Austin, Texas (AP) — The fastest man on four wheels stood on the U.S. Grand Prix podium with the fastest man on two feet.
Together, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton and retired sprinter Usain Bolt struck Bolt’s familiar “To the World” pose, their fingers pointing to the sky and perhaps the way toward another Hamilton Formula One championship.
Hamilton tightened his control on the F1 season title by winning the U.S. Grand Prix on Sunday ahead of title rival Sebastian Vettel, who finished second in a race he said he had to win.
It was Hamilton’s fourth consecutive win at the Circuit of the Americas and fifth since 2012. His ninth win of the season also opened a 66-point lead on Vettel with three races left. While mathematically still possible, Vettel’s title hopes are nearly wiped out as the series heads next week to Mexico City, where Hamilton won last year.
“I think this is my favorite track now,” Hamilton said after another dominant performance in Texas.
Hamilton is on a late-season charge toward a championship that would further define his legacy in the sport. Formula One’s first and only black driver could join Vettel as a four-time season champion. Only Germany’s Michael Schumacher (7) and Argentina’s Juan Manuel Fangio (5) have won more.
“I don’t let my mind go there,” Hamilton said. “Three races to go, three races to win.
Vettel seemed resigned to the reality that his title hopes collapsed with his second-place finish.
“It wasn’t our race to win,” Vettel said. “We tried to fight. We got beaten fair and square.”
Vettel had pushed hard for the win and surprised Hamilton when he grabbed the lead out of a fast start, but the Mercedes reeled in the Ferrari just a few laps later.
Vettel bolted off the line and Hamilton moved left to try to squeeze Vettel into the inside of the first turn. The German held his ground, cut through the corner and tucked the nose of his Ferrari in front as the cars did the slingshot left turn back down the 130-foot elevation,
Vettel’s advantage was quickly swallowed up by the power that Hamilton’s Mercedes had shown all week. Hamilton caught Vettel on lap six and passed him heading into the turn at the end of the circuit’s long straight. It was the same move on the same turn Hamilton used to pass Vettel to win the race in 2012.
“Sebastian had a great start. I was kind of chill about it because I knew from the past you can overtake here,” Hamilton said. “I was a bit surprised Sebastian didn’t defend more.”
The duel was briefly engaged again on lap 20. Hamilton pitted for fresh tires and emerged only a split second ahead of Vettel, who had already stopped. Vettel missed his chance at the lead when he ran wide on a turn — the same spot where he spun into the gravel on Friday — as Hamilton was leaving his garage.
The moment missed, Hamilton gave him no chance for another one. Vettel then found himself fighting just to hold on long enough to extend the championship for another week.
Anything lower than fifth place would have handed the title to Hamilton, and Vettel dropped as low as fourth. A late charge by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen forced Vettel to make a second tire change and he powered back to toward the front.
“Not the result we wanted,” Vettel said. “There was no real secret other than they were quicker than us. Those who are fastest have a good chance of winning.”
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen finished third after Verstappen was penalized 5 seconds when race officials determined he left the track and gained an unfair advantage in passing Raikkonen on the final lap.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo saw his run of three straight podium finishes and four in the previous five races end when engine failure ended his race on lap 16.Carlos Sainz’ finished seventh in his first race with Renault after switching from Toro Rosso.
Hamilton’s win and teammate Valtteri Bottas’ fifth-place finish secured Mercedes’ fourth consecutive constructor’s championship.