’YeeHaw’ shout the cowboys, galloping away on horseback, guns ablaze – very much a stereotypical Texan lifestyle. But Sunday’s race in Austin was far from that, breaking the mould as possibly the best race so far this season, and with only one race left, that’s going to take some beating – Not bad for its debut huh? The last time Formula One took its place in the US was 2007 at Indianapolis. There Lewis Hamilton took pole position and also another race win. But could he repeat that 5 years later? Only time would tell.
Warfare started on the Saturday with drivers fighting for the honour to be the first on pole position at the Circuit of the Americas. In his recently dominating form Sebastian Vettel managed the feat in a time of 1:35.657s, following closely behind (only a tenth) was the hungry Hamilton. The rest of the grid lined up as follows: Webber then Raikkonen, Schumacher, Massa, Hulkenburg, Alonso. Grosjean started 9th after a gearbox penalty promoting the 5 drivers in front of him as he originally qualified 4th. In 10th was Maldonado followed by Senna and Button who suffered a throttle problem in Q2. Behind the stricken McLaren was Di Resta, Vergne, Perez, Kobayashi and surprisingly Rosberg. Those knocked out in Q1 were: Ricciardo, Glock, Pic, Petrov, Kovalainen and the slowest of the lot – de la Rosa and Karthikeyan.
Once the dust had settled after an electric qualifying session it was time for the main attraction. One that attracted 266,499 spectators over the course of the weekend. Before the drivers made it onto the grid there was already controversy in the F1 paddock over a tactical decision made by the bosses at Ferrari. With Austin being a very new track, not much rubber had been laid down previously, making the track very green. Over the weekend, plenty of running had produced a nice grippy racing line thereby creating a noticeable difference between the clean and dirty side of the grid. All those on an odd numbered grid slot had the advantage, that they won’t be wheel-spinning in 3rd gear off the line due to the slippery conditions. Fernando Alonso was originally meant to be starting in 8th after Grosjean’s penalty and with the World Driver’s championship within his grasp, Ferrari made the decision to break the seal and open Felipe Massa’s gearbox, their clear ’No. 2 driver’. Thereby incurring a 5-place grid penalty and a new gearbox for the Brazilian. This meant that Alonso started in P7 a much gripper side of the circuit, giving him a better chance of hunting down Sebastian Vettel and preventing him from taking his 3rd successive championship title in Texas.
The start was greatly anticipated with a fantastic hill climb into Turn 1. Some fans may have been disappointed as there was no carbon-fibre flying around as they all catapulted up the hill and into blind-apex of the sharp hairpin all at once. As expected those on the dirty side of the grid lost positions. One being newly signed Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton who managed to regain his 2nd place on lap 4. His teammate Jenson Button who started P12 had a terrible start and ended up 16th by the end of the first lap. Alonso’s advantage helped him up to 4th. Frenchman Romain Grosjean made up 2 places on lap 2 but lost it all and a further 2 places when he spun at turn 19, one of the more tricky corners, on lap 7.
As the laps began to tick by drivers squabbled for position, Button for example recovering from his bad start took 11th from Michael Schumacher, who struggled in this race, on lap 11. At the front Vettel, surprisingly, was not pulling away from Hamilton. It was the McLaren driver who in fact was reeling him in! Kimi Raikkonen fresh from his race win in Abu Dhabi pulled a brave move around the outside of Nico Hulkenburg heading into turn 2 on lap 13.
The first to exit the US Grand Prix was Toro Rosso driver Jean-Eric Vergne as he had to retire with front right suspension damage. Another non-finisher was Mark Webber who was told on lap 17 that yet again he had no KERS, he then proceeded to pull the car off track and get out on lap 18. His first mechanical failure since the 2009 Japanese Grand Prix, 59 races ago. Later it was discovered that again it was the alternator that had caused the problems with Webber’s car.
Into the next phase of the race, tyres began to drop off and soon enough they were all flying in for fresh rubber, others staying out longer, mixing up the order and making the race even more tense for us nail biting fans! With more rubber beneath him, Hamilton began hunting down the championship leader and eventually on lap 42 the deal was done. A sensational move, a very close one too aided by DRS and the traffic of Narain Karthikeyan. However it was also an inevitable one considering the calibre of driver, a fairly competitive car and the drive and determination of the 2008 champion.
Both Hamilton and Vettel had pulled out a considerable lead over the rest of the field, some 30 seconds back to Alonso on lap 47. Unnervingly Hamilton didn’t begin to pull away from Vettel but kept him behind at a consistent gap, so that he was never within the 1 second DRS zone. The race may have looked fairly finished at the front with positions staying the same but it was a close battle for 8th, 9th and 10th between Hulkenburg, Maldonado and Senna who eventually finished in those positions respectively.
So to recap Lewis Hamilton won the United States Grand Prix, a superb race for the British driver, which he classed as one of his best wins. One which I would class as one of his best drives, a mature, clean race – showcasing that raw racing talent. He was followed closely behind by Vettel who didn’t manage to achieve the World Driver’s championship but instead cemented the Constructor’s for his team – Red Bull. A quiet race for Alonso in third but one that managed to keep him in the title race for Brazil. His teammate finished just behind in 4th even with the penalty he took. Button managed to haul his McLaren into 5th after starting on the harder tyre and pitting on lap 32. Behind him were the Lotus driver’s: Raikkonen and Grosjean. Both looked strong in the race but faded out, finishing 6th and 7th respectively. Then there was Hulkenburg, Maldonado and Senna, followed by Perez in the Sauber who just didn’t have the right car beneath him this weekend, same goes for his teammate Kobayashi who finished 14th. Ricciardo finished 12th in front of Mercedes driver Rosberg – a competitive drive in the Toro Rosso shame about his teammate JEV. Di Resta managed a lowly 15th a disappointing race for the Scottish lad, not helped by a spin at turn 19, flat spotting his tyres and having to pit for new set. He did however finish in front of Michael Schumacher who was left 16th. Now the battle of the backmarkers: The Caterham’s of Petrov and Kovalainen finished 17th and 18th ahead of the Marussua’s of Glock and Pic. Both HRT’s managed to finish, just 21st and 22nd de la Rosa leading Karthikeyan the entire race.
So that sums up the first ever race in Austin, race number 19 of this season. Yet still the championship is undecided, with only 2 drivers left to compete. One will bear the title of the 2012 Formula One world champion in Brazil. Who is it? Only the race can decide.