F1: Austin Grand Prix Review
The penultimate Grand Prix of the season is over and I think it is safe to say that the Austin Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas really lived up to the hype. Everything about the weekend was visually fantastic and exciting, and despite numerous off road excursions and spins during free practice and genuine concern about a mass pile up at turn one from the start we saw just two retirements which were both mechanical and no real collisions. Don’t let the lack of collisions fool you into thinking that it was anything but an action packed race however, because it really delivered one of the best races of the 2012 F1 season.
After Sebastian Vettel had topped the time sheets in all three free practice sessions it was looking likely that we would see yet another Vettel pole position and run away race win. It was widely thought that only one person could stop this from happening and at the very least stop a Red Bull one-two; this was Lewis Hamilton and despite taking everything out of what seemed a slower car he could not top Vettel and would be starting on the dirty side of the grid in second place. Jenson Button had earlier lost all power to be knocked out in Q2 and Fernando Alonso could only manage 9th on the grid after being out qualified by his teammate Felipe Massa but would be bumped up to 8th after Grosjean’s penalty for a gear box change.
This could not have worked out better for Red Bull with them occupying arguably the best two grid slots and Alonso being so far back that he would need to make places in order to keep the title alive. With the track being so new and slippery off line, it was estimated that all even number grid slots would lose at least one place at the start of the race. Hamilton, Massa and Alonso were all on the even side of the grid.
Hollywood was well represented in the paddock and the controversy before the start of the race almost seemed like fiction. With Fernando Alonso starting on the dirty side of the grid and way back in 8th position, it was likely that at best he would be 9th going into the first corner as there would be no grip to get a good start. With Massa ahead on the grid, Ferrari decided to break the FIA seal on his gearbox and take an automatic five place grid penalty; meaning that Alonso would be promoted to 7th and on the clean side of the track which would enable him to get a good start and at the least put himself into 6th place for the first corner. This act was very much taking team orders to the extreme but it is not as if Ferrari have always played fair; I don’t think we will find out which other teams would have done the same with so much was at stake but you have to feel sorry for Felipe Massa. Every time Massa finds an advantage over Fernando the team take it away from him and I hope that if Alonso is crowned champion in Brazil next weekend that he remembers who helped him get some of those key points.
On to the actual race and I must say that I was so giddy with excitement and expectation from lights out to the chequered flag that I couldn’t sit still. After seeing the cars struggle during free practice I just felt that anything could happen at any time. The start was as expected, Webber moved into second place despite Hamilton’s best efforts and Fernando Alonso used his clean side advanced grid slot to full effect and surged into 4th place. There was a bit of off roading down the field but no collisions to report despite Button dropping back into 16th place.
The front four of Vettel, Webber, Hamilton and Alonso soon pulled away from the rest of the pack and then Alonso also started to drop back. With Red Bull leading, most expected Vettel to streak away to win comfortably and he did start to pull away from Webber. Hamilton however had other ideas and was lightning fast, setting a fastest lap whilst following and passing Webber in turbulent air. After passing Webber, Lewis was like a man possessed and quickly chased down Vettel. Webber had dropped back and was being caught by Alonso before being told of a KERS failure, soon after Mark was off the track slowly coming to a halt with what turned out to be yet another alternator failure. This gifted third place to Alonso and combined with hearing that Hamilton was closing on Vettel, I imagine he was grinning from ear to ear. Despite catching Vettel quickly, once in the turbulent air Hamilton could not get close enough to pass and started dropping back rapidly. This was in the pit stop window and when Hamilton finally came in he was around 3 seconds behind but his McLaren team managed a blistering 2.4 second pit stop which put him out just behind Kimi Raikkonen who had not yet stopped. Vettel pitted shortly after and while his stop was also quick Hamilton had closed up and swiftly passed Raikkonen to once again chase down Vettel.
Things seemed pretty even between Vettel and Hamilton for a few laps before Lewis received a radio message from his engineer stating that the tyres they took off were fine and he could push with this new set; the reaction was instant and Hamilton was once again taking chunks out of Vettel’s lead lap by lap. Once again the gap became static once Hamilton was in the turbulent air of the Red Bull but when Vettel encountered traffic that could not get out of the way it gave Hamilton the only chance he needed to take the lead and go on to win his second grand prix in America out of his only two attempts despite Vettel never giving up.
Alonso sealed third place, losing out on only 3 championship points to Vettel with Massa and Button closing out the top five with remarkable drives from low down on the grid. What would have happened had Button not received a mechanical failure in qualifying and Ferrari didn’t break Massa’s gearbox seal I don’t know but they would certainly have been challenging for the podium, although they were not in the same league as Hamilton and Vettel.
Amazingly enough, with Hamilton, Vettel and Alonso being widely regarded as the top three drivers at the moment this was the first time they have ever shared the podium together!
- Lewis Hamilton
- Sebastian Vettel
- Fernando Alonso
- Felipe Massa
- Jenson Button
- Kimi Raikkonen
- Romain Grosjean
- Nico Hulkenberg
- Pastor Maldonado
- Bruno Senna
With Austin being a brand new track I don’t think I could have asked for more from my predictions. Hamilton only beat Vettel by 1.5 seconds and had he not overtaken I would have had 4 out of 5 correct! Massa has now put together a good streak of point scoring races which is great for him and without being sacrificed I’m pretty sure he would have been able to outscore Fernando.
Red Bull took the four points required to be crowned Constructors’ champions for the third season in a row joining an elite group and are the first to win their first three consecutively. The Drivers’ championship is still very much alive with Alonso 13 points behind but he will need Vettel to have a bad weekend in Brazil to win the championship.
Check back during the week for our Brazilian Grand Prix preview which will cover all the permutations and give our prediction on how it will turn out!