United States GP - Sunday - Race Report
Lewis by a whisker
Was there ever any doubt that we would see a McLaren victory? Absolutely not. If the cars were reliable and did not collide with one another or someone else, these were going to be the two cars that would lead the way. We suspected that Lewis Hamilton was lighter in qualifying. But by how much? And could Fernando Alonso use that advantage to grab a victory. There was plenty to look forward to.
As things turned out, the strategies involved were very close to one another. Hamilton did have less fuel than Alonso but it was only a lap. This meant that the battle was probably the most intense we have seen so far between the two McLaren team-mates. They fought for every tenth of a second. Every backmarker offered the chance to snatch victory.
The cars were so evenly matched that it was really down to a metre here and a metre there. Astonishing.
But what a pleasure as well. Some may say that cars circulating closely is boring but they are people who do not understand what they are seeing. Hamilton had the advantage at the start but he did not make the most of it. That allowed Alonso to have a look at finding a way into the lead. Lewis moved once to make life more difficult for Fernando and that was that. Alonso decided to have a look around the outside but Lewis had that covered. The lead was his.
"The first stint was extremely close," he explained afterwards. "I managed to pull a slight gap and maintain that."
Who was going to be the first to stop?
That was a question that was not answered until lap 21, when Hamilton went into the pits. He did not stay there for long and was soon on his way. By then Alonso was leading. We waited to see how much further he could run but the next time around, Fernando came into the pitlane. It was not enough to make much of a difference. The Ferraris did not have a very different strategy so we knew that they were beaten and Heikki Kovalainen's Renault, which led the race at this point, was never a serious contender. When the first stops were done it was Hamilton ahead of Alonso once again but this time things were looking a little different.
"In the middle stint the tyres started to grain," Hamilton explained. "So Fernando was right up my tail. Whatever I gained in the infield I would lose on the straight. He fought very well. He was very professional. But then I was able to pull a gap and maintain it."
And the race reached the halfway point, the McLarens found themselves having to thread their way through a battle being fought by a group of backmarkers, headed by Tonio Liuzzi. The Toro Rosso had held off Alexander Wurz's Williams for the whole race, with a car that was short on downforce in an effort to stay ahead by running less wing on the straights. Hamilton lost a little time - maybe half a second - as Liuzzi hurried to get out of the way and into the pits. But that was all that was needed to give Alonso a sniff of a chance. He got a better run than Lewis in the final corner and the two went side-by-side down all the way down to the first corner, inches apart at 200mph.
"I was a bit nervous about that and saw he was coming," Lewis said. "I knew I had to make sure I made just one move and made it stick. I went to the inside and knew where I had to brake, and so long as I did that he had to stay behind. But he was on me for the next few corners after that."
And then he faded again and Lewis was able to impose his will. Alonso was beaten.
"The grid positions were the key of the race," he said. "I had a good car all through and it was close this time, especially the start. But I didn't manage to overtake Lewis and from then on when I was following him I lost downforce and it was difficult to get the tyres in the condition to push all through the stint. You damage them more when you are following. On lap 38 it was one or two centimetres between us, probably. It was close but it's difficult to overtake at this circuit. I had only that one chance and it was not possible, so that was the race over."
The second stops changed nothing between the two men although for a moment Massa inherited the lead for Ferrari.
He pitted soon afterwards and then rejoined third, and had to spend the rest of his race holding off Kimi Raikkonen.
"We can't be satisfied with third place," Massa said. "I did my best and I am happy to have got on the podium. We need to work out how to improve the car to get ahead of our closest rivals."
Kovalainen finished fifth.
"I think the result is the maximum we can achieve at the moment. We cannot beat McLaren and we cannot beat Ferrari, but I think we can fight with BMW. I'm happy about my race."
Heidfeld was less pleased. He had a spin early on and lost ground and then ultimately retired with an hydraulic failure.
Behind Kovalainen, the points were collected by Jarno Trulli and Mark Webber and by Sebastien Vettel.