Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was close to preventing Hamilton from taking the championship in Austin on Sunday. Vettel took third place in a race that featured two virtual and two actual safety-car periods, and one in which the eventual outcome was never anything but impossible to predict.
As the weather gods finally smiled on the United States Circuit, for a long time it looked like a Mercedes’ one-two in a crash-strewn race with Rosberg seemingly headed for victory. Hamilton needed to be in front of the German in order to ensure that he outscored Vettel by nine points.
Rosberg had lost the lead as Hamilton eased him aside in the first corner, but retook it from Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo during the pit stops on the 19th lap and held it through various virtual and real safety car interventions until the 48th lap.
Then, under pressure, he slid wide in Turn 12, and suddenly the roles were crucially reversed. Hamilton, who had clearly struggled initially on intermediate tyres on a very slippery track, was thus able to take not only to his 10th win of the year, but the one that would allow him to realise his life ambition of matching his hero Ayrton Senna’s three championships.
However, it nearly didn’t happen in Texas for Hamilton. Vettel had driven brilliantly to climb from 13th on the grid to seventh in a rough opening lap, and was set to run to the finish on a set of medium Pirelli slicks after his pit stop, until the safety cars foiled that gamble. On fresh soft tyres he was hounding Rosberg in the closing laps, and had he overtaken him, Hamilton would have had to wait longer for his new crown. But a deeply disappointed Rosberg held on, by half a second.
Fourth place fell to Max Verstappen, who drove his usual feisty race as Toro Rosso gambled like Vettel, but without the final stop for fresh rubber.
It turned out to be an awful afternoon for Red Bull. Ricciardo was very racy in the slippery early going and overtook Rosberg, team mate Daniil Kvyat and Hamilton to lead easily from the 15th to the 19th lap, but he lost his edge when the road dried enough for slicks from the 19th lap onwards. Kimi Raikkonen was forced out with overheating brakes, damaged after he hit the wall at Turn 7 early on.
First Grand Prix - 2012
Number of Laps - 56
Circuit Length - 5.513KM
Race Distance - 308.405KM
Lap Record - 1:39:347 by Sebastian Vettel (2012)
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