to do some racing,” Hamilton said.
“I am not sure how the strategy ended up like that. Ferrari picked up their game, and we need to push hard at the next race.”
Hamilton started from pole, but lost the lead to Raikkonen on the long uphill race to the left-handed first corner.
Vettel, starting fifth after he was penalised for failing to slow under red flags in practice, was out of contention for the win after just 13 corners.
He roared past Ricciardo on the back straight, only to go too deep on his brakes, and lose the position.
In a desperate attempt to get back past at the right-handed turn 13, he collided with the Australian and spun round in a plume of tyre smoke, dropping to 15th.
Vettel’s error, his ninth of the year, and second of the weekend, looked to gift-wrap Hamilton the title.
But, on lap 11 and during a Virtual Safety Car period, Mercedes called Hamilton in for tyres, the only front-running driver to do so.
At first, it looked as though it may have been an inspired decision, but it backfired when Hamilton’s rubber ran out of life and he had to stop again.
That dropped him to fourth, and while team-mate Bottas was ordered out of his way, there was nothing Hamilton could do about either Verstappen or Raikkonen.
Raikkonen, who turned 39 last Wednesday, becomes the sport’s eldest winner since Nigel Mansell in 1994.
Raikkonen’s last victory was way back in Melbourne, Australia for Lotus more than five years ago.
“It’s been a great weekend, the Finn said. “It’s been a long time but here we are. It was a good battle and that’s what we all want, the drivers, and the people here.”