- United States Grand Prix
Hamilton wins as title battle goes down to BrazilChris Medland November 18, 2012
Lewis Hamilton won an enthralling United States Grand Prix ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, meaning the drivers' championship will go down to the final round in Brazil.
Hamilton dropped a position at the start from the dirty side of the grid, but worked his way back past both Red Bulls over the course of the race. A tense battle with Vettel peaked on lap 42 when Hamilton made use of the DRS to cleanly pass the Red Bull in to turn 12. He then managed to keep the gap to Vettel at just over a second until the final lap to win on F1's return to the United States.
Red Bull wrapped up the constructors' championship with Vettel's points despite being outscored by the Ferraris of Alonso and Felipe Massa that finished third and fourth. Ferrari's strategy to shuffle Massa back on the grid by breaking a gearbox seal and incurring a five-place penalty paid off as Alonso, who benefited by moving on to the clean side of the grid, got a good start to move up to fourth. He then had a lonely race and took third after Mark Webber's alternator failure on lap 17 put the No. 2 Red Bull out of the race.
Jenson Button had a spirited drive from 12th on the grid to fifth but couldn't quite challenge the Ferraris in the closing stages. Kimi Raikkonen rounded off the top six ahead of his team-mate Romain Grosjean, Nico Hulkenberg, Pastor Maldonado and Bruno Senna.
Throughout the race, Vettel and Hamilton were in a class of their own. It took Hamilton four laps to regain second place using DRS having had a dress rehearsal attempt in to turn 12 on the previous lap. From that point he looked slightly quicker than the Red Bull ahead and set off after Vettel, getting within a second before dropping off ahead of the pit stops.
Grosjean had made a strong start from eighth place but chasing Hulkenberg he spun on the entry to turn 19, dropping him out of the top ten with heavily flat-spotted tyres and forcing him in to an early pit stop. Grosjean's team-mate Raikkonen took up the fight to Hulkenberg and pulled an outstanding move around the outside of turn two to take fifth, which soon became fourth.
Alonso appeared to be struggling to make any impression on Webber ahead of him, but at the start of lap 17 a radio message gave him motivation as Webber was informed his KERS had failed. By turn 12 Webber limped to a halt as the alternator gave up, and Alonso inherited a comfortable third position.
Webber was the second man to retire after Jean-Eric Vergne saw his race ended early by a suspension failure having clouted a kerb in the middle sector. His Toro Rosso team-mate Daniel Ricciardo carried out a long first stint though to get in the mix with the top six as drivers started pitting.
Both Hamilton and Alonso came in on lap 20, but Alonso's right rear was slow going on and saw him dropped behind di Resta, while Button - who had dropped to 16th early on having started on hard tyres - soon passed the Ferrari using DRS. With Alonso struggling for grip early in the stint Raikkonen was set to take advantage but he had a similarly slow stop and rejoined behind both Alonso and Ricciardo.
Vettel pit a lap later than Hamilton who had to clear Raikkonen first, but the gap had closed between the two leaders once again and Hamilton hustled the Red Bull consistently, with the gap never exceeding two seconds.
A long stint from Massa promoted him to fourth behind Button, but having pit Massa lost out to Raikkonen before regaining the position by producing a carbon copy of Raikkonen's move on Hulkenberg at turn two. Button was quick when he pit for medium tyres but found himself behind Massa, Raikkonen and Grosjean for his final stint, cleverly catching Grosjean sleeping to dive up the inside in to turn 15 on lap 38.
Four laps later and the relentless pursuit at the front finally gave Hamilton his chance. Vettel lost time behind an HRT in the opening sector, allowing Hamilton to close right up before turn 11. A good exit saw him use DRS to slipstream Vettel and although a late jink from the Red Bull brought the two inches from contact, Hamilton was through before the braking zone.
The final display of supreme driving - on a day when there was plenty of clean wheel-to-wheel action - came when Button and Raikkonen went through turn 12 side-by-side; the latter leaving just enough room for Button on the outside to complete the move in to turn 13.
Hamilton judged the gap at the front to eventually win by 0.6s as Vettel kept him honest to the line, while Alonso made it the first time that all three have shared a podium in Formula One. Vettel now leads by 13 points ahead of next weekend's Brazil finale, and fourth place at Interlagos will be enough to secure him a third consecutive world title.
Chris Medland is assistant editor at ESPNF1