United States GP - We’re going down to the wire in Brazil
Austin, 18 November – Fernando Alonso’s championship chances are still alive! The first race to be held at the Circuit of the Americas, outside the Texas capital proved to be every bit as exciting as had been predicted. Plenty of drama, lots of overtaking and for the Scuderia Ferrari duo, a third place for Fernando Alonso and a fourth for Felipe Massa, after great drives from both men. After a difficult qualifying on Saturday, this is a fantastic result. Lewis Hamilton has the honour of being the first man to see his name on the trophy for this new event, after he never gave up chasing down Sebastian Vettel, who had to settle for second. There is only one number that matters tonight – 13. Not normally considered lucky, let’s see if it will be in seven days time in Sao Paolo as this is the number of points that now separates the two title contenders, the German having extended his lead by three compared to Sunday night in Abu Dhabi. Red Bull Racing can be congratulated on clinching the Constructors’ title for 2012 this afternoon. Hamilton’s win and Button’s fifth place means that, in second place, Ferrari’s lead over McLaren is down to 14 points.
Fernando was promoted to seventh on the grid, when the team made the tactical decision to break an FIA seal on the gearbox on Felipe’s car prior to the race. This is deemed to be the same as changing a gearbox and carries a five place penalty. The perfectly legal move meant that the Brazilian had generously “taken one for the team” as the saying goes, allowing his team-mate to increase his championship chances by starting one place higher up and from the clean side of the grid, which was bound to be a big advantage on this new and very slippery track surface.
With the difficulties in warming up the tyres pretty much the entire field had opted to start on the softer Medium Pirelli tyre. Choosing the best moment to switch to the Hard would be one of the most important decisions of the afternoon. At the start, Webber came through from third to sit behind pole man Vettel, while Fernando immediately went up three places to fourth and Felipe was up one to tenth. Behind the Spanish Ferrari man came Schumacher, Hulkenberg, Raikkonen, Grosjean and Di Resta, who’d made up four places in the Force India, ahead of Massa. Lap 3 saw Webber struggling with Hamilton on his gearbox, with Fernando 2.8 behind the McLaren man. However, the Englishman got ahead of the Australian so that Webber was now in Fernando’s sights, while still tenth, Felipe was just 0.4 behind Schumacher. Then Grosjean spun the Lotus and the Brazilian managed to pass him and Schumacher to go eighth on lap 6.
Most of the battles were taking place in the midfield while lap 10 saw Hamilton closing to within 1.6 of the leader Vettel. Webber was 4.5 adrift of the Englishman and had a 3.4 lead over Fernando. Lap 11 saw Felipe pass Di Resta to take seventh spot. The first ever race at the Circuit of the Americas was turning into a real crowd pleaser with wheel to wheel battles, including the one that saw Raikkonen move his Lotus up to fifth behind Fernando after passing Hulkenberg’s Force India. The top four were running within 10.9 seconds but behind Fernando there was a big 11.9 gap to Raikkonen.
On lap 17 Webber spun off and retired so that Fernando was third and next time round, Felipe set a fastest race lap. Lap 20 and Hamilton changed tyres followed straight down pit lane by Fernando. Unfortunately, there was a slight delay on the right rear wheel of the F2012 and this dropped the Ferrari man to sixth, moving back to fifth when Di Resta pitted. Vettel pitted on lap 21 and maintained his lead. On the Prime tyre, the Spaniard was not as quick as he would have liked and Button on worn Primes managed to get by. Felipe had a smooth pit stop coming in from third on lap 26, coming out sixth behind Ricciardo, but he fell into the clutches of Raikkonen, who’d had a slow stop on lap 24 and the two men had a wheel to wheel battle which stayed in favour of the Finn.
On lap 30, with 26 to go, Fernando was now fourth, 1.9 behind Button who had yet to pit. Ricciardo changed tyres coming in from fifth at this point, so that Felipe was back in sixth behind Raikkonen. Hamilton was piling the pressure on the leader, getting to within 1.6 of Vettel, with a series of quickest laps. These two had pulled away from the field, Button in the other McLaren 24 seconds behind his team-mate, with Fernando a further 2.9 behind. On lap 34 Hamilton was close enough to use DRS if he wanted, the Red Bull right in his sights, but the leader responded with a fastest lap of his own on lap 35, as Button finally changed tyres, promoting Fernando to third and Felipe to fifth, with Grosjean sixth at over 2 seconds. Lap 38 and Felipe had Button behind him after the McLaren got past Grosjean’s Lotus. However, the Brazilian was looking ahead rather than behind and on the next lap, he pulled a great move on Raikkonen at Turn 1 to take fourth place, to lie 12 seconds behind his team-mate.
With Fernando half a minute behind second placed Hamilton, Ferrari fans were no doubt finding themselves in the strange situation of cheering for a McLaren driver, because if Hamilton relegated Vettel to the 18 points for second instead of the 25 for first, it would really help Fernando’s chances next Sunday in Brazil. And sure enough, on lap 42, Hamilton took the lead. If it ended like this, Vettel would only extend his lead over the Ferrari man by 3 points to 13. The important fight was at the front, but the best entertainment came from the duel for fifth as Button was doing all he could to pass Raikkonen, running wheel to wheel and nose to tail for lap after lap, until 45, when the McLaren finally managed to pass the Lotus.
On lap 48, Vettel was one second down on the leader and therefore his chances of using DRS were growing, but Hamilton seemed to be able to control it, pulling the gap to 1.3 next time round. From then on, the remaining eight laps saw the status quo maintained as the gaps settled. A great pre-race strategy, another one in the race and two strong drives from Fernando and Felipe mean we go to the latter’s home race still fighting to get the Spaniard the Drivers’ crown.