Lewis Hamilton has become the first even winner on the Circuit Of The Americas after beating Sebastian Vettel. The race was incredibly tense, with Hamilton passing Vettel with fourteen laps to go. They were separated by half a second at the end.
Fernando Alonso finished third, meaning the championship will go down to the last race at Brazil, Interlagos in one week’s time. However, and despite a retirement for Mark Webber, Red Bull managed to win the constructor’s championship for the third year in a row.
Even before the race started, there was controversy on the grid. Ferrari had elected to break the seal on Felipe Massa’s gearbox despite there not being a problem. It duly dropped Massa back five places on the grid, promoting Alonso up to seventh, and crucially on the clean side of the grid.
It proved to be a successful tactic, because as was highly predicted, there was a great discrepancy between the starts of cars on either side of the grid. Vettel got a good start and Webber predictably moved passed Hamilton to take second, with Hamilton holding third. Alonso made a rocket start and was already up to fourth by the first corner.
From there, it looked like it might be a forgone conclusion as Vettel began to set fastest laps as Webber held Hamilton up. It quickly became clear however that the Red Bull was no match for the McLaren and Hamilton managed to re-pass Webber only a few laps later.
Schumacher meanwhile, after a strong performance in qualifying was struggling and dropping back through the field. In contrast, Massa, Jensen Button and Daniel Ricciardo – the latter two who had suffered a difficult qualifying performance – were racing through the field. Massa was soon up to sixth behind Alonso, with the Spaniard struggling to match Webber’s pace.
It was all over quickly for Webber however, as on lap seventeen he was informed that his KERS had failed, and only a few moments later was stopped at the side of the circuit. It was the return of the now infamous Red Bull alternator problem, having switched from the safe 2011-spec to 2012-spec for this weekend. The retirement promoted Fernando Alonso to third.
Jean-Eric Vergne was also in problems, with apparent suspension damage for the second time this weekend bringing his race to an early end.
Hamilton was flying and was by now in the DRS zone, but still not close enough to have a go as Vettel began to eek the gap out to him slightly once again.
There was frantic action in the mid pack, with Button still trying to make his way into the points. He passed Senna for tenth, only to get re-passed in the DRS zone a corner later.
By lap twenty one, Hamilton, still second, and Alonso were in the pits. It was a lightning fast pit stop from the McLaren team, releasing him in 2.4 seconds. It was slower for Alonso however, a delay on the rear slowing the slick pit work for what felt like a long time.
One lap later, and Vettel was brought in, with Red Bull reacting to Hamilton and Alonso’s stops. He re-emerged still in the lead, but with the yet to stop Kimi Raikkonen right on his tail. He couldn’t make a pass however, and was soon dropping back. He would be passed by Hamilton in the DRS on lap 24, and pit a lap later as Button found a way passed Alonso.
It was a similarly slow stop for him, allowing Alonso to just stay ahead of him as he emerged back onto the track once again. Struggling with cold tyres, Ricciardo was able to capitalise and move into sixth, to the obvious dismay of Raikkonen on the radio. Ricciardo, who started eighteenth, was making great progress and passed Massa for fifth. Raikkonen was also able to pass the Brazilian, before Ricciardo made his one and only stop on lap twenty one and re-emerged in thirteenth places.
Up front, it was still incredibly close between Vettel and Hamilton as the two struggled to find their way past traffic, particularly in the first sector. Sometimes it appeared it was going Hamilton’s way, before he too would be slowed by the traffic Vettel had just passed. But by lap thirty four, he was back within DRS range and closer than ever. A move at this stage seemed inevitable, with Vettel gamely clinging on, aware with what was at stake.
Button was the last of the big names to pit on lap thirty six, re-joining behind Massa and Romain Grosjean, before he dispatched the Lotus in short order a couple of laps later. Massa too did the same thing to Grosjean’s team mate.
After a few tentative looks earlier, Hamilton finally got the job done on lap forty two. It once again followed Vettel being held up by a back-marker in the first sector, allowing Hamilton a clear run at him in the DRS zone a few corners later. Vettel defended, but had no answer for the McLaren’s straight line speed.
Hamilton immediately set a new fastest lap of the race, but did not pull away comfortably. Vettel was always just over a second away from the McLaren driver, but close enough for Hamilton to inquire over his team radio whether he was in the DRS zone. He wasn’t, and despite then being able to set lap times faster than Hamilton, wouldn’t be for the rest of the race.
A couple of laps later, Button had found a way past Raikkonen. Aided by DRS, he performed a brilliant around-the-outside move on the Abu Dhabi winner to take the place. Meanwhile, there was an interesting intra-team battle brewing within Williams with Senna ninth and Maldonado tenth. But not for long – Maldonado made a move at turn one to take his team mate, with the pair lightly brushing wheels in the process.
Lewis managed to hold on up front however, and made history by being the first man ever to win at the new Austin circuit. The disappointment from Sebastian Vettel was clear to see after having dominated the weekend up to this point. However, he extends his lead in the championship by three points to a thirteen point advantage over Alonso, who will have been happy to have achieved a podium finish after a difficult Saturday.
Massa recovered from his controversial penalty to fourth with Button fifth. Raikkonen headed his team mate home to take fifth and sixth, whilst Nico Hulkenberg, Maldonado and Senna completed the final points positions.
With rain forecast for next weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix, will there be one last sting in the tail for this 2012 championship? Whatever happens, we will be crowing a triple World Champion in just seven days’ time.