United States GP - Sunday - Race Report
Hamilton pips Vettel to win US GP
Lewis Hamilton won the last US GP at Indianapolis and, five years on, he won the inaugural race at the impressive Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
Formula 1 has failed to seriously establish itself in the USA but on the evidence of this race, it certainly has a future. There was action aplenty throughout, in front of a three-day crowd figure that totalled more than 265,000.
Hamilton was victorious after a tense battle with Sebastian Vettel from lights to flag. The reigning double champion led for 41 of the 56 laps before he came across Narain Karthikeyan's HRT at an inopportune moment and Hamilton took full advantage to pass the Red Bull in the DRS zone.
Ferrari did everything it could to assist championship-chasing Fernando Alonso, which included deliberately breaking the seal on Felipe Massa's sister car, which incurred a five-place grid penalty for the Brazilian and promoted Alonso from eighth to seventh on the clean side of the grid, facilitating a start that had him up to fourth on the exit of Turn 1.
In past races Ferrari has struggled for qualifying pace but been stronger in the race but Alonso was unable to remotely stay in touch with the lead pair in Austin. Another podium finish, however, meant that he lost just three points to Vettel in the championship and now heads to the final race in Brazil a week hence with a 13-point deficit.
Realistically, Alonso must hope for a Vettel retirement at Interlagos to stand any realistic chance. Should that happen, Fernando must then place the Ferrari in the top three to ensure that it is he and not Vettel who joins the ranks of three-time world champions.
There was fun and games ahead of the race on Sunday morning as speculation raged over whether Ferrari would sacrifice Massa's sixth place on the grid to assist Alonso. They did and made the move late, in case Red Bull responded in kind with third-placed Webber and put Alonso back onto the dirty side.
Team principal Stefano Domenicali had no problem with the ethics of the move, claiming that any team principal who said they would have acted any differently, would be lying.
His opposite number at Red Bull, Christian Horner, said that the team did not consider taking similar action with Webber. "Somebody else would then have done it and before you knew it Fernando would have started on the front row," he said.
When the lights went out Vettel made a perfect start and Webber, on the clean side, got around Lewis Hamilton into Turn 1. Running 1-2, Red Bull were in good shape but it soon became apparent that they had a problem on their hands with Hamilton.
The McLaren took second place back from Webber in the DRS zone on the long straight from T11 to T12 on lap four and was soon reducing the gap to Vettel's lead RB8.
Webber lasted only as long as lap 17 before his KERS shut down. It was a symptom of a more serious problem -- Red Bull's third mid-race alternator failure. Webber pulled off and retired, his first mechanical retirement since Singapore '09! It was an old spec alternator and it mst be a concern for the team ahead of the championship finale next weekend.
As Adrian Newey pointed out, those alternators have been on Renault engined cars since 2005 -- and they've been failing since 2005...
Vettel and Hamilton were in a class of their own and the status quo remained after the switch from Pirelli's medium option tyre to the hard primes after their pit stops, in what was widely expected to be a one-stop race for the majority.
Hamilton was always a threat, and quicker through sector 1, but Vettel managed to keep him out of the DRS zone until they encountered Narain Karthikeyan in sector one on lap 42.
A superb section of the new circuit, from Turns 2 through 7, is reminiscent of the Becketts sweepers at Silverstone, but even quicker on entry. With no grip off-line, Karthikeyan stayed on the line until they exited Turn 7, which cost Vettel more than a second. It also put Lewis comfortably close enough for DRS detection and Hamilton knew it was his chance.
Vettel moved left but such was the McLaren's speed advantage that Lewis could have gone either side. He went right and had sufficient momentum to chop back across and protect the inside into T12.
Vettel's frustration was apparent from the ensuing radio transmission. He'd calmed down a bit later, but said: "I wasn't too happy sending a nice big invitation to Lewis when I obviously had to go through Karthikeyan and he was basically right behind at the DRS detection zone. To make a big enough difference with just one corner was not possible and it didn't really matter what I did.
"I obviously wasn't too happy because for so long I had managed the tyres and managed the gap to be able to attack in the last couple of laps. My frustration was not targeted at Lewis but at the backmarker who, as I said, gave a nice big envelope with an invitation to Lewis."
Vettel tried to hit back but, on this day, Lewis and the McLaren were a match for Sebastian and the RB8.
"It's been a great weekend," Hamilton said, "to be able to beat Red Bull and Sebastian is definitely a challenge but we managed to do it today."
It was, as Felipe Massa said, the best race of his season. From his demoted 11th grid slot, which was at least on the clean side, he made a great start and made up three places, only to run wide and lose them again. He was back up to eighth when Romain Grosjean spun and badly flat-spotted the tyres on his Lotus, meaning a lap 9 stop for a switch to the hard Pirelli tyre, with which Grosjean did 47 laps to finish right on the tail of team mate Raikkonen in seventh place.
Massa though, having been quicker than Alonso in every qualifying period, finished just 6.7s behind Ferrari's chosen one, with a quickest race lap beaten only by Vettel, and by just 0.06 on the very last lap.
Jenson Button, an unrepresentative 12th on the grid after a throttle problem in qualifying, enjoyed a fighting drive and some great wheel-to-wheel racing with Raikkonen en route to an eventual fifth place some 8s ahead of the Abu Dhabi winner. Having started on the prime tyre, Button ran a long 35-lap opening stint and helped put McLaren back to within 14 points of Ferrari for second place in the constructors championship
Raikkonen himself pulled off a superb 13th lap pass of Hulkenberg's Force India around the outside of the flat-out Turn 2 -- one of the moves of an enthralling race which will have done much to endear F1 to the heart of Texans and the many visiting Mexicans.
Behind Hulkenberg's eighth-placed Force India, Pastor Maldonado and Bruno Senna achieved a double points score for Williams for the second successive race but only the third time this year. There was a hold your breath moment for the team as Pastor dived inside Bruno into Turn 1 with just four laps to go.
A fabulous race and event confirmed a third successive contructors' title for Adrian Newey and Red Bull. Newey achieved a hat-trick with Williams in the nineties and has done it again after a season which he admitted 'has not been easy.'
The drivers' title, however, is unfinished business. Vettel, with a 13-point lead is overwhelming favourite but, as Alonso says, you never quite know.
"Maybe the chance on paper is not that big, maybe 25%," Fernando admitted, "but deep down I feel that it's much more than that. Anything can happen at Interlagos and we saw again how important reliability can be, didn't we?"
Indeed so. That alternator failure will surely give Red Bull the jitters...