HOT DANG! Now that’s what I call a doggone race! The fat lady may have stopped short of singing, but the race sure did hit the high notes. Many expected Lewis to cruise to a win and his fifth world championship. But a couple of hungry hounds spoiled his party – for another week at least. Those same cheeky pooches were collar to collar for this week’s Top Dog prize too. So who shone brightest in the Lone Star State? Which mutt had the best mota round COTA? I can neowwwww reveal this week’s top diggity dog is…

…Kimi Raikkonen 

Admit it. You thought it was Max, didn’t you? God knows I was tempted. He drove an absolute belter of a race – beyond sublime – and took no prisoners as he scythed his way through the field from P18 to a phenomenal second place. Those nail biting few corners battling with Lewis had me leaping off the sofa yelling at the telly. Yes, Max put on another awesome show worthy of a 4th Top Dog prize on the bounce. But the little tyke needs to learn to share his toys. And I’m chuffed to ****ing finally be able to tickle the tummy of everyone’s favourite Finn.

Actually, truth be told, I’m not a huge fan of our Kimi. (WHAT?!! Unfollow that bitch!) Back in the day, I admired his lack of ‘give a shit’ as much as the next guy. He’s fast. He’s no frills. He’s a world champion. That’s all a driver needs to be, yeah? Sure, up to a point. But when people say he’s ‘mercurial, straight-talking and quirky’, I think ‘awkward, monosyllabic and tiresome.’ I’ve long thought Kimi should call time on his second F1 stint and lead his prancing horse off to the knacker’s yard! He’s lost his edge and is taking up a valuable seat. Of course, Kimi would say ‘bwoah’ to all that. F1 is not a popularity contest. He’d rather do his talking on the track. And in Austin, he did precisely that and I genuinely couldn’t be happier for him.

7: Deadly Finn

How exactly did the Ice Man melt my heart? Well, he got the jump on Lewis right off the bat. It was a text book start, the Finn edging ahead of Hamilton on the uphill run to Turn 1. He kept his car nice and wide through the first few corners to hold the lead. P1, first base.

Kimi soon settled into a rhythm. He was comfortable up front, maxing out his ultrasoft tyres and banging in consecutive fastest laps. He wasn’t phased by Mercedes bringing Lewis in for a super early pitstop. I loved his cheeky little ‘dummy’ towards the pit lane as Hamilton swerved in towards the garages. Hang on! Was Kimi actually, you know, having fun out there?! It certainly seemed like it.

Things got interesting as Hamilton took chunks out of Raikkonen’s lead over the next 10 laps. Kimi’s tyres were losing grip, but he’d done a brilliant job to make them last for as long as he did. By Lap 20, Lewis was all over the Ferrari’s rear wing and was soon attempting a lunge. Kimi defended like a dream. Tough but fair. Determined yet respectful. I grinned from ear to ear watching these two world champs duelling like a couple of Texan cowboys. I was disappointed when the fun was cut short by Kimi coming in for his sole stop. Who would win out in the pitstop strategy stakes? Raikkonen had made it to second base, but there was still a long fight ahead.

Grandstand Finnish

It was anyone’s game at the halfway point. When I say anyone, I mean Kimi, Max or Lewis. Poor old Seb was in the wars again after an early skirmish with Ricciardo. The German spun like a hog roast on a spit and dropped to P13 on the opening lap. He did well to finish P4 and keep his minuscule championship hopes alive for another day.

By contrast, Kimi hadn’t put a foot wrong all race, even when the pressure was piling on. He was P5 after his stop but was gifted a free pass on his team mate ahead. (Typical radio gold from the Kimster ‘is he letting me past or what?!’) With Verstappen and Bottas out the way by Lap 23, it looked like being Kimi vs Lewis for the victory. Hamilton needed to pull out a pit stop sized gap, but Raikkonen had the bit between his teeth. Head down, foot to the floor, he put in several fastest laps and kept the pressure on until the gap began to come down. And down again. Lewis’s tyres were done and he couldn’t get away. Max was also on a charge so Hamilton had no option but to stop again and leave the other wagons circling. Up front, Ferrari had hitched their red wagon to their star pitcher – and he was about to hit a home run.

The last dozen laps were superb – F1 at its nail biting best. Kimi was relishing being up front but Verstappen and Hamilton were nibbling away at his lead on every lap. Bar the occasional sweary ‘blue flag’ radio call, Kimi kept his cool as he negotiated traffic. There were lots of variables at play between the top three. Calm heads were required and Kimi was looking strong. At this point, I was willing him to victory but I was chuffed to bits he was made to fight for it. It’s rare to see cars in such close contention in the final stages of a race. I squealed as the gaps got visibly smaller each time around. With three laps remaining, they were all within DRS of each other – and all in the same camera shot too. Wow! As Max and Lewis battled it out at the last chance saloon, Kimi kept it all together – on older tyres too – to take his first victory since Melbourne 2013. Knocked it out the park!

And so, after Austin, I find myself using new words to describe Mr Raikkonen. Steadfast. Smart. Flawless. Oh, and still funny as he deadpanned to Lewis in the podium room ‘did you win the championship or not?’ Great job all round Kimi and thoroughly deserving of this week’s Top Dog. Give that man a vodka!

Off we go down Mexico way for more fun and games. This is where Lewis clinched it last year. Will he do the same in 2018? Everyone at Badger will be watching. Make sure you do to.