Round 19 - United States 16-18 November 2012
Circuit Length:5.516 km
Pole Position:Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault), 1:35.657 = 207.478 km/h
1st:Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes), 1:35.55.269 (av. race speed = 192.911 km/h)
2nd:Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault), 0.675s behind
3rd:Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), 39.229s behind
Fastest Lap:Vettel, 1:39.347 = 199.772 km/h on lap 56
“THIS WAS WICKED!” AUSTIN IN 10 QUICK BYTES
They do things big in Texas – and now you can add Grand Prix racing to that list. A Sunday crowd of just under 120,000 brought the overall attendance at Austin’s inaugural race to over a quarter of a million and they were treated to a brilliant race on a track that looks set fair to provide Formula 1 with the permanent American home it has been seeking for half a century. It was the 52nd Grand Prix on US soil and the Circuit of The Americas will legitimately expect to stage many more.
The race went to Lewis Hamilton, who produced one of his finest performances to win his fourth race of the season and the 21st of his career. Keen to sign off from McLaren Mercedes with a flourish, and “just having fun” now that he is no longer in the title hunt, Hamilton harried pole-sitter and race leader Sebastian Vettel relentlessly, passing him under DRS at Turn 12 on lap 42 of 56 and winning with six-tenths to spare. Third, but half a minute off the two front-runners’ pace, was Fernando Alonso, who is now 13 points adrift of Vettel as their title showdown goes right to the final race in Brazil next Sunday.
“What made the difference today between Seb and me? I wanted it more, that’s what!” said a jubilant Hamilton, who looked back to his victory five years ago for the same team at Indianapolis. “I won the last United States Grand Prix, in 2007, so, to come back and win it again – in front of such a great crowd – feels very special indeed. There are a couple of Grands Prix that are somehow out on their own: there’s Monaco, Silverstone, Montreal, Spa and Monza. Now you can add this circuit to that list – it’s already one of the best racetracks in the world, maybe even right up there in the top three.” He almost lost his voice on the slow-down lap as he screamed to his crew: “This was my best win, guys – this was wicked!”
Desperate to add victory to pole position in his 100th Grand Prix, Vettel vented his anger against back-marker Narain Karthikeyan when Hamilton caught them both at the end of the long straight, but quickly put things in perspective. “He used his chance well, I tried to cover the inside but he had more speed down the straight,” he said. “I respect the positions; Lewis beat us fair and square.” Vettel’s 18 points leave him firmly in the driving seat for a third title,13 ahead of Alonso with just the Brazilian round to come; they also mean that Red Bull have secured their third successive Constructors’ World Championship.
As a footnote to Vettel’s recent controversial language on the Abu Dhabi podium, the World Champion redeemed himself with a touch of humour on the Austin podium. All three drivers came out with Texas cowboy hats on; when the team PR people handed them their mandatory caps, Vettel promptly parked his hat on the head of Mario Andretti, the 1978 World Champion – and the last man from the USA to win a World Championship Grand Prix.
Red Bull’s constructors’ title happened despite another no-score for Australia’s Mark Webber. He qualified strongly in third place and made a terrific start to pass Hamilton and steal second place on the opening lap. But the McLaren bit back on lap 4 and by quarter-distance Webber’s race was over. Shortly after the team radioed the news that his KERS had failed yet again, Webber pulled off the circuit and parked with alternator failure – the problem that has dogged the team this season. “We had low battery voltage for a few laps before and then I lost gearbox sync and KERS, something was happening on the battery side,” Webber explained. “It’s frustrating as we had a reasonable start to the race and a good fight with Lewis. We had issues to manage, but even when I knew we had them we tried to keep going and get something out of it, but we had to stop.” The worse news is that Hamilton has now leap-frogged Webber into fourth place in the drivers’ standings.
Alonso qualified a lowly ninth, but was promoted to eighth when Romain Grosjean’s gearbox change dropped the Lotus driver five places. That put Alonso on the dirty side of the track. Half an hour before race start came the news that Felipe Massa’s Ferrari had one of its engine seals broken and that the Brazilian too would drop five places – conveniently shifting Alonso to the clean side. He made his trademark blistering start, but simply did not have the pace to catch the two ahead of him at the end. “It was an unexpected podium which came at the end of a difficult weekend,” said the Spaniard. “We did not have the pace to match Red Bull and McLaren, so to only lose three points to Vettel is in fact a nice present.”
With Massa coming through to a fine fourth place, Jenson Button brought the second McLaren into fifth. He started 12th after a throttle pedal problem in Q2, dropped to 15th but fought strongly – including a hairy moment when Michel Schumacher squeezed him hard to the left on the approach to Turn 1 on lap 10. “It was great to race in front of so many fantastically enthusiastic American fans – they looked like they really enjoyed themselves,” said Button, now just four points behind Webber. “Before we arrived here, we knew we were going to have to put on a good show, and I think we did just that. There was action and suspense all the way through, which is exactly what you need to create a great sporting spectacle. I really hope the US will now embrace Formula 1 at last.”
Abu Dhabi winner Kimi Raikkonen was sixth after a difficult early phase. “It was an okay day, but not a very easy one for us,” said the Finn. “I got a bad start and then I touched with a Force India at the second corner so I lost a few more places. After that the car was okay and I could get past some of the others. Basically, it was a race where we were just depending on the tyres to be in their window. I’m still 3rd in the championship and we’ll do everything we can to maintain this position until the end.” Teammate Grosjean had an early spin but fought back hard to claim seventh.
Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India took eighth ahead of the two Williams cars – but their race could have ended in disaster. Stuck behind Hulkenberg after their stops, Bruno Senna could see teammate Pastor Maldonado coming – and knew he would be making an attack. It came with four laps to go when the Venezuelan dived up the inside out of Turn 1. “I wasn’t going to close the door as we needed the points for the team,” the Brazilian said. Dan Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso was 12th behind ‘home’ favourite Sergio Perez, who had a ragged weekend in his second-last outing for Sauber.