United States Grand Prix: Vettel Rules the Roost

Sebastian Vettel led the way to a record breaking eighth consecutive race win at the Circuit of the Americas, ahead of Lotus’ Romain Grosjean and teammate Mark Webber. It was the fourth time this season that the drivers made up an all Renault podium, though only the second time the three had stood together.

A number of cars were considerably out of place on the grid before the race had even started. Both Rosberg and Massa had qualified considerably poorer than in recent races, and a grid penalty for Button saw him line up on the eighth row of the grid. At lights out, Vettel stormed away towards the first corner from pole. Webber, who’d had a reasonable launch off the grid, couldn’t quite make the racing line before a fast moving Grosjean. The Lotus had been exceptionally quick off the line, and immediately moved himself up into second. To add insult to injury, Hamilton squeezed passed an out of line Webber, relegating the Red Bull driver to fourth before turn 2. Not an entire lap had been completed before the safety car made it’s first ever appearance at the Circuit of the Americas. Force India’s Adrian Sutil had made contact with Maldonado’s wing in the opening lap, and the resulting shunt sent Sutil straight into the barriers. After five laps of the safety car while the marshals cleared the stricken VJM06, the race resumed with little drama.

Unsurprisingly, Sebastian Vettel launched himself from the rest of the field, again setting fastest lap times despite Rocky’s pleas to save the tyres. There were talks before the race of a possible gearbox issue on Vettel’s RB9. Understandable seeing as the gearbox was not only on it’s fifth race, but had also done two sets of donuts… Naughty Seb. Alas, any issues throughout the race didn’t haunt the German, excluding a slightly shorter opening stint on the medium tyres than Webber or Grosjean. Vettel cruised home to a record breaking eighth consecutive win. After conceding two positions in the opening lap, Webber began to close the gap on Hamilton. It was clear the RB9 had better pace than the F1W04, and eventually Webber made his move around the outside of the Mercedes on lap 14. The Red Bull, after his pit to the hard tyres, began to close the gap between himself and Grosjean. Apparently in a bid to conserve his tyres, Webber pulled back by two-seconds a lap around lap 36, before launching another attack. Despite Webber racing with DRS, Grosjean was able to defend his position with KERs, and Webber was forced to settle with P3.

After a phenomenal start from the Lotus, Grosjean spent most of the race sandwiched between the two Red Bulls, except for a brief stint in the lead following Vettel’s pit to hard tyres. While Grosjean never made it close enough to Vettel to challenge for the lead, the Lotus maintained his initial pace off the line and his tyre wear, all the while dealing with an every approaching Webber. Grosjean’s defensive driving against the RB9 was clean, controlled, and ultimately deserved for P2 on the podium. Kovalainen’s return to F1 was somewhat plagued by bad luck. Despite a challenging race, the Finn had a brief battle with Rosberg for eleventh before diving into the pits. After a loss of pace and grip from suspected contact, the team pit Kovalainen for tyres and a new front wing. The Lotus lost 33 seconds in the stop, and toppled down the grid order. Finally, a loss of KERs in the back end of the race saw Kovalainen unable to challenge for a points finish, eventually coming home in P15.

After initially taking two positions off Hulkenberg and Webber, Hamilton was unable to maintain the pace in his Mercedes while looking after the tyres. A very moody Hamilton complained over the radio first of a “leave me alone, I know what I’m doing” message, and then again a few laps later of “C’mon man, you have to keep me updated on my pace, my tyres, my [insert comment regarding Lewis’ hormonal mood swings]”. Hamilton then spent the majority of the race running in fourth. The only challenge to overtake that Hamilton encountered was Caterham’s Charles Pic ignoring blue flags towards the end of the race, eventually moving out of the way, the Mercedes crossed the line P4. Despite starting the race largely out of position, Rosberg drove consistently throughout the race. Arguably Rosberg’s best challenge of the day was his battle for tenth with Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo. The battle on lap 20 concluded with Rosberg sweeping through the inside of Ricciardo to then take the racing line into the next corner. Rosberg later made a move of di Resta, which saw the Mercedes move up to P9, where he would finish the race.

Alonso was back on the pace compared to last round in Abu Dhabi, though his race was a touch underwhelming. Starting sixth on the grid, the Ferrari immediately conceded a place to Perez. His challenge to regain his position never eventuated as the McLaren dived into the pits for fresh tyres. Alonso’s second battle of race came against Gutierrez on lap 29. However, the experience of a world champion over the rookie driver saw an easy pass at turn 1. Finally in the later stint of the race, Alonso set himself to challenge Hulkenberg for fifth. After catching the Sauber for several laps, the Ferrari passed Hulkenberg in the same manner as when he’d passed his teammate several laps earlier. Alonso eventually finished the race in P5. Massa was noticeably off the pace after an impressive few previous rounds. Unable to keep his tyres in check, the Brazilian was called into the pits on lap 39 for another set of medium tyres. The second stop saw Massa fall way back to P16 around the likes of Maldonado. Massa was unable to make his way back through much of the field and finished P13.

Hulkenberg delivered another exceptional race, which can only make fans plea to see him in a more competitive car. The Sauber driver had a battle with Hamilton for fourth with Hamilton in the early stages of the race, and then later held Alonso off for as long as he could before the Ferrari made his move on the inside of turn 1. Starting in fourth, Hulkenberg eventually crossed the line P6. Gutierrez’s race was less fortunate at either end. The rookie driver was lightly involved in the opening lap incident between Sutil and Maldonado, making an immediate pit stop to assess the damage. The Mexican’s race improved from there on out, seeing a battle between himself and Vergne on lap 26, and racing at his highest position in sixth. Gutierrez was to repeat his race with Vergne in the final lap of the race, however this time Vergne clipped the Sauber sending him into a spin, and conceding several places. The contact saw Gutierrez finish P14.

Perez had a good clean race, doing well to stay inside the track limits and not cause any collisions this year. The McLaren was forced to take evasive action while Maldonado ran wide and back onto the track, though luckily no contact was made. Finishing ahead of his teammate this week in P9, Perez was the only McLaren to score points. Button suffered front wing damage in the opening lap and was forced to make an early pit to change the nose and tyres. The McLaren did well to finish in P12, after making his way from the back of the grid in a less than competitive car from qualifying.

Despite receiving a blow from McLaren this week, Perez had one of his best races of the season. The Mexican driver, despite finding it initially difficult to overtake, set several fastest sector times throughout the race. We were possibly robbed of a battle between himself and Alonso as the McLaren made his pit, though Perez later made successful moves on Gutierrez and Vergne. Overall his race was quite clean and controlled as he came home in P7. Despite a poor qualifying and grid penalty, Button’s race went rather unnoticed. The McLaren benefited from the rest of the fields pit stops moving his way back up the grid. Finally Button landed a challenge against Ricciardo in the final laps and managed to make to finish just inside the points in P10.

Williams’ rookie Valterri Bottas delivered a sensational race. Pitting on lap 24 for hard compound tyres, the Finn returned in tenth before moving up to eighth as Vergne and Gutierrez pit in front of him. Bottas held his position with seemingly more experience than other rookies, eventually crossing the line in P8. Maldonado appeared to be in a mood over the weekend with the team, and it could be seen in his driving. After causing the retirement of Sutil on the opening lap, the Venezuelan remained in the field until black and orange flags forced him into the pits for a new wing. This sent Maldonado to the back of the field, where the only places he made up were due to pit stops. Maldonado’s race finished with him conceding a place to Kovalainen and finishing P17.

Ricciardo maintained a good pace throughout the race, and was unlucky to miss out on a points finish. The Toro Rosso driver lost a battle earlier in the race to Rosberg moving him to eleventh. Following the pit stops from the rest of the field, Ricciardo moved back inside the points to tenth, before losing the battle to Button in the final laps to finish P11. Teammate Vergne also conceded a place to Button, though in the opening lap. The Frenchman’s pace was good, and his race went largely unnoticed until the final lap where he caused an incident with Gutierrez. The Toro Rosso immerged unscathed and crossed the line one position behind his teammate in P12.

Di Resta missed out on a point for Force India after a reasonable race from the Scot. Starting eleventh on the grid, the Force India raced as high an ninth before his first pit stop. The middle stint of the race was promising, however, conceding a place to Ricciardo and a late pit saw di Resta topple back in the grid to eventually finish P16. Sutil was the only retirement of the race, and appeared to be in the wrong place at the wrong time*.

It was another double finish for Caterham and Marrusia, with Bianchi finishing ahead of both the Caterhams and his teammate. Van der Garde had a largely uneventful race, while Pic received a drive through penalty to ignoring blue flags on Hamilton.

Despite a few good battles for position throughout the race, the United States Grand Prix was a little underwhelming. At this point in the season, and with both championships wrapped up, it is no surprise to see the Red Bulls lead the field, though a track like the Circuit of the Americas promises so much more than what was delivered today. The championship moves for the final time this season to conclude in Brazil, where the battle for second place in the constructors between Mercedes and Ferrari will be decided.

– Alex

* That place may be anywhere around Maldonado, and at anytime around Maldonado

Qualifying Pole Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Podium Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Renault)
Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Fastest Lap 1:39.856 Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
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