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United States 2012 - McLaren topple Red Bull to triumph in Texas // Hamilton wins the race that Vettel looked set to dominate

Published by Christine

Martin Whitmarsh and Lewis Hamilton, podium celebrations in Austin, Texas
Credit: VMM

The first race at the Circuit of the Americas came under close scrutiny throughout, from the early moments pondering how the grip would be, to seeing that turn one hill climb in action, to the final moments on the podium.

It was McLaren’s moment to shine, though, as they adapted to the circuit quickly, and took a convincing victory.

McLaren

Where Sebastian Vettel took the headlines by topping every single practice session leading up to the US Grand Prix, McLaren were silently working away in second place. The team have faced some reliability trouble, particularly at the last race in Abu Dhabi where Hamilton was robbed of victory by a faulty fuel pump. It was Button facing mechanical problems on Saturday, when a throttle pedal issue saw him out of qualifying in 12th place. Hamilton managed to keep the pace up and the car working to take second place.

Complaints about the dirty side of the grid abound, but Hamilton got a great start to the race - keeping up with Vettel, chasing him down and overtaking him for the lead. A very jubilant Lewis took to the podium, happy to have the win he felt he deserved in Abu Dhabi, and having fun without the pressure of the championship on his back.

Button lost out at the start of the race, dropping down to 15th by the end of the first lap, but he fought his way back through the field to end the race fifth. It was a good result, but not enough for the Brit who could see the pace the car had and felt that he was missing out.

9/10

Red Bull

Red Bull have one of the two drivers still in contention for the driver’s title and for this weekend they had the possibility of securing the constructor’s championships as well. With the pressure on, Sebastian Vettel looked like he was going to have one of his most dominant weekends - leading all three practice sessions and taking pole position as well.

Mark Webber wasn’t far behind, qualifying third, on the clean side of the grid, directly behind his teammate. Red Bull opted not to get involved with the Ferrari gearbox shenanigans, preferring to show their race credentials out on track instead. Vettel had the pace for victory, but couldn’t hold off the charging Hamilton for the lead. The team place the blame squarely at the hands of Narain Karthikeyan, suggesting the traffic did not work out in his favour and allowed Lewis the overtake.

Although clearly frustrated, it was still a strong second place finish for Vettel, which allowed him to extend his lead over Alonso by three points, and gave the team their third Constructor’s Championship in a row. The driver’s battle goes down to the wire in Brazil, but Vettel has the advantage for now.

The only concern comes in the form of those tricky Renault alternators, with Webber falling victim to a loss of power midway through the race. Disappointing for the Australian, but worrying for the team as a whole.

7/10

Ferrari

With Sebastian Vettel on pole position, and Fernando Alonso qualifying in ninth place, things were looking increasingly bleak for Ferrari as race day dawned. It was worse when rumours began that the team were going to willfully break the seal on Felipe Massa’s gearbox, opting to give him a five place grid penalty so as to purposefully shuffle the grid order.

A gearbox related penalty from Grosjean thrust both Ferrari drivers on to the even numbered side of the grid, while Massa’s penalty pushed them both back to the preferred side again. They didn’t pretend that it wasn’t a deliberate move, and weren’t apologetic about the cynical manipulation of the regulations - it’s not illegal, but unfair on Massa.

In the end, it didn’t seem as though the grid grip made that much difference, but Alonso’s move forward certainly helped him in the race. He made a good start, raced the best he could, and finished third. The podium result was the best championship defence he could achieve - particularly as there was a worrying moment in the pit lane, when a reluctant rear wheel cost him some time.

Felipe Massa showed great inner strength again, ignoring the circumstances his team foist upon him and racing his way to a commendable fourth place.

6/10

Lotus

Going into the weekend, we knew that Romain Grosjean would be taking a five place grid penalty - something that was the cause of the Ferrari furore and was then subsequently overshadowed by the red team’s decisions. The Lotus team actually had a very quiet weekend, keeping their heads down and racing as best they could in a brand new circuit.

Grosjean outqualified his teammate on Saturday, but was pushed down the order by the gearbox penalty, moving Kimi Räikkönen up to fourth on the grid. Kimi had a bad start, brushing against a Force India in the first lap which knocked him down the order. That meant he had to fight his way back up the order, and the Finn seemed to be involved in every overtaking incident going! There was some incredible wheel to wheel action with Button, and a pit exit fight with Alonso, and much more!

Meanwhile, Romain was less in control, spinning the car all by himself and narrowly avoiding beaching it in the gravel. He then had to go into recovery mode, finishing the race in seventh place, just behind Kimi in sixth. Not a bad day for the team, but one that had the potential to be much better.

6/10

Force India

Paul di Resta found himself struggling to get the tyres up to temperature and working throughout the weekend, blaming his own driving style for the disparate performance between himself and his teammate. For his part Nico Hülkenberg was faring much better, scoring a top ten qualifying slot that was eventually shuffled around to be sixth on the grid. Di Resta was down in 13th, starting the race behind Jenson Button.

Di Resta finished the race in 15th, blaming a late pit stop for allowing him into the clutches of the two Williams drivers. A late pit stop, and his own lock-ups that flat spotted the tyres. Hülkenberg lost a couple of places, starting sixth and finishing eighth - and he also blames the tyres for letting the Williams drivers put pressure on him. The German is proud of being able to keep them behind him, however.

5/10

Williams

The Williams duo were much closer during qualifying this weekend, although Maldonado’s tenth meant he was into the final session on Saturday, and Senna’s 11th meant he wasn’t. Bruno must have been helped by the ability to participate in all practice sessions, rather than having to give up his car to Bottas. The pre-race shuffle saw both Williams drivers starting on the grid in the top ten.

At the start of the race, both drivers lost out - Senna was on the dirty side of the grid, whilst Maldonado admitted to dropping back and giving himself some work to do. The drivers ended up on track next to each other, with Maldonado chasing Senna, and both in the points. A situation like this can very easily end in disaster, but as Bruno put it: “I knew Pastor would make a move and I wasn’t going to close the door as we needed the points for the team.” And thus it was, a double points finish for Williams, ending the race exactly where they started.

6/10

Sauber

Both Sauber drivers didn’t look too bad during the practice sessions, but qualifying did not go their way. Pérez reported at the end of Saturday that the cars were lacking pace and they couldn’t figure out why. Kobayashi also wasn’t sure where the peak performance had disappeared to, leaving him 16th on the grid with Pérez just one position in front.

Come race day, Pérez had a good start but found the car developing a brake issue as time went on. He described it as “big difficulties before every corner” which was never going to help. Nevertheless, Sergio still managed to improve to 11th, just missing out on some points. Kobayashi moved up two places, blaming the grip level and the lack of temperature in the tyres.

It was a tough weekend for Sauber, but the saving grace for them is that Mercedes had a tricky weekend as well - fifth place in the constructor’s championship is still up for grabs, and they can still overhaul them, but 12 points in Brazil is going to be a big ask.

4/10

Toro Rosso

The Toro Rosso boys switched places on Saturday, with Jean-Éric Vergne making it through to the second session of qualifying, and Daniel Ricciardo becoming the driver to drop out with the “new” teams. Dan blamed the slippery tarmac, an untimely yellow flag, and traffic - every excuse under the sun! Vergne was happy to have made the cut, despite damaging the suspension of the car in early practice.

Unfortunately, he was not so lucky in the race as the suspension broke and he was instructed to bring the car to a halt out on track rather than risk dragging it all the way back to the pitlane. The team’s hopes were left in the hands of Ricciardo, who had a reasonably good race, making his way all the way up to 5th or 6th at one point, before pitting and dropping back out of the points. Despite finishing in 12th, he claimed it a particularly fun race, saying: “I think I overtook more people in this race than in any other in my whole career!”

4/10

Mercedes

Mercedes are currently fifth in the team standings, and are desperately trying to hold off competition from Sauber. They’re doing okay so far, but mostly due to the fact their rivals have had a downturn of fortune as well, rather than any strong performances from the Mercedes squad.

For the US race, Mercedes decided to use an old exhaust system on Nico Rosberg’s car, and it really didn’t work out for him. During Q1, there were moments where it didn’t look as though the German would get through to the next round, but he did scrape through, eventually qualifying in 17th place. Schumacher, on the other hand, had the new exhaust on the car and found some great pace, starting the race from fifth place.

Both drivers were going for a one stop strategy, and whilst Rosberg managed to stick to the plan, he could do nothing out on track and crossed the line 13th. Michael found the tyre degradation much higher than anticipated and was forced to switch to a two stop strategy, which dropped him way down the order. He finished the race 16th, and was quoted afterwards: “To say that the race was a real struggle would be an understatement.”

2/10

Caterham

It was a terrible qualifying for the Caterham duo, with both drivers finding themselves slower than the Marussia cars, despite having the added benefit of DRS. Vitaly Petrov outqualified Heikki Kovalainen too, with the later saying they simply “underperformed” on Saturday.

Things improved a little in the race, but Heikki was another driver complaining of being unable to get heat into the tyres, managing to control his race but not make any forward progress. He finished 18th with Petrov one place ahead. The Russian said he got the most out of the race as he could, they timed their pit stop well and the tyre compounds worked as expected. Still, just one race left to make it up to that twelfth place that Marussia have succeeded in achieving.

3/10

Marussia

Marussia had pretty much the opposite kind of weekend to Caterham. In qualifying they were pleased to find themselves faster than their arch rivals, with Glock lining up 19th on the grid and Pic 20th.

They finished in those exact same positions in the race, but not without incident. Glock and Kovalainen had an incident in the closing stages of the race - something the stewards investigated but ultimately decided not to punish. Glock claims that Heikki pushed him off track and retook a position, but the stewards obviously saw it differently. Pic suggests he had contact with another car into the first corner which resulted in some significant understeer on the Marussia for the entirety of the race.

4/10

HRT

HRT had to fight off a lot of rumours going into this race - that they were running parts on the car beyond their useful life as they didn’t have replacements, that they might be going slowly so as to deliberately not qualify for the action on Sunday. With a sale hanging over their head, morale within the team was described as low.

I didn’t see much of that myself, with both drivers remaining inside the 107% cutoff time and lining up on the grid to race. Narain Karthikeyan was directly involved with the fight for the lead of the race, albeit while he was being lapped by the front runners. Vettel blames him for the loss of his lead, but Narain insists he did everything required of him.

Pedro de la Rosa had denied the fact the parts were being over-used, but then reported after the race that his seat had broken five laps from the end and he had to adapt his driving position to get to the finish. This isn’t what you want to hear from a team fighting for survival, but the important thing to take away is that both drivers crossed the finish line.

2/10

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