It’s the only track on the current F1 calendar that the Red Bull had never won before, as Lewis Hamilton took victory for McLaren at the track’s inaugural race last year. So as the race weekend got under way, they were definitely hoping to add the prestigious trophy to their jam-packed cabinet back in Milton Keynes.
And with their drivers on the front row of the grid after yesterday’s qualifying session, they knew they had a good chance of one of them being on the top step of the podium come the end of the race.
Vettel got a blistering start – but he wasn’t the only one. Grosjean’s Lotus was all over the back of both of the Red Bulls off the line, and managed to get past Webber on the first corner. By the second corner, Hamilton had also passed the slow-starting Webber as well, dropping Red Bull’s second driver back into fourth place.
Further back, however, there was all sorts of drama unfolding on the track. Sutil crashed into the Armco barrier towards the end of the first lap, triggering the safety car for the first time ever in Austin while the marshals cleared his stricken car from the track.
Gutierrez ducked straight into the pits at the end of lap one, following contact with Massa’s Ferrari. It turned out that Sutil’s incident has been caused by him running into Maldonado, having not seen the Williams coming up behind him in his mirrors.
It would take three laps for the track marshals to clear Sutil’s Force India, and the safety car came in on lap four, allowing the race to finally start properly once again.
As the safety car pulled into the pits, Vettel had the pack perfectly under control, ready to scamper away and regain the lead of the race once again.
Behind him, Hulkenberg had lost a place on the start line and was back in fourth, while Perez had climbed his way up to sixth, clearly trying to impress prospective new teams for next year now that his services are no longer required by McLaren. And he was soon climbing all over the back of the Sauber.
At the end of lap five, Chilton came into the pits for his drive-through penalty, which had been issued during qualifying yesterday. The Marussia driver had impeded Maldonado out on the track during Q1 – but seeing as he qualified in last place, he couldn’t be handed a grid penalty. And his drive though put him almost 40 seconds behind the race leader.
By the end of lap eight, Vettel had pulled out an almost three-second gap to second place Grosjean. The Lotus was managing to keep Hamilton at bay, but just couldn’t keep up with the flying Red Bull in front.
Lap 9 saw Maldonado come into the pits, after being shown a black and orange flag due to damage to his front wing. Bits of carbon fibre were falling off his car following his first-lap run in with Sutil, and his Williams was clearly a danger as it shed debris all over the track.
Williams hadn’t wanted to bring him in too soon, as they hoped to change his tyres at the same time. But once he’d been shown the flag, they had no choice but to bring him in, changing his front wing and putting on a new set of boots as well.
Alonso hadn’t got the start to the race that he’d hoped for, and by lap 10 was running around in seventh place behind Perez. Despite Perez’s early form, he’d dropped back a bit from Hulkenberg at this point, and now had a train of drivers queuing up behind him, desperate to overtake.
Alonso himself was trying to find a way past, but was having trouble making a move stick. The Spaniard was still recovering from injuries sustained after going off the track in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago – but whether it was that or the car’s general lack of performance that had him so far off the pace was unclear.
Further forward, Hamilton had started to drop back behind Grosjean, and Webber was now within DRS range of the Mercedes, desperate to overtake. On lap 13, Webber made a lunge around the outside of turn 12, taking Hamilton by surprise and snatching third place back in a masterful move.
Hamilton may have not been very happy at being overtaken, but at least he was having a better afternoon than his team mate. Rosberg had qualified out of place back in 14th. By lap 15 he was in 11th, stuck in a sandwich between 10th-placed Ricciardo and Kovalainen, who was 12th in the second Lotus.
It clearly wasn’t where he really wanted to be, fighting desperately just to try and haul his way up into the bottom end of the points. He finally made his way past Ricciardo at the end of lap 19 to put himself in the final points position, but it was still much further back than you’d expect the Mercedes to be.
Kovalainen pitted at the end of lap 17 – the first of the front runners to come in for a scheduled tyre stop. He’d been doing pretty well during free practice and qualifying, but hadn’t had the best opening lap, leading to him getting tucked up behind the Toro Rosso and Mercedes in the opening laps of the race.
But now he had some fresh rubber on the car and some clean air to run in, he could start putting in some faster lap times. And given how easy the Lotus is on its tyres, there was every chance he could try to go to the end of the race without having to make another pit stop.
Button pitted at the end of lap 20 from 13th place. He’d had a pretty dismal qualifying session, not able to match his team mate Perez, and receiving a further three-place grid penalty for overtaking under yellows flags during free practice on Friday.
He came back out into 16th place – and as Massa pitted at the end of the following lap, the McLaren and the Ferrari faced a tight race to see which of them would come out in front.
Massa just pipped Button to the post, and despite Button’s attempts to come back at him in the following couple of corners, Massa scampered away leaving an unhappy Button in his wake.
The pit stop window was now well and truly open, triggering a flurry of movement in the pit lane. But it would be lap 25 – almost half the race distance – before the front runners came in, starting with Hamilton.
He had a good stop, bringing him back out into sixth place.
Alonso came in the following lap, and successfully managed to leap-frog Perez in the process, coming back out in seventh place, behind Gutierrez in the Sauber.
Vettel pitted from the lead at the end of lap 27, handing the lead to Grosjean for a few laps – but as the Lotus was yet to stop for fresh tyres, he wouldn’t be running around out front for long.
Sure enough, Grosjean ducked into the pits at the end of lap 29 – and as he came back out onto the track, Vettel was still comfortably out in front of him.
Lap 32, Kovalainen came in for a change of front wing. It cost him 33 seconds, bringing him back out into 17th place and well away from the points-scoring positions.
With the pit stops all shaken out, Rosberg had found himself back in 11th place once again, and faced a desperate battle to earn some points. Lap 34 saw him pull put a great move on Di Resta in front of him, and the Mercedes was finally up into 10th place and in line to earn at least one point this afternoon.
Both Gutierrez and Bottas were running well in front of him, in eighth and ninth places. The Sauber had stopped early on, allowing him to put in some good laps early on. And the Williams had qualified well yesterday giving him the chance to show what he can really do.
The pair spent lap 35 scrapping for eighth place, with Bottas finally making a move stick in a nail-biting overtaking manoeuvre. As it turned out, he needn’t have bothered trying so hard to get past the Sauber. Gutierrez finally pitted again at the end of lap 36, putting him back into 15th place.
By lap 42, the fastest man on the track was Alonso, and he was quickly closing up to the back of fifth-place Hulkenberg. Webber was also on a charge in third place, desperate to reclaim second from Grosjean – but he didn’t quite seem to be able to get close enough…
On lap 44, Alonso got within DRS range of Hulkenberg, and was able to make a move on the Sauber in front. He didn’t make it stick, but had another go into turn one – and as he finally passed Hulkenberg, he scampered off down the road in hot pursuit of Hamilton in fourth place.
Back out front, Vettel was getting his usual call from engineer Rocky to conserve his tyres. No doubt viewers watching at home were hoping and praying that he may have some kind of problem with his car to spice up the race a bit. But with only 10 laps of the race left to go, it seemed unlikely the Red Bull would falter before the end of the race.
Meanwhile, the fight for second place was still on, with Webber coasting up behind Grosjean on lap 48. But as he lined himself up to make a move, he just couldn’t manage find a way past – and it looked as though he’d have to settle for the bottom step of the podium today.
The pair were both lapping slightly faster than Vettel at this point, and clearly urging each other on. But with Vettel seven seconds out in front, there weren’t really enough laps left for them to catch him, let alone try to overtake.
Behind them, Hulkenberg had closed back in on Alonso, and moved past him on the final lap – but the wily Ferrari driver managed to snatch the place back on the next corner. The pair scrapped all the way to the finish line, with Alonso finally winning the battle for fifth place.
As the chequered flag dropped, Vettel was first over the line to claim his eighth victory in a row, setting a new record in the process.
Grosjean finished in second place, Webber in third, and Hamilton in fourth. By Sarah Ellis
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1h39m17.148s
2. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault +6.284s
3. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault +8.396s
4. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +27.358s
5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari +29.592s
6. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari +30.400s
7. Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes +46.692s
8. Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault +54.509s
9. Nico Rosberg Mercedes +59.141s
10. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes +1m17.278s
11. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1m21.004s
12. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1m24.574s
13. Felipe Massa Ferrari +1m26.914s
14. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari +1m31.707s
15. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault +1m35.063s
16. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes +1m36.853s
17. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault +1 lap
18. Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth +1 lap
19. Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault +1 lap
20. Charles Pic Caterham-Renault +1 lap
21. Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth +2 laps
RET Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 0 laps