Vettel Sets Record With United States Grand Prix Win
Nary a race goes by when 2013 World Champion Sebastian Vettel doesn’t set some ridiculous new record in Formula 1. With the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Vettel has again proven his dominance of the sport by winning his 8th consecutive race, something that has never been done before in a single season (Alberto Ascari holds the record at 9, accomplished during the 1952-53 seasons). It was the second Grand Prix hosted at the purpose-built Circuit of the Americas, and Vettel’s first win at the track. That means that Vettel has finished in first at every track on the 2013 F1 calendar at one point in his career except for Hungary.
The race at the front of the pack was light on position changes throughout the duration of the race. Romain Grosjean, who began in third, finished in second, while Mark Webber proved to be Grosjean’s inverse. With Kimi Räikkönen out for the rest of the season for back surgery, his Finnish replacement, Heikki Kovalainen, ended the race at a disappointing 14th place, aided in no small part by a 15-second pit stop that necessitated a nose change. The US Grand Prix was unfortunately devoid of many thrills, but the healthy crowd in Austin made it clear that Formula 1 has a home in America.
A Red Bull front row was in order this weekend on race start, but the top 10 was filled with surprising drivers. For starters, Sauber’s Nico Hülkenberg started on Row 2; Hülkenberg has enjoyed a handful of Top 10 finishes during the last half of the season, and with the right car, could be a serious competitor in 2014. Valtteri Bottas of Williams joined in at 9th, while stalwarts such as Jensen Button, Felipe Massa, and Nico Rosberg began in places 13, 14, and 15, respectively.
The starting lights went out, and soon thereafter so did Adrian Sutil’s chances of eking out a few points in Texas. A notably slight collision with Pastor Maldonado nevertheless sent Sutil reeling into a tire barrier head-on, and his day was over before it had even begun. The debris triggered a safety car for the next three laps, and Vettel shrewdly slowed the pack down before jamming on the accelerator to leave everyone behind once the race was restarted. Maldonado’s front spoiler began to drag on the ground, prompting a black and orange flag from race stewards, effectively ordering the Williams to pit row for repairs.
By Lap 22, the finishing order had already been decided. Vettel led Grosjean by 8 seconds, who in turn held off Webber by 6. It was clear by this point that this wasn’t the race for Felipe Massa to prove his worth to Ferrari. In the 19 laps between the safety car exit and Lap 24, he was a full minute behind the race leader and 30 seconds behind his teammate, Fernando Alonso. Laps 28-30 all saw tire changes for the three front runners, who all ran one-stop strategies by trading in the medium option tires for the hard primes, and prayed the tires would survive the blistering desert sun.
Near the middle of the pack, Esteban Gutiérrez and Bottas jockeyed for 8th place before the Williams finally overtook the Sauber in Lap 35. It was excellent driving for Bottas, who will be joined next year by Massa; his finish in the same spot also earned Williams four of its five points for 2013.
Over the next 20 laps, Grosjean attempted to close in on Vettel by setting fast laps but not to be outdone, the German retaliated by setting his own. Webber also did a fantastic job of closing the gap between he and Grosjean, but by Lap 50, the Aussie began to feel his tires wearing a little too quickly, and began slipping behind Grosjean enough for the pressure to be off. Last year’s US GP winner, Lewis Hamilton, finished 20 seconds behind Webber to earn a few much-needed points, but Webber’s podium finish puts Webber very close to taking Hamilton’s 3rd place standing in the Drivers’ Championship. Alonso’s 5th place finish cements him in 2nd place for the season, and Hamilton’s points earnings push him ahead of the absent Räikkönen. Third place is still Hamilton’s to lose, as only 6 points separate him from Webber, who leaves Formula 1 after this season.
The final race of the 2013 Formula 1 season is the Brazilian Grand Prix, and will be held this Sunday, November 24.
Photo courtesy of Red Bull