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AUSTIN (Texas): Kimi Raikkonen’s second stint with Ferrari has been long on frustration and short on victories.

That finally changed on Sunday at the US Grand Prix where the Finnish driver earned his first win in five years, while a good enough day from Ferrari and a late block from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen denied Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton a fifth career Formula One championship.

A former world champion with Ferrari, Raikkonen hadn’t won after his return to the team in 2014 while team-mate Sebastian Vettel fought Hamilton for the championship the last two seasons.

Raikkonen’s most previous win had been with Lotus at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in 2013. He’d driven his Ferrari to three second-place finishes this season before Sunday’s victory.

Success finally came with a muscular performance by both driver and car on a day when Hamilton could have clinched the championship with a sixth US Grand Prix in seven years.

Raikkonen seldom cracks a smile or shows much emotion, but he shouted an expletive on the team radio after the final lap. He was then his typical stoic self after a brief victory celebration at the podium.

“It’s nice to win. It doesn’t change my life,” Raikkonen said. “The biggest difference is how people look at you.”

Dutch youngster Verstappen took a surprise second after starting 18th in a thrilling finale as Hamilton finished third with the top three cars running nose-to-tail and separated by just 2.1 seconds at the chequered flag.

Vettel, Hamilton’s only title rival, spun down to 15th on the opening lap but fought back to finish fourth — a result that means the championship remains mathematically open going into Mexico next weekend.

Hamilton now leads Vettel by 70 points and with 75 remaining in the final three races he can clinch his fifth title by finishing seventh in Mexico, if Vettel wins. If Vettel fails to win, Hamilton will be champion.

“Congratulations to Kimi, and great job from Max too. This was the best we could do today, and it was great that we got to do some racing,” said Hamilton who had started on pole position but lost the lead to Raikkonen into the first corner at a sunny Circuit of the Americas.

Hamilton also questioned Mercedes’ two-stop strategy. He changed tyres 11 laps in when the race was under virtual safety car. He had to pit again late and came out fourth, facing a 12-second gap that was too big to close.

“As a team, we clearly struggled,” Hamilton said. “Performance-wise, we were definitely off.”

Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas was fifth ahead of Nico Hulkenberg and his Renault team-mate Carlos Sainz.

Esteban Ocon of Force India came home eighth ahead of Kevin Magnussen of Haas and Sergio Perez in the second Force India.

Published in Dawn, October 23rd, 2018

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