United States GP: Hamilton beats Vettel to victory, Drivers’ Championship still undecided
By Berthold Bouman
In what only can be described as an enthralling race, Lewis Hamilton beat Sebastian Vettel and became the first winner of the United States Grand Prix at the already classic Circuit of the Americas. Vettel’s second place was enough for Red Bull to take the 2012 Constructors’ Championship, but as Fernando Alonso finished third, the Drivers’ Championship remains undecided.
The race winner said, “To be able to beat Red Bull and Sebastian is definitely a tough challenge but we managed to do it.” And he added, “We weren’t so bad in the first stint but weren’t able to get past and in trying to do so my tyres went off. He came out ahead and the traffic worked out quit well. Traffic usually catches me out so I was glad it worked slightly in my favour.”
Of course, the most important part of the race is the start, which in this case was the run-down to the uphill first corner, a blind corner, but the first turn was indeed wide enough to get all the cars through without problems. Also the slippery left-hand side of the start grid played a role, Ferrari even sacrificed Felipe Massa’s sixth place to give Alonso a start from the clean side of the grid.
Everyone came through the first corner without problems, and thanks to Massa, Alonso had a great start and took fourth place, while Hamilton lost one place to Mark Webber as he did lose some grip at the dirty side of the grid. The first problems occurred at the Esses, but after one lap all drivers were still in the race.
After three laps Hamilton tried to get his second place back from Webber, ran wide and was behind the Red Bull again, but one lap later he did get past the Australian. Meanwhile, Vettel did what he always does, and had already created a 2.5 second gap to the number two, Hamilton.
Further back, Jenson Button was struggling on the hard tyres, the medium tyres were certainly quicker and the 2009 World Champion was battling with both Williams drivers for 12th place, as both Pastor Maldonado and Bruno Senna were very quick during the early stages of the race.
Also quick was Nico Hulkenberg, but the Force India driver had to give up his fifth place as Raikkonen relentlessly attacked him, and the Finn didn’t give up before he had passed the German in the second slower section of the circuit.
Further back, Button was now dicing with Michael Schumacher, who had a bad start and had fallen back to 11th place, and although the German fiercely defended his position, Button overtook him at the by now famous Turn 1.
Hamilton, meanwhile, had gained on Vettel and he was pushing hard to get within one second of the Red Bull, in order to use his DRS on the back straight. Second Red Bull driver Webber was told his KERS had failed, but there was more going on as the Australian had to park his car and his race was over, which promoted the ever lucky Alonso to third spot. Of course, Vettel saw the stricken car of his team mate, and one can only imagine what was going through his mind at the time.
Twenty laps had been completed without a pit stop for new tyres, but Hamilton and Alonso finally decided to pit on lap 21, they rejoined the race in third and fifth place respectively. Next was Vettel, and he didn’t even lose his first place when he rejoined the race.
At the same time Alonso and Button were battling for fifth position, but the Ferrari driver had again problems getting his new tyres up to the right temperature, and on the back straight Button took fifth place from the Spaniard aided by DRS. A bit further ahead, Hamilton and Raikkonen were battling for second place, Raikkonen was still on old tyres, and Hamilton passed him easily as he was on fresh tyres.
That was of the signal for Lotus to call in Raikkonen for his only tyre change, but he lost a lot of time as his stop was far from perfect, and he rejoined the race in sixth position behind the Toro Rosso of Daniel Ricciardo, who still had to pit. Not much later Ricciardo pitted, and Raikkonen was fifth again, but was now chased by the Ferrari of Massa.
Vettel now got back markers in sight, and this could be an opportunity for Hamilton to get closer to the current World Champion, the difference was just 1.3 seconds. Vettel’s KERS still seemed to work as he used it to keep a charging Hamilton at bay. With DRS and KERS activated, Hamilton came close at the back straight, but again KERS saved Vettel.
Of course McLaren was pushing hard, hoping Vettel’s KERS would fail, just like Webber’s. The battle continued and lap after lap Hamilton was looking for an opportunity to overtake Vettel, but he just couldn’t find the gap he needed. Until lap 42, when Hamilton finally could get past the Red Bull on the back straight, Vettel tried to block him, but to no avail, and he reluctantly had to hand over his first place to the McLaren driver.
Further down the order, Button was dicing with Raikkonen for fifth place, the Briton was on slightly newer tyres and overtook the Lotus without a problem. But the race wasn’t run yet, as Vettel now tried to get within one second of Hamilton, to do the same as Hamilton had done a few laps earlier. The difference was 1.4 seconds, the Red Bull was faster in the second, slower section of the track due to a superior traction, while Hamilton was faster on the rest of the circuit.
With six laps to go the situation was still precarious for Hamilton, but his team coached him to manage the gap between himself and Vettel, and he managed to stay 1.5 seconds ahead of the Red Bull driver. The battle was only about a few tenths of a second, and just one tiny mistake would be enough to reverse the roles, and the American fans loved it.
But the order remained the same until the finish flag, and therefore Hamilton was the only driver who could beat Vettel today, and he took a well-deserved victory, he was followed by Vettel, Alonso, Massa, Button, and Raikkonen was sixth.
“I wasn’t too happy to send a nice big invitation to Lewis when I had to go through [Narain] Karthikeyan [of HRT],” said Vettel to the BBC. “[He] was right behind in the DRS zone. He took that opportunity — fair enough — down the straight and he passed me. I tried to defend but I knew he would have so much more speed. Lewis had one chance and he took it.”
Alonso was happy he was still in the race for the 2012 title, “Today we knew there was a good chance, try to overtake people in the first corner. If we are in the leading group we can always keep the pace. Today was not possible to keep the pace with these two guys. This podium is like a victory for us.”
Lewis Hamilton celebrates his victory
United States GP: Race Result Pos Driver Team Laps Time Grid Pts 1 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 56 1h35:55.269 2 25 2 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 56 +0.600 1 18 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 56 +39.200 7 15 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 56 +46.000 11 12 5 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 56 +56.400 12 10 6 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 56 +64.400 4 8 7 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 56 +70.300 8 6 8 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 56 +73.700 6 4 9 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 56 +74.500 9 2 10 Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 56 +75.100 10 1 11 Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 56 +84.300 15 12 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 56 +84.800 18 13 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 56 +85.500 17 14 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 55 +1 Lap 16 15 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 55 +1 Lap 13 16 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 55 +1 Lap 5 17 Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 55 +1 Lap 21 18 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 55 +1 Lap 22 19 Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 55 +1 Lap 19 20 Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 54 +2 Laps 20 21 Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 54 +2 Laps 23 22 Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 54 +2 Laps 24 Ret Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 16 +40 Laps 3 Ret Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari 14 +42 Laps 14