The radio message to winner Sebastian Vettel that the race was “about going as far as we can, not as fast as we can” summed up not only this race, but maybe the season we have had in 2013. The final race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup is on later. It’s hard not imagine, after watching today’s Austin Grand Prix, that the US of A won’t revert to kind after a brief outburst of enthusiasm for F1 in this small corner of Texas.
Pirelli had opted to play safe for this race, leaving the soft tyre behind for fear it might not handle the side-loading through the Silverstone-y bit of the Circuit of the Americas. It almost certainly played it too safe and the only strategy was to start on softs, finish on hards with only the one stop in between. It was all settled by the first corner, the one after the Spa-y bit. Or the Brands Hatch-y bit depending on where you’re born.
Romain Grosjean managed to split the two Red Bulls at the start, but never looked likely to stop Vettel making it eight wins on the trot, which is a new record in a single season in F1, the old having stood since the 1950s. Nobody — nobody — can come close to Red Bull right now and Martin B can tell us all he wants that we are witnessing something special, but it is like watching paint dry.
Vettel didn’t have the best of starts. It wasn’t that much better than Webber’s, but Vettel seemed keener on slamming the door on his teammate than he did Grosjean who promptly got by Webber, as did Lewis Hamilton. As it played out Webber was able to get by Hamilton as Lewis had another tricky afternoon, on the carphone all race with problems about this and that. His fourth place ahead of Fernando Alonso in fifth (and Rosberg’s ninth) keeps Mercedes ahead in the manufacturers’ battle, as Felipe Massa finished outside the points in 14th in his penultimate race for Ferrari.
Still, Valterri Bottas gave Massa some reason to be optimistic about next year with his best race of the year and the second only points score for Williams this year. Ninth place might not seem much for a team like Williams but after this year it must seem like a win.
He was over the moon, as was Nico Hulkenberg in sixth and Sergio Perez in seventh. Both those young men have agendas. Sadly both might have the same agenda and that can’t be good. We have already suggested that losing The Hulk would be a terrible indictment of F1, but we are starting to think losing Perez might be as bad. This was his third points finish on the trot and his Q1 qualifying meant he and Jenson Button even out in qualifying. Have McLaren made yet another terrible mistake? Jenson picked up the last point after a good little battle with Daniel Ricciardo.
There were, to be fair, quite a few good little battles today, most if not all of them ending cleanly, others like Adrian Sutil’s lap-one prang with Pastor Maldonado less so. That brought out the safety car which gave us all hope that Vettel would not be able to do it the way he likes to do it. But it was a forlorn hope. Red Bull have the current formula better sussed than anyone out there. No-one is even close. What worries us is less than it will continue the advantage in to next year, more than the new regulations will introduce even more factors that will stop racing drivers racing.
For the record then, the top ten was VET, GRO, WEB, HAM, ALO, HUL, PER, BOT, ROS, BUT. Alonso now can’t be beaten in second place, Lewis looks pretty solid in third in the Drivers’ Cup. In the manufacturers’ shield Mercedes still lead with 348 ahead of Ferrari’s 333. Lotus trail with 315, what having looked like a promising gamble on Heikki Kovalainen not paying off, Heikki could only manage 15th today. Maybe they should have gone for Michael Schumacher. Now that would have made it a more interesting morning.