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Hamilton And COTA Are The Big Winners At USGP

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, November 19 2012

Lewis Hamilton sprays the stage at the Circuit of the Americas.

The 2012 FIA Formula One World Championship will go down to the wire down in South America next weekend.

Lewis Hamilton’s victory over Sebastian Vettel in Sunday’s inaugural United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas allowed the latter to stretch his lead over Fernando Alonso from 10 to 13 points heading into Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix.

But perhaps the biggest winners were America’s legion of road-racing fans and COTA, the $400-million purpose-built facility in Austin, Texas, that played to rave reviews from Friday morning’s opening practice through Sunday’s 56-lapper around the 3.4-mile, 20-turn circuit. A near-sellout crowd of 117,429 turned out for F1’s first race in the USA since 2007 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Ironically, Hamilton won that race for McLaren, the British organization he will leave for Mercedes AMG at season’s end. That race at IMS also saw Vettel  – the two-time/reigning World Driving Champion – make his F1 debut.

Hamilton, of Great Britain, took the lead from Vettel on a pass under braking on Lap 42 heading into Turn 12 after closing to within roping distance of the German via use of McLaren’s Drag Reduction System on Laps 34-36. Once on-point, Hamilton gradually stretched the lead en route to victory in a time of 1 hour, 35.55.269-seconds and an average speed of 119.87 mph.

“I wanted it more,” said Hamilton, who won his fourth race of 2012. “I’m so grateful I was able to race with Sebastian, have a wheel-to-wheel race with him. Just hunting him down the full time, it was one of my favorites.”

Earlier, Hamilton saluted the fans – including those waving Union Jack flags – during a raucous podium interview with Mario Andretti, COTA’s official ambassador and the 1978 F1 World Driving Champion for Team Lotus.

”First-time winner (in Texas) and I’m so happy,” said Hamilton, who sported an American flag paint scheme on his helmet. “The fans have been amazing this weekend, thanks so much. This is probably one of the best, if not the best, grand prixs we’ve had all year. Especially for me and my team, this is so special. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve had a win and I’m just so proud of what the guys did and grateful for the support we’ve had.”

Vettel, poised to become the third and youngest driver at age 25 to win back-to-back-to-back F1 championships, needs a fourth-place or better finish to clinch at Sao Paulo if Alonso wins the race. Juan Manuel Fangio (1954-56) of Argentina and Germany’s Michael Schumacher (2000-02) of Ferrari are the only drivers to have won three consecutive championships in Formula One’s 62-year history.

“It’s looking a bit better after today,” said Vettel, who appeared content on the podium to delay his coronation until Round 20. “Now we have another step to make in Brazil.” But the Red Bull Racing/Renault superstar was steamed in the cockpit after what proved to be Hamilton’s winning pass, claiming back-marker Narain Karthikeyan of HRT/Cosworth had held him up through the preceding section.

“That wasn’t your fault,” team principal Christian Horner told Vettel over his cockpit radio. “It’s going to be a busy week ahead of us.”

After the checkered flag fell, Vettel told Horner and his crew they did everything they could to get him the win. “Surely, I think we did a good job keeping him (Hamilton) behind most of the race,” Vettel said. “Unfortunately, there was a bit of traffic at the wrong time on the circuit and he took advantage.”

Vettel also joined the chorus praising COTA. “Actually, I did my first race five years ago the last time we were racing in the United States, and this was a very nice comeback for my 100th grand prix,” Vettel said. “Amazing, the amount of people we’ve had all weekend. It’s great for us to have so much support.”

Meanwhile, Vettel’s second-place finish allowed Red Bull to lock-up the Constructors Championship with 440 points, 73 ahead of Scuderia Ferrari and 87 over McLaren. That title could be worth as much as $100-million from the sanctioning FIA.

“I’m very happy for the team,” said Vettel, who qualified on-pole for the 36th time Saturday. “It has been a great year and now we have another (championship to decide) in Brazil after the race today. Obviously, it was a close fight with Lewis. Yeah, he had one chance and he took it. After that I tried to stay with him and maybe pass him again but he was as quick as I was, so there wasn’t much (difference) between us all day long. Great race and great result for us.”

Alonso rallied for his podium finish after starting seventh. Alonso qualified ninth on Saturday, but was moved to eighth after Roman Grosjean’s Lotus/Renault team was hit with a five-spot grid penalty by the FIA for changing a gearbox after the third and final practice.

On Sunday morning, Ferrari officials orchestrated a switch in the starting grid by breaking the seal on Felipe Massa’s transmission – incurring an immediate five grid-spot penalty that moved Alonso from eighth to seventh – and onto the track’s clean inside line. Hamilton, who qualified second, was one of several drivers expressing concern Saturday with the dirty condition of the outside line of the new circuit.

“At this rate, he’ll (Alonso) be on the front row,” Horner deadpanned during a pre-race interview on SPEED.

But Alonso admitted all the maneuvering wasn’t enough to keep him in close contact with the leaders. “We had a tough weekend,” said Alonso, a two-time World Driving Champion. “We were not competitive, we did not have the pace and Red Bull, everything was smooth for them.”

Alonso also heaped praise upon COTA during his podium interview with Andretti, as Ferrari’s tifosi chanted his name in the background. ”The circuit was fantastic and the fans were fantastic all weekend,” the Spaniard said. “The circuit is amazing, challenging for us and the engineers. I hope we put on a good show for everybody and they’ll enjoy more next year.”

Vettel exited Texas with a black Stetson hat and 273 points, 13 more than Alonso and 67 ahead of third-place Kimi Raikkonen of Finland, who along with Hamilton was one of six World Driving Champions competing at COTA. Total announced attendance for the three-day event was 265,499 with Friday’s practice sessions and Saturday’s qualifying rounds drawing 65,360 and 82,710 fans, respectively.

Sunday’s race was the 52nd round of the F1 World Championship conducted in the USA since the inaugural event on an airport layout near Sebring, Fla., in 1959. COTA is the 10th different venue, and second in Texas (State Fair Park in Dallas, 1984) to play host to F1’s “Flying Circus.”

“The entire Circuit of The Americas team thanks our guests, our community, our new Formula One family and racing fans around the world for making our first grand prix such a remarkable experience,” said Bobby Epstein, circuit chairman. “The racing was spectacular. The crowd was enthusiastic and appreciative, and we showed the world that Formula One has a new U.S. home in Austin, Texas.”

The Brazilian Grand Prix will be televised by SPEED beginning at 10:30 a.m. (EST) Sunday, Nov. 25.

FIA Formula 1 United States Grand Prix results with car number in parentheses, driver, country, chassis/engine, laps completed and time/laps differential:

1. (4) Lewis Hamilton, Great Britain, Vodafone McLaren/Mercedes, 56, 1:35:55.269-seconds

2. (1) Sebastian Vettel, Germany, Red Bull Racing/Renault, 56, plus 0.6-seconds

3. (5) Fernando Alonso, Spain, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro, 56, plus 39.2-seconds

4. (6) Felipe Massa, Brazil, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro, 56, plus 46.0-seconds

5. (3) Jenson Button, Great Britain, 56, Vodafone McLaren/Mercedes, 56, plus 56.4-seconds

6. (9) Kimi Raikkonen, Finland, Lotus/Renault, 56, plus 64.4-seconds

7. (10) Romain Grosjean, France, Lotus/Renault, 56, plus 70.3-seconds

8. (12) Nico Hulkenberg, Germany, Force India/Mercedes, 56, plus 73.7-seconds

9. (18) Pastor Maldonado, Venezuela, Williams/Renault, 56, plus 74.5-seconds

10. (19) Bruno Senna, Brazil, Williams/Renault, 56, plus 75.1-seconds

11. (15) Sergio Perez, Mexico, Sauber/Ferrari, 56, plus 84.3-seconds

12. (16) Daniel Ricciardo, Australia, Scuderia Toro Rosso/Ferrari, 56, plus 84.8-seconds

13. (8) Nico Rosberg, Germany, Mercedes AMG, 56, plus 85.5-seconds

14. (14) Kamui Kobayashi, Japan, Sauber/Ferrari, 55, plus 1 lap

15. (11) Paul di Resta, Great Britain, Force India/Mercedes, 55, plus 1 lap

16. (7) Michael Schumacher, Germany, Mercedes AMG, 55, plus 1 lap

17. (21) Vitaly Petrov, Russia, Caterham/Renault, 55, plus 1 lap

18. (20) Heikki Kovalainen, Finland, Caterham/Renault, 55, plus 1 lap

19. (24) Timo Glock, Germany, Marussia/Cosworth, 55, plus 1 lap

20. (25) Charles Pic, France, Marussia/Cosworth, 54, plus 2 laps

21. (22) Pedro de la Rosa, Spain, HRT/Cosworth, plus 2 laps

22. (23) Narain Karthikeyan, India, HRT/Cosworth, 54, plus 2 laps

23. (2) Mark Webber, Australia, Red Bull Racing/Renault, 16, alternator

24. (17) Jean-Eric Vergne, France, Scuderia Toro Rosso/Ferrari, 14, suspension

Note _ Grosjean dropped five grid places for unscheduled gearbox change. Massa dropped five spots after Ferrari broke the FIA’s gearbox seal.

Driver standings (after 19 of 20 races) _ 1. Sebastian Vettel, 273 points; 2. Fernando Alonso, 260; 3. Kimi Raikkonen, 206; 4. Lewis Hamilton, 190; 5. Mark Webber, 167; 6. Jenson Button, 163; 7. Felipe Massa, 107; 8. Romain Grosjean, 96; 9. Nico Rosberg, 93; 10. Sergio Perez, 66; 11. Kamui Kobayashi, 58; 12. Nico Hulkenberg, 53; 13. Paul di Resta, 46; 14. Pastor Maldonado, 45; 15. Michael Schumacher, 43; 16. Bruno Senna, 31; 17. Jean-Eric Vergne, 12; 18. Daniel Ricciardo, 10.

Constructors standings _ 1. Red Bull, 440 points;* 2. Scuderia Ferrari, 367; 3. McLaren, 353; 4. Lotus, 302; 5. Mercedes, 136; 6. Sauber, 124; 7. Force India, 99; 8. Williams, 76; 9. Toro Rosso, 22.

Note _ *Clinched championship

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, November 19 2012
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