’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.
Round 14 – Singapore. Formula One’s only true night race and one of the sports few street tracks. Drivers have only been racing for five years at this circuit and will be doing so until at least 2017 after making a deal on a new contract. Deemed one of F1’s most glamorous and indeed valuable races, the weekend was set to be a thrilling one!
In qualifying Lewis Hamilton took the fight to Red Bull in a car that appears competitive at most tracks this season. The ferocity of the Bull’s reappeared on a track that suited their car, something which the team desperately needed after a lull in form and a particularly disappointing weekend in Monza. However it was Hamilton that took his 5th pole of the season, 24th in his career. Completing the front row some 0.442s behind was one-time winner Pastor Maldonado with a super quick lap in his FW34. Sebastian Vettel was just behind after failing to improve on his first hot lap during the greatly anticipated Q3 session. Behind the reigning double world champion, Jenson Button posted the 4th fastest time with Fernando Alonso, the driver currently on top of the World Driver’s Championship only managing 5th. Alternatively it was a good day for Force India’s Paul Di Resta as he not only managed to get into Q3 unlike his team mate but also found enough time to put him 6th on the grid. Mark Webber a lowly 7th with the returning Romain Grosjean just behind who once again managed to out qualify his team mate. Both Mercedes drivers made it into Q3 but neither decided to run so Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg start 9th and 10th respectively. The rest of the field was as follows: Nico Hulkenburg, Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez, Daniel Ricciardo, Jean-Eric Vergne, Bruno Senna, Kamui Kobayashi, Vitaly Petrov, Heikki Kovalainen, Timo Glock, Charles Pic, Narain Karthikeyan and Pedro De La Rosa. Both De La Rosa and Senna had gearbox penalties so start 24th and 22nd respectively.
Now onto the race! It was a nervous wait for most F1 fans with ‘Crashtor’ Maldonado as he’s now infamously known starting on the front row, surrounded by World Drivers Championship contenders. It was also going to be an interesting afternoon in terms of tyres with rear tyre degradation being the main concern and Mercedes bizarrely opting to start on the Super Soft compound as neither driver set a lap in Q3 and so had the option to choose which compound to start on. The only cars starting on soft tyres were: Hulkenburg, Perez, Vergne, Kobayashi, Glock, Pic and De La Rosa.
I was honoured to be a Formula One fan this weekend as myself, everyone on the grid and I’m sure many others paid the respect that Professor Sid Watkins OBE deserved. ‘The Prof’ as he was fondly known was a credit to the sport and the whole F1 community was devastated by his loss on September 12th. It was only right that a minutes silence was held.
With that the race began, no incidents for Maldonado as Hamilton succeeded in keeping him behind but it was Vettel and then Button that benefited as they both gained a place whilst Maldonado dropped back two. It was all change for other drivers too as Grosjean took to the kerb whilst battling with Webber who managed to stay ahead, Rosberg got ahead of Schumacher and Hulkenburg lost a place to Raikkonen in the battle for 11th. It was four abreast into the first corner with the likes of Senna, Ricciardo, Webber and Rosberg all running wide and using the run-off area to which there was a Stewards investigation. Another unfortunate race start for Felipe Massa as he limped back to the pits with a left-rear puncture. Not so lucky for the Caterham drivers either as Kovalainen came into the pits minus a front wing after contact with team mate Petrov.
After those first lap dilemmas were forgotten it was on to Lap 4 when Grosjean was told the team had no telemetry. Hamilton was starting to widen the gap between himself and Vettel by being the only man on track in the 1m55’s. Lap 9/10 drivers began pitting for fresher rubber the Red Bull drivers are first to stop, Hamilton stays out and then pits after relaying to the team: “Guys I’ve got a funny feeling with these tyres”. The latest of the stoppers were Hulkenburg and Perez.
Next in the race was a nightmare for Lewis Hamilton who had led beautifully from pole. A gearbox failure meant Hamilton had to leave the stricken McLaren by the roadside at turn five and calmly climb out as smoke trailed out of the back. The Woking-based team knew of the problem a couple of laps before, then Hamilton noticed as he had trouble selecting gears before he lost third all together with the gearbox dropping into neutral. Until ultimately the race was over for the British driver.
From then on Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel led the race with McLaren’s Jenson Button not far behind. Normal proceedings were interrupted as Karthikeyan hit the wall at turn 18 bringing out the safety car. So far the Safety Car has been out at every Singapore GP… With the new rules in place we got to see lapped cars overtake the Safety Car in what was an extra long safety car period, during which Maldonado had been told he needed to retire the car with a hydraulic problem but interestingly it took a lap or two for the feisty Venezuelan to come in.
One big talking point of the weekend was the restart after the first safety car period. All the cars were weaving around as they do, trying to warm rear tyres and brakes but also keeping an eye on when Vettel went for it so that they to could do the same. The latter was especially true for Button as he thought Vettel had made a quick dash for the line but was immediately caught out when he suddenly braked. Button had to brake and swerve, narrowly avoiding him and locking up his tyres in the process. The incident was investigated but no further action was taken by the stewards. Once the safety car was in we were back racing… Or so it seemed, it wasn’t just a lucky escape unfortunately for Schumacher as he claimed the silver arrow wasn’t ‘decelerating as quickly as he expected’ and in turn ran into the back of Verge, taking them both out of the race and so the safety car was redeployed, I’m sure to Vettel’s dismay! In the words of Schumacher’s engineer: “What happened there” was the message on the radio and indeed the stewards wanted an answer to that question too, hence the investigation. After the race the 7-time World Champion was handed a 10 place grid penalty for the next race in Suzuka. 5 for the incident and a further 5 seeing as this is a repeat offence.
During the safety car period the Caterham of Petrov was seen loitering at the end of the pit lane apparently due to a dodgy wheel nut, but he was soon back racing again. It was a good race for Massa as he battled for 8th place from being last at the beginning of the race. On lap 43 the Brazilian driver slid past Senna in an impressive move shocking fans and a number of doubters…
The final incident happened on lap 50/51 with Hulkenburg fancying a bit of everyone’s front wing. First up was Perez, when trying to close the door on the Sauber, Perez managed to lose part of his front wing to the Force India driver. Not that far down the road, Webber passed round the outside of Kobayashi, Hulkenburg wanted a piece of the action too but instead of it being a clean pass both cars touched and Kobabyashi lost part of his front wing and Hulkenburg suffered a left rear puncture for his misdemeanours!
So it wasn’t a pole-to-pole victory for this Grand Prix but instead Sebastian Vettel takes his second win of the season which he duly dedicated to the great Sid Watkins. Joining the German driver on the podium was Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso. Di Resta couldn’t quite challenge in 4th but put in his best performance to stay ahead of Rosberg, Raikkonen, Grosjean, Massa and Ricciardo. Webber who had managed to snatch a championship point from Perez had his overtaking manoeuvre investigated after the race and has since been awarded a post-race drive-through penalty gifting back the point to Perez who now finished in ’10th’ with Webber just behind. The rest of the field that did finish was Glock (An incredible achievement which must be pointed out!), Kobayashi, Hulkenburg, Kovalainen, Pic and De la Rosa. Singapore is a tough Grand Prix for the drivers, not only is it the longest but it is also one of the hottest. The Safety Car is synonymous in Singapore as it has led laps in every Grand Prix since we started racing there in 2005 and it has actually led the 4th most laps!! With both safety car periods on Sunday the race ran up until the two hour limit, cutting the Grand Prix short by a lap. The last lap was incidentally when Senna had to retire, reporting a loss of power. Petrov did manage to finish the race albeit with a bit of bad luck but only managed 19th in the Caterham behind non-finisher Senna. If you didn’t already know the rest of the non-finishers they were Vergne, Schumacher, Maldonado, Karthikeyan and Hamilton. Somewhat of an attrition race in Singapore!
After the result of that race the championship is still far from undecided even if Alonso has a healthy 29 point lead over his nearest rival (Vettel), Raikkonen isn’t far behind either but it seems there is a dent in Lewis Hamilton’s championship after what was a disappointing race for the McLaren driver. Next round Suzuka, and only 6 races left in the season. What I want to know is how on earth is the season nearly over and yet we still have no clue as to who the winner of the Drivers championship will be?”