• United States Grand Prix - The Final Stint

Lewis the lonestar

Laurence Edmondson and Chris Medland
November 18, 2012

A round-up of the good, the bad and the downright ugly from the 2012 United States Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton soaks up victory © Press Association
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Hamilton's parting gift

When Lewis Hamilton's MP4-27 ground to a halt in Abu Dhabi there was an air of inevitability, with McLaren's fragile reliability rearing its head once again. Coming to Austin, for all Hamilton's talk of wanting to have a fight with the likes of Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, the overriding feeling was that his best chance for one final McLaren victory had gone. His qualifying performance was simply stunning to get so close to Vettel, and his relaxed demeanour prior to the race portrayed a driver who just wanted to go out and enjoy it. He did exactly that; needing a dress rehearsal before passing Mark Webber, but taking his one and only chance to jump Vettel late in the race after relentlessly hunting the Red Bull. It was a mesmerising watch at the front as two of the best in the world went flat out for victory, and if it is to be Hamilton's last victory for McLaren it's a truly fitting one.

Gearbox games

It was hugely controversial, but Ferrari's decision to intentionally incur a penalty on Felipe Massa's car to help Fernando Alonso was not only legal but also pretty smart. Breaking a gearbox seal to alter the grid to your liking is arguably against the spirit of the regulations, but as has been proved so many times before in F1, it's the black and white of the rule book that the teams operate by. After the race Stefano Domenicali said: "If another team principal says that we didn't do the right choice he is lying to you." And to be fair to him, neither Christian Horner nor Martin Whitmarsh could doubt the logic of the decision, even if the McLaren boss said he would not have done it. Nevertheless, Alonso secured the best result possible with his car and that was helped a huge amount by starting on the clean side of the grid. The man who lost out most was Massa, but isn't that what No. 2 drivers are for?

The Story of the Weekend

© Sutton Images
  • Shock The racing - Even with a decent looking layout on paper, nobody was expecting wall-to-wall action from lights through to flag, but COTA didn't disappoint
  • Shocker Romain Grosjean - His spin while chasing down Nico Hulkenberg did nothing for his reputation as a bit of a wild man and also put the brakes on what had been a competitive weekend, which was somewhat masked by his gearbox grid penalty
  • Best overtakeKimi Raikkonen - Overtaking was more prevalent than expected, but Raikkonen's move around the outside of Nico Hulkenberg at turn three was something very special
  • Best lap Lewis Hamilton - On lap 42 he took his chance to pass Sebastian Vettel and made the move stick in the DRS zone. Vettel was hindered by Narain Karthikeyan in sector three, but Hamilton didn't put a wheel off line in his pursuit
  • Worst lap Romain Grosjean - His spin on lap seven was bad enough but he then continued to haemorrhage positions over the next lap and had dropped to 13th by the time he pitted
  • Drive of the day Lewis Hamilton - He started on the dirty side of the grid, didn't do anything wrong and capped it off with two great passing moves on the Red Bulls. A much deserved victory after disappointments in Singapore and Abu Dhabi

Dancing on asphalt

There's always question marks when a new circuit joins the calendar, but while that was also the case with the Circuit of the Americas, a lack of grip was fully expected. However, the teams weren't expecting such a slippery track, nor for it to last so long, and it added a new dimension to this weekend. Qualifying required a precise lap as every wheel off-line would be heavily punished, and before the race the talk was already about the grip level on the grid. Once the lights went out, the grip level and conservative tyre compounds suddenly combined to allow close racing, with drivers struggling to get the power down and regularly crossing their hands to deal with oversteer. Only Romain Grosjean was fully caught out as he spun entering turn 19, but little mistakes were rife and helped induce overtaking. The drivers may not have been able to enjoy the challenge of the circuit layout to its fullest, but the conditions produced a challenge of their own which delivered an enthralling race.

Red Bull's hat-trick

You could be forgiven for thinking Red Bull had just lost both championships such was the team's downbeat response to Sebastian Vettel's second place. Part of that response was caused by Vettel relinquishing the lead late on, and more was from Mark Webber's alternator failure that allowed Fernando Alonso up to third place. If Vettel had held on and Webber finished third then the drivers' title would be all but secure with Vettel 23 points clear heading to Brazil. As it stands it's 13 points, but Red Bull has secured its third consecutive constructors' championship and that's an achievement that should not be underestimated. Only Ferrari, McLaren and Williams have achieved that feat previously, but what is so much more impressive is the timeframe in which it's been done. It's taken Red Bull just eight seasons to get to this position, and a huge part of that is Adrian Newey who admitted "it was a bit of a career gamble" joining the team in the first place, but says "I was joining with a dream of perhaps trying to win races in the future with the team that I'd been involved with more or less from the start. To actually fulfil that dream and to achieve three titles has been amazing." Christian Horner deserves massive credit too having overseen Red Bull come in to the sport as a young and fresh team and evolve in to a dominant one. After this season the target becomes four constructors' titles in a row, and only McLaren and Ferrari have achieved that before.

COTA delivers

Most the things that could go wrong for a new circuit did go wrong for the Circuit of the Americas over the past two years, but when it mattered it put on an astounding show. Not only is the circuit one of the most interesting layouts among the Tilkedromes, it actually lived up to its promise and delivered good racing. "You never know if it's going to work and maybe the next race it will not work," designer Hermann Tilke told ESPN. "In some scenarios it works, but yes we tried to plan it like this."The slippery track surface, combined with the challenging layout, seemed to help in the end, with drivers making mistakes and creating overtaking opportunities. But most importantly the fans turned up - 117,429 on race day alone - and added to what was a fantastic and uniquely American atmosphere. It's clear that F1 still has a following in the USA after five years away, and if treated with the respect it deserves there is no reason why that following can't flourish.

Bring on Brazil

During Christian Horner's post-race press briefing, Bernie Ecclestone wandered through Red Bull's hospitality and brought a halt to proceedings. He calmly leant towards Horner's left ear and, speaking softly, said: "Thank you very much. It was very kind and very well planned. I didn't think you were going to make it, but you did it in the end." With a smile on his face Ecclestone continued on his way, safe in the knowledge that Formula One has got a box-office season finale in Brazil next weekend. Sebastian Vettel may have a 13-point lead, but at a circuit like Interlagos that margin can start to look very fine with just a few drops of rain. Red Bull also has reliability concerns with its third alternator failure of the season this weekend. Its previous two alternator failures on Vettel's car had been from a new batch of components, but this time it was from the old batch that had previously been considered more trustworthy. "It's a worry, full stop," Horner admitted. "Unfortunately it's the third alternator that we've had [fail] and obviously there have been other failure in other [Renault-powered] cars. The new version has raced on other engine cycles so hopefully that's what we'll have in Brazil." Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso notched up his fourth consecutive podium, albeit 39 seconds behind race winner Lewis Hamilton. It's pretty inconceivable that Ferrari will close the performance gap to Red Bull in the final week of the season, but another 15-point podium finish could still be enough for Alonso...