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Kimi Raikkonen’s victory forces Lewis Hamilton to wait for title

AP

Kimi Raikkonen’s second stint with Ferrari has been long on frustration and short on victories.

That finally changed Sunday at the U.S. 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 since returning to the team in 2014 while teammate Sebastian Vettel has fought Hamilton for the championship the last two seasons.

Raikkonen’s most recent 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 U.S. Grand Prix victory 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.”

For Hamilton, a rare defeat in Austin means his fight with Vettel for the championship continues next weekend at the Mexican Grand Prix. Hamilton finished third and Vettel was fourth to extend Hamilton’s championship lead to 70 points with three races left.

Hamilton is trying to match Argentina’s Juan Manuel Fangio, whose five championships in the 1950s rank second in F1 history. Only Germany’s Michael Schumacher has more with seven.

Hamilton could have won the championship Sunday even without a race victory if he’d finished at least eight points ahead of Vettel. The late blocking move by Verstappen and Vettel’s charge past Mercedes’ Vallteri Bottas in the final laps kept the championship alive.

Hamilton said he had to be cautious around Verstappen to avoid a collision.

“Championships are not won by doing silly mistakes. I gave him way too much space just be sure that I didn’t get taken out,” Hamilton said. “The key to me was to make sure I finished ahead of Seb. I don’t care when you win a championship, just that you win.”

Verstappen started 18th after damaging his car in qualifying and worked his way through the field to finish second, his fourth podium finish in six races.

“At that turn, I was pushing as much as I could,” Verstappen said. “I was really hanging on.”

Raikkonen won the season championship with Ferrari in 2008, a title that came down to the last race of the season. He rejoined Ferrari at a time the Italian team was lagging far behind Mercedes.

Raikkonen will be leaving Ferrari to join Sauber after this season, moving from car capable of winning to a team that is rarely competitive. Raikkonen said he has no hard feelings toward Ferrari.

“I’m very happy where I’m going. I won the championship with (Ferrari),” Raikkonen said. “As a driver I want different challenges.”