Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel arrived in Austin for the penultimate round of the 2012 World Championship with a slender 10 point lead over Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.
This was the first United States Grand Prix to be held on the brand new Circuit of the Americas, and after a gap of 5 years without a United States Grand Prix on the calendar since Lewis Hamilton won the final F1 race to be held at Indianapolis, the new track served up a wonderful duel – but not between the title contenders.
While Fernando Alonso was working wonders with the Ferrari in 2012, the car was no match for the front runners. Vettel took pole position for Red Bull, with Lewis Hamilton alongside him on the front row for McLaren, just a tenth down. Alonso qualified down in 9th position, over a second and a half down on Vettel, but also behind his team mate Felipe Massa. With Romain Grosjean who qualified fourth place taking a 5 place penalty for a gearbox change, Alonso was up to 8th on the grid, which became seventh when Ferrari, desperate to keep Alonso in the title race, broke the seal on Massa’s gearbox to give him a 5 place grid penalty, to move Fernando a further place forward on the grid to 7th, but also crucially moving Alonso to the outside of the track where there would be more grip at the start.
At the start Vettel got away cleanly to hold the lead into the first corner, with Hamilton losing out to the other Red Bull of Mark Webber who started third, the dirty side of the track certainly hindering his getaway. Alonso justified Ferrari’s strategy with an opportunistic start to get himself up into fourth at the first corner. Hamilton was on a mission, and he flew down the inside of Webber with the aid of DRS into Turn 12 on lap 4, and set about chipping away at Vettel’s lead. Mark Webber retired on lap 17, leaving Alonso in third, but the Ferrari was no match for the pace of the lead duo, and although there was plenty of action further down the field the race (including another example of the Schumacher chop as McLaren’s Jenson Button forced his way past Mercedes Michael Schumacher on the very inside of the track into Turn 1 on lap 10), the race was defined by the intense battle between Vettel and Hamilton.
Hamilton was able to close up to Vettel, but after getting himself into DRS range, found himself struggling with his tyres, with Vettel able to push and extend a gap before their first and only pit stop. Hamilton came in on lap 20, and when Vettel came in on the next lap he was able to pit and rejoin in the lead. Hamilton started to slowly close up again, and by lap 34 was back within DRS range. Hamilton was shadowing Vettel, but it looked like Vettel would be able to resist and maintain the lead. But on lap 42, Vettel’s momentum was checked as he came up to lap the HRT of Narain Karthikeyan in Turn 8, allowing Hamilton to close right up on him and be on his tail as they exited Turn 11, and with DRS he was able to blast past Vettel down the straight, getting well ahead before they arrived at Turn 12.
Vettel would stay on Hamilton’s tail for the remainder of the race, but unable to get close enough to make a move, and with the driver’s title to think about he had to settle for second behind Hamilton, a magnificent victory for the McLaren driver. Alonso managed to come third to keep the title fight alive heading into the season finale in Brazil, with Massa an impressive fourth after that gearbox penalty shuffled him down the grid, coming in ahead of Jenson Button in fifth, who had also had a great recovery drive after a difficult qualifying and poor start saw him drop towards the back of the field at the start of the race.