The first ever Grand Prix in Austin, Texas has been won by Lewis Hamilton after a race-long battle with Sebastian Vettel. After losing a position off the line to Mark Webber, Hamilton took the position back in the early stages of the race and then chased down Vettel. Hamilton stayed within DRS range of Vettel for lap after lap, but had no real chance to pass until Vettel was held up in the first sector of the lap by an HRT. Hamilton needed no second invitation, and duly passed Vettel for the lead, which he held to the end.
It was a superb display of racing from two world champions. Hamilton was quicker in the first sector, while Vettel seemed to have the upper hand in the third sector, but overall the two drivers were evenly matched throughout the race. Hamilton only had one opportunity to pass and he took it, and thereafter Vettel could not make an impression on the McLaren.
Mark Webber’s race came to a premature end with a suspected alternator failure. Renault have had alternator issues throughout the season, with at least 3 previous retirements due to similar problems. Red Bull will no doubt be concerned about reliability in advance of next week’s season finale in Brazil. Webber’s retirement did not get in the way of Red Bull taking the Constructors’ Championship for the third year in succession. There is very little time for the team to celebrate, however, as they will be off to Brazil as soon as possible to prepare for the season finale.
Fernando Alonso put in a typically gritty drive to finish third, albeit 39 seconds behind Hamilton, but it was enough to take the championship down to the wire. Alonso is 13 points behind Vettel, and will need some good fortune to take the 2012 title. Vettel needs a fourth place finish next week to be the sport’s youngest ever triple World Champion, while Alonso must win with Vettel fifth or lower, come second with Vettel 9th or lower, or finish third with Vettel out of the points. It’s a tall order for Alonso, but he may be encouraged by Red Bull’s reliability worries.
Felipe Massa put in a very strong drive to finish fourth, just 6.7 seconds behind Alonso. Massa qualified ahead of Alonso but the team deliberately earned him a grid penalty by breaking a seal on his gearbox. The penalty allowed Alonso to start on the clean side of the track, which helped him into fourth place off the start. Massa, however, showed his speed by fighting through the field from 11th on the grid.
Jenson Button also had a competitive afternoon. He finished fifth from 12th on the grid, after suffering an unusual failure in qualifying relating to the throttle pedal. After falling out in Q2, Button had fresh tyres aplenty for the race and used them to good effect, entertaining the Texan crowd with a skilful fight through the field.
After his victory in Abu Dhabi last week, Kimi Raikkonen might have hoped for better than sixth place today. The Lotus seemed to lack a bit of pace, but it didn’t stop Raikkonen from pulling off a brilliant move around the outside of Nico Hulkenberg in turn two. He later lost out to Felipe Massa in the same place after running on to the artificial grass on the exit of turn one. Team-mate Romain Grosjean had an early spin after braking on a kerb before turn 19, but showed great speed to recover to seventh by the end.
Nico Hulkenberg finished eighth, just ahead of the Williams duo of Pastor Maldonado and Bruno Senna. It was another impressive showing for Williams as the team scored its second successive double points finish. By contrast, Mercedes had another miserable day, with Rosberg finishing 13th and Schumacher 16th. The Silver Arrows have now failed to score points in five consecutive races, and must by now be eagerly anticipating the end of a disappointing season.
It’s on to Brazil next week for the season decider. Vettel is clearly the title favourite, but Alonso has shown over and over this season that he can never be counted out. Lewis Hamilton will certainly be in the hunt for race victory, as could Kimi Raikkonen. The season is almost over, but the excitement continues in just a few days.