Sebastian Vettel rewrote the history books on Sunday with a dominant eighth consecutive win in Austin, Texas at the Circuit of the Americas.
Warm temperatures greeted the fans on race day, making earlier predictions of an easy one-stop race less certain. On the formation lap, most drivers were debating last minute strategy changes, with their engineers’ certainty of making one stop work becoming tenuous.
Despite these early concerns, the city, the fans and the drivers were itching for a thrilling Grand Prix, after 2012 promised so much the first time around. Unfortunately, Sebastian Vettel used COTA as the platform for another commanding performance ahead of Romain Grosjean and Mark Webber.
Vettel started from pole, with Webber and Grosjean second and third. The latter made a lightning start to get ahead of Webber by the first corner, but Vettel remained ahead. This set the tone for the rest of the race. Nico Hulkenberg was caught out of fourth position by Lewis Hamilton, who also managed to get past Webber at the start, in fifth.
At the back of the grid, an accident between Adrian Sutil and Pastor Maldonado triggered the safety car for three laps — a relief to those worried about tire life.
When the safety car made its way back into the pits, Sebastian Vettel was already on his way into the distance, the gap between him and Grosjean already a second by the time the field crossed the line. From then on the German was able to easily eke out his gap to Grosjean to the tune of half a second per lap for the whole stint. Grosjean was able to do the same to Hamilton who was struggling for tire life. The Briton soon started to hold up Webber and Hulkenberg behind, the result of which was a decisive move on the inside of turn 12 to get past Hamilton.
Behind, Sergio Perez, Fernando Alonso and Valtteri Bottas were in a fight of their own, while also trying to hunt down Nico Hulkenberg. The battle between these four, eventually becoming three as Perez and Bottas dropped off and Hamilton joined, would become one of the most exciting battles of the race.
The first stops came on Lap 17 with Heikki Kovalainen bringing in his Lotus to try and undercut the drivers he lost places to at the start. The Finn was race rusty early on, to say the least.
Vettel, now with a 10 second lead, Grosjean and Webber all pitted on successive laps, coming out in the same order. The battle for second place was on between the latter two, and would ebb and flow in the final laps.
Outside the top-10, Paul di Resta, Daniel Ricciardo, Nico Rosberg, Heikki Kovalainen, Jean Eric Vergne, Jenson Button, Felipe Massa and Esteban Gutierrez were in a tight battle throughout the race. All pitting around the same time (except for Gutierrez, who was out of sync after a first-lap pit stop for a puncture), the final points were decided by who could conserve their tires the best for a late charge while keeping up their pace in order to not fall too far behind. It wasn’t the ideal form of racing, but was fascinating to see develop over the course of the 56-lap race.
Grosjean and Webber continued their game of cat and mouse, with one taking time out of another until the final laps of the race. Grosjean was picking up the pace at precisely the right time so as to keep Webber out of DRS range, but also keep his tires alive. This strategy was too much for Webber, who’s tires finally gave up on the last lap.
Hamilton had fallen far behind this group by now, and was under serious threat from Alonso and Hulkenberg. The Briton picked up his pace to stat out of the Spaniard’s range, and in his attempts to catch back up to Hamilton, Alonso further killed his tires. On the final lap, Hulkenberg made a last-gasp dive to the inside of turn 1 to take fifth place from Alonso, only to run wide on the exit and lose the place again. He could not find a way past by the end.
Valtteri Bottas was anonymous on his way to a fantastic eighth place finish in his Williams, securing his first career points in the process, with Rosberg and Button overcoming poor grid positions to finish ninth and tenth.
This race was far from the most exciting of the season, but the history made in the process will live on for some time.