In front of him Verstappen overcooked it under pressure from Raikkonen at the chicane and went off, then squeezed the Finn when rejoining, Vettel took advantage to nip round his teammate to take fourth by the end of the first lap.
"I even gave him space but he under-steered into my auto". Vettel finished a distant sixth in the race.
"I knew he had a penalty", insisted Vettel.
"You can turn this whatever way you want, and don't get me down as arrogant, but the gap was there", he said after the race.
Standing over his vehicle, the Briton said: "Austin is usually a good track for us, so I can't wait to unleash this beast there".
F1's points are awarded to the top ten finishers - 25, 18, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, 1 - meaning he effectively needs to out-score Vettel by eight points in Austin to secure the championship.
Although Hamilton has held a championship lead of over 25 points since the German Grand Prix in July, Ferrari's performances around the summer break suggested the title fight was far from over.
Well, it has been quite a few races of Lewis Hamilton.
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"I will not leave Ferrari", Vettel is quoted by Auto Bild.
"But it doesn't help when we finish sixth and they win the race".
But as Vettel was left hopping mad over the tangle with Verstappen that sent his Ferrari spinning off, Hamilton expressed dismay at his rival's nose-diving form. However, Vettel dropped to 18th but wasn't awarded a penalty for the incident by the stewards.
Bottas hadn't demonstrated as much pace as last weekend but was still backing up Hamilton in second.
On one side, reportedly, is team boss Maurizio Arrivabene, and on the other is Mattia Binotto, who is regarded as second in line for the throne. Up until the Singapore Grand Prix in September, Ferrari appeared to have the quicker vehicle and Hamilton took victories against the odds at Hockenheim, the Hungaroring and Monza. Clearly, Ferrari doesn't think so, deciding to keep Vettel for next season and replacing the elder statesman in Kimi Raikkonen with the hugely inexperienced Charles Leclerc.
"We knew we would have a tough battle this year, and you have seen all of the ups and downs, but competition-wise it has been one of the most I have enjoyed in my career".
Verstappen finished third, while Raikkonen fell to fifth and said damage from the collision made his vehicle "far from ideal" afterwards. "But the gap was there - I had more speed, I would have made the corner".
Vettel tried to come back but once again had to move right through the field.
Esteban Ocon finished ninth behind Romain Grosjean of Haas and Renault's Carlos Sainz Jr. beat Pierre Gasly of Torro Rosso to take 10th.