Rabbit out of the hat

Agencies Posted: Nov 20, 2012 at 0258 hrs
Austin World title race alive after Hamilton emerges surprise winner in U.S. ahead of Vettel, Alonso

A BOLD passing manoeuvre at the end of a long straightway slipped Lewis Hamilton past Sebastian Vettel, and the McLaren driver went on to win the US Grand Prix on Sunday in the first Formula One race on American soil since 2007.

The drivers’ championship will be settled next week in Sao Paolo, Brazil, after Red Bull’s Vettel finished second and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso third.

Vettel started the race in the pole position and led the first 41 laps before Hamilton caught him, sneaking past Vettel just before they reached the tight corner on turn No. 12 at the Circuit of the Americas. Hamilton started in the No. 2 position and pushed Vettel at every opportunity. Vettel, the defending two-time Formula One champion, remained slightly ahead of Ferrari’s Alonso in the drivers’ championship, meaning the title will come down to the final race of the season.

Hamilton, who won the last US Grand Prix, talked all week about how much he loves the United States and how badly he wanted to win in his return. With the stars and stripes of the American flag painted on top of his helmet, Hamilton pulled off the daring move of the race with his pass. Vettel had been dominant in practice and qualifying on the new $400 million track that none of the teams had driven before this week, but couldn’t hold off the former world champion Sunday.

Surviving chaos

VETTEL survived the chaos of the start as the drivers reached the top of the 133-foot elevation at the signature first turn, then whipped around and down into the second before hitting a series of curves. Vettel kept clear of the congestion and looked to be off and running to a victory. But Hamilton kept looking for his chance on every pass through the straightaway before he finally found the room he needed.

Alonso had to work hard to keep up and keep the chase for the drivers’ championship going. Alonso was set to start in eighth. He got a boost to seventh when Ferrari broke the gearbox seal of Alonso’s teammate, Felipe Massa, incurring a five-spot penalty for Massa that allowed Alonso to move up.

Alonso used the better position to immediately advance three spots on the first lap. He ran into trouble with a bad pit stop when his crew struggled to replace his rear left wheel, but made up enough ground to finish third. Vettel still leads the drivers’ championship race by 13 points.

Ferrari’s clever plot

Ferrari had promised to pull out all stops on Sunday to help Alonso claim the Formula One drivers title and with the help of a rulebook loophole they head to the season finale still in the fight.

Bending the rules to their advantage, Brazilian Felipe Massa took a five-place grid penalty to help Alonso stay in the title chase with Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel.

Just prior to Sunday’s race, Ferrari said they had broken a seal on Massa’s gearbox, incurring the mandatory penalty, for strategy considerations, with the objective of maximising Alonso’s start potential. The penalty meant Alonso started in seventh place and, crucially, on the clean side of the grid.

Alonso seized the opportunity to finish third behind Vettel and race winner Lewis Hamilton to trail Red Bull’s championship leader by 13 points and everything to play for in Sao Paulo next Sunday.

While the decision to take a penalty to gain an advantage may hint at a lack of sportsmanship, the move fell within the rules, Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali offering no apologies and making no attempt to hide his plan.

“I didn’t want to lie. I just wanted to say the truth. It would have been easy to (lie) but that is not our style, my style,” he said. “The data we had we knew the left side of the grid was very bad. I wanted to be totally honest. If in my shoes other team principals would say a different thing, they are lying.”