The opening event at the Circuit of the America’s has been won by Lewis Hamilton in classic fashion. The new venue itself was a real credit to its designers and the racing it provided was some of the best we’ve seen in recent memory, with not only a close battle for the victory but also tight driving throughout the entire field.
The start of the race was chaotic as many expected, with the outside line seeming the preference for gaining positions. Mark Webber jumped Hamilton off the line and Alonso overtook both Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher in the opening corner to claim 4th position which became 3rd when Mark Webber retired with alternator problems shortly after.
But the main show was at the front, for the entire race Hamilton and Vettel were separated by mere seconds, with Lewis closing the gap in the first stint and chasing him down further after the second set of stops. Hamilton than proceeded to attack Vettel for 10 laps, but couldn’t find his way past until Vettel was slightly delayed by a HRT slightly before the DRS zone and Hamilton got by in a DRS assisted move. The pass itself was extremely dangerous for Vettel’s title hopes, as when Lewis got the run he moved over to defend with the two almost colliding, which would have likely taken them both out and handed Alonso the victory. But as it stood Fernando came home in 3rd position, without ever having any real pace like he was going to challenge.
There were plenty of standout drives up and down the field. Jenson Button drove magnificently to take 5th position after his 12th place grid spot. For many points of the race he was the fastest car on track. Felipe Massa was also the faster of the two Ferrari’s all weekend to take 4th position, 11 seconds down on Fernando after Ferrari’s controversial gearbox change to enforce a grid drop. Daniel Ricciardo also drove an amazing race, but more on that later…
With Vettel not scoring the victory and Alonso recovering to the podium the championship is separated by a mere 13 points headed into Brazil which has rain predicted all weekend, so while the advantage substantially lies with Vettel anything is still more than possible. Some may remember the 2007 decider at Brazil in which Raikkonen went into the final round with a 7 point deficit (18 points in the current season) and emerged victorious, Felipe Massa also nearly repeated the same feat the following year. The fact that Mark Webber had another alternator related problem will really bring home just home much Red Bull stands to lose from reliability.
The victory this weekend has reflected just how much reliability has cost Hamilton this season. He drove flawlessly all race and had the best pace of any driver in the field. While its certain he will finish his career at McLaren with only 1 world championship to his name, he has claimed back something possibly even more important this season, his reputation as the best in the sport. Still, the main show is between the blue and the red cars and with a 13 point lead and a dry weather pace advantage, it looks like Sebastian Vettel is well and truly in the drivers seat, but as 2012 has shown time and time again, never say never.