United States Grand Prix: Victory for Lewis Hamilton and relief for Fernando Alonso
Vettel extends lead but title race will go to the Brazilian wire
By Pete Gill. Last Updated: 19/11/12 8:18am
The title fight lives on after a day - and not just a race - of compelling drama at the Circuit of The Americas saw Fernando Alonso, with a little help from team-mates past and present, cancel Sebastian Vettel's coronation party as Lewis Hamilton secured a deserved victory from the Red Bull driver.
With an understandably-subdued Alonso trailing home in third, over thirty seconds behind the peerless Hamilton and Vettel, the fact of the World Championship matter is that Red Bull are once against the constructors' kings and Vettel will arrive in Brazil with a hefty lead of thirteen points. Fourth place next Sunday will see the German crowned Sebastian the third.
But such a prosaic reading of this weekend's result doesn't even begin to tell the story of race day.
This was F1 in all its glory and gory politics with the race's high-quality driving preceded by high intrigue as Ferrari opted to trigger a grid penalty against Felipe Massa in order to shift Alonso from the dirty side of the grid. How to make friends and influence people, F1 style.
Yet whilst the ploy was widely disparaged, and may yet levy a hefty public relations fee, it paid an immediate dividend at the start of the race as the Spnaiard exited the first corner in fourth place. Who's a lucky boy? If it was Vettel in Abu Dhabi, it was most certainly Alonso in Austin as the Spaniard inherited third place when the luckless Mark Webber retired with an alternator failure and was then able to coast to the podium after a race-wrecking botched pit-stop for Kimi Raikkonen.
The podium marked the first occasion, at the 100th time of asking no less, when F1's 'big three' have shared the sport's three top steps, but Alonso's muted reaction as Vettel and Hamilton embraced was telling and highly appropriate given that he had been relegated to a mere spectator from the battle for victory. He should have enjoyed the view though, as Vettel and Hamilton served up some of the finest quality driving of the year.
For twenty laps after the first and only round of pit-stops, Hamilton relentlessly harried Vettel, who drove with stunning skill to rebuff his rival before finally succumbing on lap 42 as the McLaren charged past in the DRS Zone. Christian Horner, the Red Bull boss, attributed the loss of position to his driver being held up by HRT's Narain Karthikeyan, who has developed into something of a villain in the eyes of Red Bull this year.
Better, though, to relish the captivating spectacle of two first-class drivers dicing wheel-to-wheel at the peak of their powers. If that doesn't entice America to embrace F1, nothing else deserves to.
"It was a close fight with Lewis," reflected Vettel. "He had one chance and he took it."
He certainly did, ripping past the RB8 with Sky Sports F1's post-race analysis revealing less than a wheel's width between the two cars as Hamilton made his decisive move down the backstraight.
But still the story did not end there. To his credit, even the prospect of extending his World Championship lead wasn't sufficient to persuade Vettel to call off his hunt for victory, with his Red Bull maintaining a dogged pursuit of the McLaren until the chequered flag and crossing the line for the final time with the fastest lap of the race. You may not like him, but sometimes it's impossible not to admire him.
More emphatically, the same could be said of Hamilton following his spirited and ultimately successful pursuit of victory for a team he will be leaving in less than two months' time against machinery which had appeared at the weekend's onset to be simply unstoppable. Was this Hamilton's best victory yet? Very possibly.
"That was wicked. I was so happy I nearly lost my voice on the in-lap because I was screaming so much," he told Sky Sports F1 afterwards. "What a great day. To finally be able to battle the Red Bulls was very special."
Having lost out from the dirty side of the grid at the start, the 2008 World Champion retook second place from Webber on lap four before setting off in search of Vettel. Time and again, the pair swapped fastest laps, serving up a majestic display of frontrunning as the rest of the field were reduced to the rank of backmarkers. Featuring just a single overtake, their duel may not have had been the most dramatic of the year, but its longevity, and the absence of any obvious mistakes, made it one of the campaign's finest spectacles.
What a way for Hamilton to sign off as he prepares to depart McLaren. What a track. What a season.
And what a finale awaits us in Brazil.