ROUND 18 – USA, November 17, 2013
1st: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault) 1hr 39m 17.148s (186.374 km/h)
2nd: Romain Grosjean (Lotus Renault) gap: 6.284s
3rd: Mark Webber (Red Bull Renault) gap: 8.396s
Fastest Lap: Vettel 1:39.856 = 198.754 km/h on lap 54
Pole Position: Vettel 1:36.338 = 206.012 km/h
World Championship: Vettel 372 points • Alonso 227 • Hamilton 187
“I DON’T KNOW HOW I DO IT”
So said Sebastian Vettel, who remains on course to equal a 60-year-old F1 record after winning his eighth race in a row for Red Bull Renault. Alberto Ascari’s record of nine, set in 1952-53 for Ferrari, is now in the German’s grasp as they head for Brazil and the final round of the 2013 series in a few days’ time.
As for how he does it, that’s easy: he qualifies on pole, starts faster than anyone else, wins restarts and cruises – until he sets the fastest race lap with three laps to go. That’s exactly what he did to win the second race on the superb Circuit of The Americas, heading home Lotus Renault’s Romain Grosjean and Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber. “I think pole was very important yesterday and it probably cost me a better result today,” said Webber, who slipped to fourth off the line. “I should have qualified better and it was difficult to be in a good position on Turn One from there. We all wanted to be on the outside.”
Hats off to Grosjean: the 27-year-old has changed beyond all recognition from the first-lap terror we knew only a year ago. Under extreme pressure from Webber in the closing stages, Grosjean responded superbly to claim his sixth podium of the season and his fourth from the last five races. “That was a really tough race,” admitted Grosjean. “I had to have probably one of my best ever drives to keep Mark behind and it’s a great feeling to have tamed at least one of the Bulls in Texas as they clearly had the fastest package today.” Temporary teammate Heikki Kovalainen endured a difficult day: after a solid start to his first weekend of replacing the absent Kimi Raikkonen, the 32-year-old Finn had to make two stops, the second a lengthy one when the Lotus had a nose job, and finished 15th.
Fourth place for Lewis Hamilton ahead of Fernando Alonso in fifth ensured that Mercedes retained second place in the Constructors’ Championship, with 15 points the difference as they head to Interlagos. “There was no way I was letting Fernando past at the end,” said Hamilton, who felt much happier in a new Mercedes chassis this weekend. “I was ready for him to make his move and had a couple of tenths ready to pull out if he did! We’ve had a few difficult races on my side of the garage and I’m so proud of the team for all the hard work they have put in. We’re all determined to maintain our second place at the final race in Brazil next weekend.”
Alonso had to work hard to hold on to that fifth place – on the final lap he was passed by Nico Hulkenberg, producing another impressive drive for Sauber, but fought back to put the 26-year-old German in his place. “I didn’t have to fight that much, only at the end with Fernando, which was good fun,” said Hulkenberg. “Unfortunately in the crucial part of the race, about ten to 15 laps before the end, we didn’t quite have the pace of Fernando, so he was able to overtake me. During the last lap going into turn one I passed him, but then I just missed the apex and he was able to get me back at the exit.” Still, it was The Hulk’s ninth points-scoring finish of the season: why wouldn’t a team like Lotus pair him with Grosjean for one of the feistiest line-ups on the 2014 grid?
Also impressive: Valtteri Bottas, the Finnish rookie at last scoring his maiden World Championship points with a skilful and brave drive to eighth place for Williams. On a day when teammate Pastor Maldonado was neutralized from the start by contact with Adrian Sutil’s Force India, Bottas produced a real Williams drive – including a courageous pass on Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez through Turns 2-3 on lap 35. “I’m very happy to get my first points in Formula One today,” said Bottas, who will continue with the team in 2014. “The whole weekend has been good from setting up the car in practice through to the strategy and pit stops in the race. We managed the tyres well today and I had good feedback from my engineers on them throughout.”
With Nico Rosberg managing only ninth in the second Mercedes, the final points went to McLaren – with Sergio Perez, dumped for 2014, making a point by finishing seventh, three places ahead of Jenson Button. ‘JB’ on Sunday matched former McLaren star ‘DC’ – this was his 246th Grand Prix start, equalling Scotland’s Coulthard as the longest-serving British F1 driver of all time.
Button’s point came at the expense of Australia’s Dan Ricciardo, who had fought manfully to get the Toro Rosso up to 10th only to be hoodwinked by a smart Button criss-cross move on the last lap. “It looked as though we were going to hang on to the flag to get the point for tenth place,” said Ricciardo, “but then in the last five laps I lost pretty much all the grip I had and I saw the guys closing in on me. I tried to hold them off but I didn’t have enough left in the tyres to do it.”
If the first words went to the winner, the last should go to a senior F1 person who has been there, done that – and thinks Austin is just wonderful. McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh may not have seen his team win as they did in Texas last year, but he summed it all up beautifully: “Undoubtedly,” he said, “Formula 1 has now found its spiritual home in the United States.”
Coming up: round 19 in Brazil
It’s been a happy hunting-ground for Webber over the years. Let’s hope Interlagos is kind to the Aussie as he shapes up for his 215th and final Grand Prix.
Endnote: well done A1 Racing! The Aussie team took out the world final of the 2013 F1 in Schools championship in Austin last week.