It seemed that the US Grand Prix would bring the title fight to an end after Sebastian Vettel’s brilliant performance and a pole-position start. However, the new Circuit of The Americas was not prepared to be remembered as dull and predictable on its maiden race day.
For the penultimate GP of the season all eyes were focused on the two last standing protagonists of the title fight: Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso. The Championship leader Vettel pleased his supporters with a show of great form throughout the practice and qualifying sessions.
Alonso failed to surprise, proving once more that Ferrari is lacking the speed in qualifying by lapping the eighth fastest time. However, a rather controversial decision of his team to provoke a five-place grid penalty for his team-mate Massa by changing his gearbox, promoted the Spaniard one place ahead as the Brazilian moved from seventh to 11. Ferrari defended the decision, claiming that the interest of the team is always more important than that of the individual; a decision which also found Massa’s approval, although it was the least he could do to show gratitude for his Prancing Horse seat in 2013.
Still, Alonso was far behind Vettel prior to the red lights going off, and it was clear that something spectacular would have to happen to prevent the German from claiming his hat-trick title a race early. And it happened: whether you’d call spectacular the fact that Lewis Hamilton was able to keep his promise of aiming for another race win this season, or the fact that his McLaren did not experience another technical issue such as the one that eliminated him from the run for victory in Abu Dhabi. Or the fact that finally the team and their long-term driver proved that Red Bull is not unbeatable – by using the mix of suitable conditions of some lapped-car traffic and DRS-boosted speed that allowed the Brit to overtake the pray he’d been hunting for 42 laps to claim the lead and stick to it until the chequered flag – a situation that the standing Champion referred to on the team radio as ‘unbelievable’ just after the overtake.
Whatever the viewpoint, Hamilton’s drive was, indeed, spectacular, and gave the driver and the team a long awaited reassurance that they can still drive their car to the top of the podium. The Brit was the first star of the freshly baked Texan circuit, and he knew it:
“What a great feeling to win the first grand prix here, back in the States, I won the last one here as well, so I’m massively proud,” he said in the post-race conference, whilst he told the official Formula 1 website:
“It’s a brilliant feeling to be finishing the season on a high. Hopefully, we’ll go to Brazil next week with the same level of performance – I’d love to win my final two races for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes.”
Red Bull were also victorious, having claimed the Constructors’ Championship title; well deserved by the team’s engineer, Adrian Newey, as Alonso and many other F1 critics would say… Although Austin reminded the spectators that their car is not faultless, when the third alternator failure this year eliminated Mark Webber from a promising third place on the grid. Thankfully for the team, Vettel kept his cool and arrived safely second to the end, which added even more points to his Championship lead.
But Red Bull have to wait and see whether they will be sending off 2012 on a double-whammy, as qualifying-scarred Alonso did not disappoint on the Sunday and finished yet another race on the podium, which moved him further away from the title by mere three points, bringing the difference between him and Vettel back to the 13 points from before Abu Dhabi.
Despite the harsh team hierarchy, Massa also enjoyed a successful weekend, having finished just behind his team-mate: an impressive seven-place move up the grid; although the Constructors Championship title has been already claimed, Ferrari can at least take a bit of satisfaction of pulling the second place in the standings away from McLaren. And yet, it was a bitter satisfaction for the Brazilian:
“For sure I was able to be in front of Fernando in this race, but I did a very good help,” he told Autosport.
With 25 points left to gain in Brazil, hypothetically speaking, Alonso would have to win and Vettel finish fourth for the competition to make the last dramatic flip to hand the victory to the Spaniard. That’s a tough ask, as the second half of the season was a spectacle of Red Bull domination, whilst the Abu Dhabi GP stands as the ultimate example of Vettel’s capabilities. And yet, if drama is to be expected, Sao Paolo of 2012 is bound to deliver.
The battle is still on.