For once, Sebastian Vettel made it look almost difficult. Romain Grosjean was closing in on him for a while as the quadruple champion nursed his tyres while leading the US Grand Prix in Austin. But, almost inevitably, when the Frenchman’s Lotus had got within 6.3 seconds of his Red Bull, Vettel pulled the pin and banged in his trademark fastest lap with two laps to go. That brought the gap out to 7.4sec and showed who was boss, and even though Grosjean got a little closer by the end, it was clear all along who was controlling things.
To the delight of the spectating Americans, who like these things as much as anyone else, Vettel threw his car into doughnuts again as team principal Christian Horner savoured a nice 40th birthday present in the form of his driver’s record eighth consecutive victory, beating the record for a single season set by Michael Schumacher and Alberto Ascari.
“I’m speechless,” Vettel said of his first victory in the States. “We have to remember these days, there’s no guarantee they’l l last forever. I’m so proud of you guys. I love you.”
That might have been a little bit too touchy-feely for some Texans but the cheering crowd lapped it up, just as they did team-mate Mark Webber’s pursuit of Grosjean. The Australian paid the price for losing out on pole position to Vettel, for the left-hand side of the grid is notoriously dirty here, and he was swallowed up not only by Grosjean but also by Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes at the start and dropped to fourth place.
As Vettel sped away, timed his sole pit stop to perfection on the 27th lap, then nursed his hard-compound Pirelli tyres when the team advised him to, Webber had to keep pushing for all he was worth in his valiant but vain attempt to make it a Red Bull one-two. At one stage on laps 47 and 48 he had the gap down to 0.7sec on Grosjean, but he could never quite summon the extra momentum to pass the black-and-gold car, and the man who was the sport’s enfant terrible last year never put a wheel wrong despite the pressure on his way to his best result this year and his sixth podium finish of the season.
“We made a very good start and we had a good race, the car was running really well today,” Grosjean smiled. “We did a 100 per cent job.”
Webber, in his penultimate ride with Red Bull, was philosophical. “Obviously pole was very important yesterday, and losing it probably cost me a much better result today. We knew it wasn’t going to be the easiest to get to Turn One from the dirty side. I got a good launch and a good start, but I got boxed in. That meant that before I could challenge Romain I had to get past Lewis. Then it wasn’t easy to pass Romain. He was very fair, but I couldn’t quite get it done.”
Hamilton could not keep a podium place as he struggled early on with tyre wear and had to go into degradation-limitation mode, but he kept Nico Hulkenberg’s Sauber at bay and, when the German later had to give best to Fernando Alonso, Hamilton was also able to contain the Spaniard’s late challenge.
“For sure the car was a lot better than it’s been in the last couple of races,” he said, having received a new chassis for this race. “We couldn’t maintain the pace we needed for the podium, but fourth place keeps us ahead of Ferrari in the constructors’ championship, with a race to go, so we achieved one of our aims today.”