Lewis Hamilton celebrated the first U.S. Grand Prix in five years the same way he celebrated the previous one in 2007: by winning.
Hamilton pressed at the front of the pack all race before finally overtaking championship leader Sebastian Vettel and pulling away. Vettel finished closely behind in second, and Fernando Alonso of Ferrari completed the podium 38 seconds later.
The race marked a return for Formula One in the United States for the first time since 2007, when an eight-year run at the Indianapolis road course came to an end. Austin is the tenth F1 location in the U.S., and next year the eleventh – in New Jersey – will also be added to the list. Click here for our article on what the Austin GP means to the future of American racing.
The win didn’t do anything for Hamilton’s championship hopes, eliminated from contention earlier in the year after four disqualifications. It certainly did something for Alonso, though.
By finishing second, Vettel increased his championship lead over Alonso by only three points. With one race remaining in the season, at Sao Paolo in Brazil next week, Vettel holds just a 13-point lead. Alonso must finish at least three places ahead of Vettel in order to recapture the title, but more likely will need at least five or six positions. He could also finish third with Vettel failing to score points in the top ten places. Both are in search of their third career championships.
Hamilton pestered Vettel for 42 laps, until finally using an aerodynamic advantage in the DRS zone to slingshot into P1 by inches on the right side of the long back straight. He pulled away over the final 14 laps.
Ferrari in particular went to great lengths to chase after the championship. After Felipe Massa qualified in seventh place, ahead of teammate Alonso in ninth, Ferrari cleverly took a self-induced grid position penalty by removing the FIA seal from Massa’s gearbox and automatically costing him five places. With Massa dropping to twelfth and Lotus driver Romain Grosjean dropping five places to ninth with his own penalty, Alonso gained two positions to start the race in seventh, and from the much cleaner right side of the track. By the time the cars had cleared Turn 1, Alonso had leapfrogged his way into fourth.
Alonso got no help on Lap 19, during a six-second pit stop that cost him position while McLaren and Red Bull were posting sub-three second stops. The Racing Gods would repay him, however.
Red Bull also had the opportunity to clinch the Constructors Championship in Austin, and it nearly slipped away about twenty laps into the race. Mark Webber relented second place to Hamilton after a bitter fight over several laps, but still looked prime for a podium finish until his alternator failed. Despite not being able to finish the race, the second place from Vettel handed Red Bull the points they need to capture the team Constructors Championship.
That ended the day for Webber, and security detail for Vettel. The failure moved Alonso up into third and within sight of the two leaders. Now heavily motivated, his Lap 45 set a new Best Lap with 1:40.141.
The new Circuit of the Americas course proved the star of the show, its 20 wide, sweeping turns setting the stage for thrilling racing all the way through the field. The cars began by racing the staggering 40 feet uphill into the Turn 1 hairpin, which may eventually stake its claim among the most iconic corners in all of Formula One.
The suffocating esses and long back straight allowed other drivers to shine. Jenson Button qualified poorly but found his way to fifth, thanks to two beautiful moves on the Lotus drivers. He ducked under a double apex in Sector 3 to surprise Grosjean, then blasted down the back straight under DRS to best Raikkonen and made the nail-biting pass stick through the esses.
Button finished fifth ahead of the Lotus teammates. Nico Hulkenberg finished eighth for Force India, and Williams teammates Pastor Maldonado and Bruno Senna rounded out the drivers scoring points.