Spanish eyes still focused on F1 drivers’ crown

Still smiling at the Stetson hats on the podium instead of the usual caps, DAVID HOOPER reviews the first Austin GP.

Expectations were high for the new F1 circuit in Austin, Texas and it didn't disappoint.

AT the inaugural race in Austin, on the Circuit of the Americas, fans the world over expected the 2012 world championship to be decided, with Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel clinching his third drivers’ title.
Fernando Alonso in his Ferrari  had other ideas though, and with the dogged determination and consummate skill he has demonstrated all season, he made sure the championship tussle went down to the season’s last race in Brazil on November 23-25.
Although the Red Bull team sealed the Constructors Championship, it was another incredible drive from Alonso, who started from seventh on the grid after a  tough qualifying session, which saw his rival’s Red Bull claim yet another dominant poll, but as we’ve seen so many times before this season, the Ferraris are much better in the race than their qualifying performances would lead you to believe.
Massa in the second Ferrari also provided an impressive display, finishing the weekend in an impressive fourth place, having started from 11th on the grid. He was controversially given a deliberate five-place grid penalty after Ferrari changed his gearbox in order to help Alonso, who consequently moved up to seventh on the grid, crucially on the clean side of the track.
As the lights went out on the new, green track, Vettel got off to a good start, and his teammate Mark Webber followed suit from third, on the clean side of the track, getting ahead of Lewis Hamilton in second place who had less grip to call upon.
As the cars squeezed into the first, tight corner at the top of the hill, Alonso, who started on the grippier side of the grid bravely went around the outside of Schumacher and immediately made up some valuable places, to find himself sitting in fourth.
With a clean start, all the cars were still running after the first few laps, but it wasn’t long before the first big name went out, when Mark Webber’s alternator failed forcing him to retire – a major concern for the rest of the team as it’s not the first time this happened.
Michael Schumacher, who had somehow managed to get his car up to fifth place on the grid (Rosberg only managed 16th) in qualifying, went backwards in the race after initially causing a bit of a traffic jam in the opening laps, being picked off almost at will by other cars which Mercedes would have hoped would have been little competition for such a big manufacturer-backed team at this stage in the season. Mercedes have been a complete disappointment this year.
The Austin track looked great on the TV, with some superb camera angles which really showed the speed of the cars, something lacking from many venues, but which certainly added to the spectacle in Texas.
There was plenty of overtaking and lots of action, but as things drew to a close, it was Lewis Hamilton who had closed the gap on Vettel and was drying to conjure up an overtake for the lead of the race.
His efforts didn’t reap much reward until Vettel had to find his way past the HRT of Karthikeyan. That gave Lewis the opportunity he needed to make good his pass on Vettel in the DRS zone with 14 laps remaining. The German was clearly unhappy, but powerless to do anything about and then couldn’t repass Hamilton, who went on to take the win, reducing the number of points for Vettel and in turn helping Alonso’s championship hopes.
Jenson Button in the other McLaren had also been driving well, having started from 12th on the grid, he battled his way up to finish fifth, behind Massa.
Incredibly then, it’s all still to play for between Vettel and Alonso, who finished second and third respectively, when they meet on a track for the final time this year.
Vettel, will no doubt be feeling the pressure now – and he doesn’t seem to like that very much, so will be more prone to making mistakes. He will also be edgy after the team’s recent reliability issues, which ended Webber’s race early in Texas.
Red Bull may have won the constructors championship, but I believe Alonso deserves to the win the drivers’ title because he has dragged his underperforming Ferrari up the field race after race this year, and thanks to his impressive consistency, has overshadowed much faster racing cars.
After all, the Formula 1 drivers’ title should go to the best driver in the field, not the one with the fastest car, and this year, that has been Fernando Alonso.
He is 13 points adrift of Vettel, so to win the title he so deserves, he would need to win the race in Sao Paulo with Vettel finishing in fifth or lower. For Alonso to win is unlikely, but that is just one possible scenario and after his heroics this season, who would bet against him?
I certainly wouldn’t, and I’ll be cheering for him as the F1 cars make their final outing of 2012 in Brazil!
Remember to check out our race preview – coming soon!