Lewis Hamilton continued his strong record in North America by winning an exciting race in Austin, Texas.
Although Red Bull clinched the Constructors’ Championship, the result forced the Drivers’ Championship battle to roll on to the final race of the season in Brazil, as Sebastian Vettel was beaten into second place while his title rival Fernando Alonso completed the podium, from seventh on the grid.
Losing the extra seven points a win would have given, the result sees Vettel increase his Championship lead over Alonso by just three points, to thirteen, whilst Red Bull have become the first Formula One team to win their first three Constructor’s Championships in consecutive years.
After a race long battle, played out in front of a crowd of 117,000 fans, Hamilton piled relentless pressure on Vettel and eventually made his way past on lap 42 to claim his fifth victory in North America. Vettel had lead the Grand Prix throughout but after losing time in Sector 1 on the decisive lap behind Narain Karthikeyan, he could not keep the McLaren driver behind in the long DRS zone. Although he came back at Hamilton in the final 14 laps, the German was unable to get close enough to attack him.
“When Seb was delayed by a backmarker, I knew I had to grab my chance,” said Hamilton. “So I turned the engine up to maximum revs and pushed like crazy. Along the back-straight I went to the to the outside, but Seb closed the door, so I moved to the inside, and he came back towards me. I was very lucky. It was very close.
“What made the difference today between Seb and me? I wanted it more, that’s what!
It had looked from an early stage that Alonso would secure the points required to take the fight to Brazil, as the Ferrari driver made his way from seventh to fourth at the first corner, no doubt aided by his ability to start from the clean side of the grid. This came about as a result of the gearbox penalty, which Ferrari forced on Felipe Massa. The Brazilian had out qualified Alonso, but by taking a five place grid drop it promoted Alonso to seventh and allowed him to start on the clean side of the race track.
This turned out to be a significant benefit as he was able to move up to fourth on the opening lap.
Alonso’s challenge was further strengthened when Mark Webber retired on lap seventeen with an alternator problem, from third position. This meant another three points for Alonso moving up from fourth to third.
This is Hamilton’s fifth Grand Prix win in North America and the fourth victory of 2012, making a total of twenty-one in his career. Amazingly, it is also the first time that these three champions have found themselves together on the podium.
All three drivers were candidates for Driver of the Day in their own individual ways. Leading up to the stops Hamilton closed to within half a second of the race lead, having a slim chance of a manoeuvre in the DRS zone. But Vettel responded well and built a three second gap prior to the tyre change. We have seen from Vettel during this final stage of the season that he tends to romp away in the opening laps, only to be caught slightly and then re-open that gap in the five laps leading to his stop. This way of drawing the second placed car in saves his tyres whilst ruining those of the car behind, allowing him to put the hammer down at the end of the tyre life and rebuild his lead.
Hamilton drove what his father Anthony described as his finest Grand Prix, using his experience to ensure he had a strong first sector and allow himself a chance in the DRS-zone. In what could be his last victory for McLaren he gave the Woking team a reminder of the speed they will be missing in 2013.
Alonso came through the field to minimise the points loss to his title rival, helped largely by a very good first corner. He struggled to match the pace of those ahead in the first phase of the race, but after the stops set a fastest lap which was only marginally beaten by the two ahead.
Behind the top three, Felipe Massa reacted to his forced penalty with great character and put in his strongest performance of the year thus far, making his way through a large group of cars from 11th during the first phase of the race, setting numerous fastest laps on the way to fourth and eventually finishing just six seconds behind Alonso.
He was followed home by Jenson Button, the Briton opting to start the race on the prime tyre from 12th on the grid and use a long first stint to bring himself back in to contention from his twelfth place start. This turned out to be the case and he was able to make use of his short run on the option tyre to find his way past the Lotus pairing. Had Button not dropped back in to a large group of cars at the beginning of the race he would have found himself with a fighting chance of a podium.
Kimi Raikkonen led home Romain Grosjean, the latter recovering from an early spin which forced an early stop due to a heavy flat-spot. They once again showed strong race pace and Raikkonen had an exhilarating battle with Button as the two ran side by side for much of a lap, before the Brit eventually took the position.
The top ten was completed by Nico Hulkenberg and the Williams pairing, headed by Pastor Maldonado. The trio had a very good race with Hulkenberg in particular running in fifth place during the early phases. The double points finish for Maldonado and Senna will be highly beneficial to their hopes of a race seat on 2013.
A notably strong drive came from Daniel Ricciardo, starting eighteenth and finishing in 12th. He ran as high as fifth during a very long first stint on the option tyre before his solitary stop.
At the other end of the spectrum is Mercedes. The Brackley based squad suffered their fifth consecutive race without scoring a point and were the only team forced in to making two stops solely down to tyre degradation.
Once he’s done celebrating this win, Hamilton will be aware that there is a huge job to do to make them competitive.
[Additional reporting: Matt Meadows]
UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX, Austin, 56 laps
1. Hamilton McLaren 1h35:55.269
2. Vettel Red Bull + 0.675
3. Alonso Ferrari + 39.229
4. Massa Ferrari + 46.013
5. Button McLaren + 56.432
6. Raikkonen Lotus + 1:04.425
7. Grosjean Lotus + 1:10.313
8. Hulkenberg Force India + 1:13.792
9. Maldonado Williams + 1:14.525
10. Senna Williams + 1:15.133
11. Perez Sauber + 1:24.341
12. Ricciardo Toro Rosso + 1:24.871
13. Rosberg Mercedes + 1:25.510
14. Kobayashi Sauber + 1 lap
15. Di Resta Force India + 1 lap
16. Schumacher Mercedes + 1 lap
17. Petrov Caterham + 1 lap
18. Kovalainen Caterham + 1 lap
19. Glock Marussia + 1 lap
20. Pic Marussia + 2 laps
21. De la Rosa HRT + 2 laps
22. Karthikeyan HRT + 2 laps