While Hamilton was the star of the show, Sebastian Vettel took second and Fernando Alonso third, ensuring their battle for the Drivers’ Championship goes down to the wire in Brazil. Vettel, who had been fastest in every session up until today, controlled proceedings at the front after the start. However, as he got tangled up in traffic on lap 42, he fell back towards Hamilton and the McLaren driver, who had been stalking the Red Bull man for most of the race, cruised past to take the lead.
A clearly angry Vettel was straight on his radio to complain about the backmarkers who had held him up, but the lead was gone. “I wasn't too happy to send a nice big invitation to Lewis when I obviously had to go through [Narain] Karthikeyan and he [Lewis] was basically right behind at the DRS zone,” said Vettel. “I tried to defend, I moved to the inside but I knew that he would have so much more speed that he can pick either side, so it didn't really matter what I was doing and after that, I was obviously not too happy.”
Just as the German had controlled the pace for the first two thirds of the grand prix, so Hamilton managed the pace until the chequered flag. While Vettel often closed the gap, he was never able to challenge for the position.
“It’s been a great weekend,” said Hamilton of his second US GP victory, the previous one coming in F1’s final visit to Indianapolis in 2007. “To be able to beat Red Bull and Sebastian is definitely a tough challenge but we managed to do it today.
“We pitted maybe two laps before Sebastian, so then he came out quite far ahead but traffic really worked out quite well for once. Traffic usually catches me out, so I was glad that it worked slightly in my favour at some points. But what a great feeling to win the first grand prix here, back in the States.”
Almost 30 seconds behind the leading duo Fernando Alonso crossed the line in third. Prior to the race start Alonso was moved up a place from eighth on the grid when Ferrari broke the seal on team-mate Felipe Massa’s gearbox, leading to a five-place penalty for the Brazilian. That put Alonso seventh at the start and even more crucially on the clean side of a track where there was a lot more grip.
Given a chance to take the fight to Vettel in the Drivers’ Championship, Alonso didn’t fluff the opportunity. At the start he passed both Nico Hulkenberg and Michael Schumacher to take fourth. And when Mark Webber retired from third with yet another alternator problem, Alonso stole into third, where he held station until the chequered flag.
“We keep our championship alive thanks to the first laps,” said Alonso. “We always qualify around seventh or eighth and we finish the first lap in the first three or four positions and then after that the race becomes a little easier when you are in the leading group, and today we knew that was a good chance: try to overtake people at the first corner, and then our pace on Sunday normally improves, so we knew that if we are in the leading group we can more or less keep the pace.
“I think this podium, after all the difficulties we went through this weekend, is like a victory for us,” he added. “Losing three points maybe was in no-one’s thoughts last night or Friday after the practice [sessions] we had, so we are really happy again to have a very good Sunday and again score good points.”
Alonso’s 12th podium finish of the season means that the battle for the Drivers’ title heads to the final round next week in Brazil, to which Vettel will now take a 13-point lead. That gap means Alonso must finish third or better at Interlagos even if Vettel finishes outside the points. The Red Bull driver acknowledged that he is now in the box seat.
“I’m excited [about Brazil] because the car seems to work very well, good enough to fight for a win,” he said. “We've been very quick in Brazil the last couple of years so plenty to look forward to. On top of that, we increased our lead in the championship today so I think we are in the best possible position.”
While the destination of the Drivers’ title remains unclear for another seven days, the manufacturers’ crown went to Red Bull Racing for the third time in three seasons. Vettel’s second place leaves the Milton Keynes team with 440 points, 73 clear of Ferrari and with a maximum of 43 on the table in Brazil.
“It has been a fantastic job for the team today to seal the Constructors’ Championship against Ferrari who are now in second,” said Vettel. “I’m very happy with that and the guys can be, for sure, very proud of themselves.”
Formula 1 United States Grand Prix | 2012 | RESULTS