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US GP: Lewis Hamilton pips Sebastian Vettel to keep championship alive

Monday, 19 November 2012 - 8:45am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph

Hamilton outguns Vettel in Texas duel. Win delights crowds and keeps championship alive.

They like their stars in this part of the world and they don't come much bigger than Lewis Hamilton. Formula One's return to the promised land of the United States after an absence of five years was won yesterday by Formula One's great entertainer. If anyone is going to crack this elusive market it is the mixed race 27 year-old lover of Los Angeles with the chalet in Colorado, the Pussycat Doll girlfriend and the million dollar smile. In a thrilling race-long battle with Red Bull's championship leader Sebastian Vettel, Hamilton prevailed by just 0.6seconds in the final reckoning. Even Gordon Ramsey, watching on from the pits at the pounds 250 million Circuit of the Americas, would have struggled to cook up a better script.

Hamilton's victory did not only prove hugely popular here in Texas, it will also delight Formula One's paymasters. Vettel's second place and Fernando Alonso's third, thanks partly to Ferrari's controversial decision to hand their second driver Felipe Massa a five-place grid penalty pre-race, ensured that the duel for the drivers' title goes on to the final race of the season in Brazil this weekend. The Spaniard lies just 13 points behind Vettel heading to the infamously inclement Interlagos.

Red Bull did wrap up their third straight constructors' crown here - a wonderful achievement - but it was hard to ignore the sense of disappointment in Vettel's voice as he crossed the line and told his team: "We did everything we could and we can be very happy." How he would have loved to have wrapped up the title here rather than risk Sao Paulo's caprices. The rest of us have a treat in store, The day had begun with a classic bit of 11th hour Formula One chicanery. Ferrari's decision to break the seal on Felipe Massa's gearbox, thereby inducing a five-place grid penalty which lifted his team mate Alonso up to seventh and onto the clean side of the grid - a huge advantage at a brand new circuit which has not yet been "rubbered in" - split the paddock roughly down the middle between those who saw it as a perfectly reasonable exploitation of the rules, and those who saw it as breaking the spirit of the regulations.

Ferrari, a team with a clear history of favouring their lead driver, certainly weren't losing any sleep over it although Massa might.

Already derided in Brazil for being Alonso's patsy, Massa looked understandably gloomy when asked for his thoughts. "It's difficult to find a driver like me," he shrugged. His compatriot Rubens Barrichello, now retired from Formula One, must have felt a pang of sympathy. Barrichello once played the same role for Michael Schumacher, becoming so frustrated in the end that he had to leave Maranello. Massa has just signed up for another season, a decision which raised some eyebrows in the sport considering his form, but Either way, Ferrari's ruse worked perfectly. After a star-spangled pre-race featuring a full-on marching band and Hollywood stars ranging from Patrick Dempsey to Matt LeBlanc to George Lucas, Alonso got off to a flier and was up to that all-important fourth spot within a couple of corners. His day got even better when Mark Webber retired from third place on lap 18 with an alternator failure, just moments after being informed that his KERS unit was misfiring. It was the Australian's first retirement with mechanical failure in 59 races, a run stretching back to Japan 2009, and must have had Vettel's side of the garage sweating. The German has already retired twice this year with alternator failures.

Instead it was Hamilton who posed Vettel the greatest threat; the pair engaging in a thrilling race-long game of cat and mouse. Every time Hamilton closed to within a second or so of Vettel, threatening to get into the one-second DRS range, the German would respond. From lap 35 onwards, Hamilton was within range and with a sellout crowd of 120,000 lapping up the drama, stuck limpet-like to the back of the Red Bull for lap after lap.

Even the Westboro Baptist Church, who picketed this grand prix in protest at the "wicked people of this land of vain idolaters", might have been persuaded to put down their banners declaring "God hates drunks, sluts and F1 fags" and lap up the action.

Hamilton's persistence was finally rewarded on lap 42 when he managed to pass Vettel down the back straight using DRS. Thereafter their roles were reversed with Vettel the hunter and Hamilton the hunted, fending off the German for lap after lap. Crucially, Vettel was never quite able to get within DRS range.

Hamilton hosted a party on the roof of the Hilton in downtown Austin following qualifying on Saturday night. Ron Dennis, the man who signed Hamilton for his team as a 13 year-old, guiding him all the way to the world title in 2008, was a notable absentee but the rest of the team, both sides of the garage, turned up to bid their driver farewell.

It has been a tempestuous relationship down the years but there has never been any doubt about Hamilton's talent. He achieved his American Dream in some style here - and reminded McLaren of what they will miss next year. America will surely welcome him back with open arms.


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