Austin-tatious Vettel makes it a great eight: US GP review

By on Monday, November 18, 2013
Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull/Getty Images

World champion Sebastian Vettel continued his supremacy of the second half of the season as he scored his eighth successive victory, ahead of Lotus's Romain Grosjean and Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber.

“This year I feel I have a car that can win 10 races... up front and have the tyres working as they did [on Sunday] we can fight with them,” said Lewis Hamilton, having just won the Hungarian Grand Prix in July. The Brit had put in a commanding performance and proposed the possibility of winning the remaining nine races of the season to swipe the world championship away from Sebastian Vettel. In the end, it was his German rival who heeded Hamilton’s words as he stormed to his eighth successive victory, with only inclement weather or a ropey gearbox in Brazil likely to prevent a post-summer clean sweep.

The title may have been wrapped up in India but Vettel’s quest for perfection remains undiminished and it looked as if the German would lose out on pole position to team-mate Mark Webber for the second successive event. The Australian set provisional pole position and lowered his benchmark time, albeit by running wide at turn 19. Vettel’s sector one and two times were average, but he mastered the final sector to take advantage of Webber’s error and snatch top spot.

Webber’s minor mistake proved costly on the first lap as he was boxed in by Vettel at the fearsomely steep first corner. The champion didn’t sprint away from pole position, giving a sniff of a chance to Webber and third placed starter Romain Grosjean. Webber had a look at Vettel but the door was firmly closed shut, with Webber also losing out to Grosjean and Lewis Hamilton, who took to the outside of turn one and had the inside line for the fast downhill right hander of turn two.

Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull/Getty Images

Vettel began his customary charge to escape DRS range by the end of lap three but his charge was halted by the introduction of the safety car. There were the usual customary first lap shenanigans as Jenson Button ran into the back of Nico Rosberg, damaging his front wing, while Felipe Massa took to the run-off at turn four. But it was on the back straight where the marshals were busied as Pastor Maldonado and Adrian Sutil touched, sending the Force India driver spinning into the barriers on the inside of the circuit. Maldonado continued for a few laps before he was given the black and orange flag due to a wonky front wing. Typically, neither driver took the blame. “We have many incidents with this driver and for sure maybe you have to have an emergency area around him to avoid this kind of things,” said Sutil of Maldonado. “There was a lot of space on the left, lot of space on the right. Again, I don’t understand why someone is so close to a car and then actually hit you. It’s not that we were side by side it was probably with his right-front tyre on my left-rear axle and just touch it.” Maldonado, who had spent most of the weekend blaming his team for various problems, didn’t agree. “On the first lap I was on the inside and he crossed a bit my line,” said the Venezuelan. “He did a big crash, was quite risky.” A lack of conclusive replays and stewards investigations suggested that it was simply a racing incident.

Vettel led behind the safety car, ahead of Grosjean, Hamilton, Webber, Nico Hülkenberg, Sergio Pérez, Fernando Alonso and the Williams of Valtteri Bottas. The Finn had been the star of Q1 and Q2 but a minor lock-up in Q3 limited him to ninth place; itself a fantastic achievement but slightly underwhelming compared to his previous pace.

Sauber F1 Team

Sauber F1 Team

Vettel swiftly pumped in a couple of fast laps post-safety car to open up a comfortable advantage over Grosjean. The German pitted before his rivals and was warned by race engineer Guillaume Rocquelin to preserve the tyres as ‘the only person who can beat you is yourself’. Red Bull was concerned about Vettel’s gearbox – on its fifth race and having been used for various donut exploits – prior to the start of the race and had broken the seal to replace a few parts, which was permitted under the regulations. Ultimately Red Bull’s fears were unrealised as Vettel claimed his eighth win in a row and twelfth of an extraordinary season. Perhaps slightly dull for the millions of worldwide viewers, but not for the man himself.

“It's not as if I've been getting bored,” he said. “Overall, you do tend to have quite a bit of work in the car, it's not necessarily... it is a Sunday afternoon drive but not in that regard.”

Grosjean had found himself under pressure from a charging Webber for several parts of the race. After his misfortune at the first corner, Webber had hounded Hamilton for several laps and got past his rival with a bold move around the outside of turn 12, before setting off after Grosjean. The gap began to close prior to the pit stop window, with Webber also gaining time during the pits, as Red Bull believe they serviced the Australian in a record time of 1.93 seconds. Webber dropped back to save tyres in anticipation of another attack and got within DRS range of Grosjean, but was always too far back to make the move. For Grosjean, it was a superb performance and another piece of evidence as to why Lotus retained faith in the Frenchman. “A very good start, a very good strategy, same as everyone else – I think I was just a little bit better on the option,” he said. “One year ago my wife sent me a picture of a pregnancy test saying that 'well done Champion, you're going to be a Dad!' So America brings me a lot of bliss and pleasure and looking forward to come back here.” Grosjean's upturn in performance coincided with the birth of his son in July, with several figures in Lotus believing the changes in his personal life have contributed to his on-track conduct.

Sauber F1 Team

Sauber F1 Team

Webber pointed to his error in qualifying as beginning a spiral that limited him to third place. “Pole position yesterday was where the fight was. I think we were… I was very happy with how I drove today. Got a very good start. You want to be on the outside for Turn One but Romain was already there,” he said. “I think I made a very good start from the left hand side, which is not the easiest here, so we did what we could. Lewis also was on the outside for clean braking so I had to be a little bit careful with Seb on the inside. And then you've got to clear people and you know when you've got to clear people you use tyres, you use everything up.”

Hamilton maintained fourth place for Mercedes, which was a much improved performance compared to recent races. The Brit vented occasional frustration over the radio – firstly not wanting information, then subsequently demanding it – but was able to hold off a charging Alonso. The Spaniard dispatched with Pérez during the pit stop phase and muscled his way past Hülkenberg on track. Alonso put the hammer down to close the gap to Hamilton but in the end he narrowly held on to fifth place. Hülkenberg dived up the inside into turn one on the final lap but Alonso had the switch back into turn two, retaining his position as his tyres screamed their last.

Sergio Pérez spent the weekend bombarded with questions about his future but did an exemplary job at his ‘home race’ as he started and finished in seventh place. The McLaren driver was part of the group featuring Alonso early on but slipped behind that particular battle due to the degradation of the tyres.

Sahara Force India

Sahara Force India

In the top 10 at the eighteenth attempt in his Formula 1 career was Bottas. The Finn had shown flashes of promise all season – most prominently in Canada – but had been unable to break into the points primarily due to a troublesome car. He gained a position at the start at the expense of returnee Heikki Kovalainen and hounded Alonso during the opening stint but later slipped back. He encountered Esteban Gutiérrez, who was on an alternative strategy, and nailed the Mexican with a sublime move around the outside of turn two. That cemented Bottas eighth place, a result which accounted for 80% of Williams’s 2013 points.

Rosberg battled his way through to ninth place but his weekend was ultimately compromised by his qualifying woes. Button made hard work of scoring the final point as he nudged Rosberg at the start, damaging his front wing. The Brit forced his way through on Daniel Ricciardo during the closing moments, despite a spirited defence by the Australian.

Jean-Eric Vergne finished a few seconds behind Ricciardo but the stewards deemed him to be the guilty party in a last lap collision with Gutiérrez. The Sauber driver had high hopes for the weekend but his Q3 berth was wasted when he was slapped with a 10 place penalty for excessively weaving in Q1 and almost wiping out Maldonado in the process. Gutiérrez stopped under the safety car and briefly ran in the top 10 before making a second stop for fresh tyres. He dived up the inside of Vergne at turn 13 but the Frenchman defended aggressively, pitching Gutiérrez into a spin. Their squabble elevated Massa to an anonymous 12th place, ahead of the wounded Gutiérrez.

Caterham F1 Team

Caterham F1 Team

Heikki Kovalainen did an admirable job in replacing Kimi Räikkönen as he progressed through to Q3, where he set the eighth fastest time. He was still on course for a handful of points in the race but he lost front downforce, forcing him into the pits for a second time for a front wing change. To complete his day, his Lotus developed a KERS problem, restricting him to fourteenth place. Paul di Resta was hanging on to the top 10 when his tyres gave up with nine laps to go, necessitating a second stop, while a lapped Maldonado finished in 17th place.

Jules Bianchi profited from a strong start to lead the battle at the back, beating Caterham’s Giedo van der Garde to eighteenth place. Charles Pic lost time courtesy of another penalty (this time for ignoring blue flags) while Max Chilton was miles adrift, even accounting for his pre-race drive through penalty.

Vettel’s supremacy in 2013 is such that he now has a 145 point advantage over Alonso in the championship and would be able to win the constructors’ championship for Red Bull without the need for a second car. Only the brave would bet against him making it nine in a row in Brazil later this week. Hamilton proposed the idea in July, but it’s Vettel who turned a suggestion into crushing reality.

Vettel eight


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