Austin GPR Race Recap: Vettel steams away in surprisingly scrappy USGP

Sebastian Vettel won the 2013 United States Grand Prix, with Romain Grosjean taking second from Mark Webber on the start. They would remain in that order to the end, despite Webber’s late charge to near Grosjean, though further down the order the scrapping was often briefly intense amongst many different drivers. Adrian Sutil brought out a Safety Car on the first lap, misjudging his distance to Pastor Maldonado on the outside and crashing into the barriers near T12. He was unhurt and the field spent four laps behind the SC just after the start. Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Nico Hulkenberg had a scrap on the final lap, but the older driver outfoxed the Sauber driver to keep fifth. Sergio Perez, Valtteri Bottas, Nico Rosberg, and Daniel Ricciardo rounded out the top ten.

Though it looked as through Webber had pole sewn up at the end of Saturday’s qualifying sessions, Vettel (1:36.338) laid claim to the first starting position in an impossibly quick final lap. Grosjean and Hulkenberg quietly slotted onto the second row, while Hamilton and Alonso qualified to start on the fourth row. Though the top[ two were the typical Red Bull side-by-side, a change in wind and track conditions between the final practice and qualifying saw teammates well separated across the grid.

Kovalainen managed only eighth while temporary teammate Grosjean was third. Hulkenberg’s Sauber teammate Gutierrez qualified tenth, but dropped down with a ten place grid penalty for impeding Pastor Maldonado during Q1. The Venezuelan had a terrible qualifying, dropping out in Q1, and later blaming the team for messing with settings on his Williams while his teammate Bottas qualified ninth.

Though Hamilton managed fifth, Rosberg dropped out in Q2. Alonso recovered from a dismal FP3 for Ferrari for sixth, but Massa qualified only fifteenth. Perez, who qualified seventh, posted a vastly superior time to teammate Button. The Briton qualified only thirteenth but dropped three places for passing under red flags during FP1. Pic had the other grid penalty, dropping five places from his twenty-first qualifying time for a gearbox change.

Max Chilton, who the stewards deemed to have impeded both Maldonado and Alonso in Q1, would have to serve a drive through penalty in the first five laps of the race. The stewards rightly determined that a grid penalty would not effect the driver already at the back of the grid. After the penalties, di Resta, Rosberg, Massa, Button, Sutil, Maldonado, van der Garde, Bianchi, Gutierrez, Chilton, and Pic completed starting positions 11-22.

The racing at Austin got off to an inauspicious start, with fog delaying FP1. Because the medical helicopter could not fly in the conditions, the session lost a half hour of running time, then more to red flags. The session was again stopped after the fog cleared, as a technical issue incapacitated the medical helicopter. A replacement had to fly in from Austin, which lost more time. In the end, Alonso (1:38.343) led Button, Bottas, Gutierrez, and Rosberg in the truncated session. Vettel and Webber led the other two practices, sharing the top five with Rosberg, Hamilton, Kovalainen, and Hulkenberg Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.

An hour before lights out, Red Bull had to tear apart Vettel’s gearbox to check for physical damage, in accordance with regulations and allowed by Race Direction. They did find oil pressure issues in the gearbox about to start its fifth race. Later, on the way to the grid, Massa found that his KERs was not working. In continuing trouble, Hamilton radioed that his “brake pedal is quite soft and long,” leading to the team bleeding the brakes on the grid. Only Vergne would start the race on the harder tyre, with the rest of the field doing so on the medium.

Race Start:
Vettel made a fairly good start, with Webber again sliding backwards. As the field made their way to the top of the T1 hill, Grosjean went around the outside for second after Vettel squeezed his teammate, with Hamilton following him through. Grosjean looked nearly able to get Vettel as well, but settled for second. Hulkenberg dropped back, while further back, Perez took Alonso, whose start was not as stellar as usual. Webber soon slipped to fourth, with di Resta up to ninth from eleventh on the first lap. Yellow flags waved as Gutierrez and Massa made contact that led to some debris, then the Safety Car deployed before the first lap ended, as Sutil crashed into the Armco on the way to T12.

Safety Car Deployed (L1 of 56):
Vettel led Grosjean, Hamilton, Webber, Hulkenberg, Perez, Alonso, Bottas, di Resta, and Ricciardo as the top ten behind the SC. Gutierrez pitted with damage to the back and a rear puncture, possibly as the cause of the yellow flags waved before Sutil crashed. The German looked to move left to pass, but made contact with Maldonado, likely unaware that the Williams was so close alongside. Still behind the SC at the end of L2, Rosberg, Kovalainen, Massa, Button, Vergne, Maldonado, Bianchi, van der Garde, Pic, Chilton, and Gutierrez completed the latter half of the running order.

Restart (L5 of 56):
Vettel stacked up the field well up for the restart as L5 began, scooting away before they crossed the restart line. The German had quite a lead up the hill into T1, with little change in the field behind. Chilton served his drive-through penalty on L5. By the end of L6, Vettel had nearly two and a half seconds on Grosjean, with Hamilton another two behind.

Webber was only a half second back from Hamilton, with Hukenberg again leading a train behind. Perez, Alonso, and Bottas were all less than a second apart behind the Sauber. A second behind Bottas sat di Resta, with his own train: Ricciardo, Rosberg, Kovalainen, Massa, Button, and Vergne were all within DRS detection of the man ahead as DRS became allowed.

As the first ten laps approached their completion, Gutierrez passed Bianchi. Meanwhile, Maldonado also continued to lose bits off his lopsided front wing, likely damaged in a scuffle with Massa, and complain of vibration on the car. He would pit for a new nose on L9 as Race Control showed him a black and orange flag.

End L10 of 56:
Vettel’s lead had grown to nearly four seconds at the end of L10, with Grosjean a similar margin ahead of Hamilton. Webber and Hulkenberg continued to round out the top five. Alonso had a look on Perez, who was less than a second behind Hulkenberg, into T1, only to back off a bit and remain seventh. Di Resta remained the head of a train in ninth, with five drivers stacked up behind him.

However, Webber looked set to get after Hamilton, dropping the gap to a half second between them with a number of race fast sectors. On the radio, Mercedes reminded Hamilton that he needed ten more laps on his tyres, to please manage them. Hamilton indicated that the tyres would not last. It did not much matter as Webber took the Briton’s position around the outside of T12 and moved into third. Quickly, Hamilton dropped nearly two and a half seconds behind Webber, with Hulkenberg a safe three behind in fifth.

Sauber next encouraged Hulkenberg to get after Hamilton, who they knew had been told to manage his tyres. Hulkenberg took seven tenths off Hamilton, then another three on the next laps. A bit further back, Button was close behind Massa, fighting over thirteenth. It was a bad time for Ferrari, as Bottas was even closer behind Alonso in seventh than Button on Massa.

Laps continued to tick away as Vettel increased his lead at the front. Soon, only Rosberg behind Ricciardo in tenth, Kovalainen behind Rosberg, and Button behind Massa in thirteenth were within DRS detection of the man ahead on L17.

Pit Stops Begin (L18 of 56):
Kovalainen pitted on L18, having a bit of a delay on the left front. On the radio, Red Bull led the chorus on its regular refrain requesting Vettel slow and be certain to bring the car home. Rosberg finally took Ricciardo for the final points paying position, diving up the inside then barely keeping the Australian behind as the Mercedes locked its tyres. Ricciardo spent the next few turns on L20 attempting to return the favor, but was forced to stay eleventh.

By the end of L20, Vettel’s lead over Grosjean had grown to more than eight seconds. No one was less than a second behind the man ahead but Gutierrez behind Vergne in fifteenth. Button pitted from thirteenth on L21, with a missing endplate on his front wing. Pic followed Button in, while Alonso pushed the other McLaren of Perez. Massa would pit on the next lap still in a fight with Button. Ferrari had a much better stop than McLaren, allowing Massa to come out close but just barely ahead of Button. The Briton would look for a way to attack, but could not. Bianchi and van der Garde also pitted.

Meanwhile, Alonso continued to dog Perez, who would be pitted on L23. di Resta, Rosberg, and Ricciardo would all also pit on L23. di Resta rejoined next to Kovalainen, the latter just remaining ahead. Bottas pitted for his first stop on L24, leaving the top six yet to stop. Hamilton again learned that he needed to extend the tyres.

In the stops, some closing happened between the drivers, with Gutierrez quite close behind Vergne. Perez was a second behind them, all looking for seventh. Gutierrez made his move on L26, taking seventh. Perez looked for a way to follow him through, but did not do so, instead getting stuck behind the Toro Rosso. Hamilton pitted on L26, rejoining in sixth and still ahead of the fight over seventh. Alonso made his first stop on L27 from fifth, at about the same time that Perez passed Vergne. The Frenchman had not yet stopped, his tyres leaving him vulnerable. As Alonso rejoined, he was just behind Gutierrez and barely only came out ahead of Perez.

Halfway (End L28 of 56):
Vettel pitted from the lead as he began L28. He rejoined pit lane as Chilton came in, forcing the slower car to slot in behind. Hulkenberg followed him in, as did Vergne. At halfway, Vettel sat second behind Grosjean as Webber relinquished the position to make his first tyre change in 2.3s. Alonso moved up to seventh, diving up the inside of Gutierrez as the Mexican driver left the door a tiny crack open. Grosjean made his first stop, the last man to do so, on L30. Meanwhile, di Resta passed Kovalainen for the final points position.

At the end of L30, Vettel led Grosjean by ten seconds, with Webber another two back. On the radio, Hamilton demanded more feed back after earlier telling his race engineer leave him to the racing. Ross Brawn would later say, “that’s Lewis…we’re getting used to that.” He was then third, with Hulkenberg a second and a half behind. Alonso was sixth, while Perez and Gutierrez scrapped over seventh. The latter left the door wide open through T19, and Perez took advantage.

Red Bull again reminded Vettel that the cars behind him had gone longer and he needed to manage his tyres. Further back, Rosberg dramatically passed Kovalainen for eleventh. The latter would immediately pit for a fresh front wing. In more action, Rosberg came from way back to dive under di Resta for tenth. Gutierrez and Bottas continued the action, with Bottas continuing his impossible drive of the weekend to take eighth closely from the Mexican driver into T1.

Meanwhile, Webber had quietly snuck up behind Grosjean, coming within the DRS detection zone of the Frenchman at the end of L34. Alas, he lost a second on the next lap and dropped to two seconds back. Webber would drop another second back on L36.

20 Laps Remaining of 56:
Gutierrez pitted for his second stop on L37. Vettel’s lead over Grosjean had stabilized at ten seconds by that point, with Webber, Hamilton, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Perez, Bottas, Gutierrez, and Rosberg the top ten. Webber had regained a second on Grosjean, posting a race fast lap. Red Bull told members of the press that Webber had dropped back to save his tyres. As Rob Smedley told Massa to push with twenty to go, Alonso had a message in Italian on the radio.

Massa would pit on L39 from twelfth for the medium tyres. Bottas learned he also needed to manage his tyres, with Williams asking for a delta time slower than the drivers behind him. With Ferrari deciding to two stop Massa, Alonso soon began setting faster times and closing on Hulkenberg in fifth. Fighting over the points, Ricciardo had another look on di Resta, deciding to use his discretion to stay eleventh.

Vettel continued to hear caution from the Red Bull pit wall as his teammate went back and forth in the margin to Grosjean in the Red Bull sandwich. At the front, Vettel maintained a just under eleven second lead on Grosjean, but the big mover with just over ten laps to go was Alonso. By L44, he was within the DRS detection range of Hulkenberg. Alonso closed as they came near the DRS zone. Behind, Ricciardo managed to retake tenth down the inside of di Resta from well back. At T1, Alonso took fifth from Hulkenberg, going to the outside, then inside and away up the track ahead.

10 Laps Remaining:
Vettel learned, “this tyre is not bulletproof,” responding, “I’m aware” as eleven laps remained. Meanwhile, Kovalainen’s KERS had gone off, leaving the Finn stuck in seventeenth. As the final ten laps began, Vettel led Grosjean by ten seconds, with Webber just one second behind the Frenchman. Hamilton remained fourth, more than fourteen seconds back, with Alonso just over a second behind his former teammate in fifth.

Webber soon sat on Grosjean’s gearbox, leading to the possibility of a serious fight in the top five for the final few laps. Alonso remained barely more than a second behind Hamilton. Webber closed on Grosjean in the DRS zone, but did not have quite enough space to claim the position. Together they had come to under nine seconds behind Vettel. Webber tried again through the first DRS zone on L49, dipping to the inside but remaining behind. Meanwhile, Pic gained a drive through penalty for ignoring blue flags and holding up Hamilton.

Webber remained behind but had gained a tiny bit on Grosjean the next entry to T1. Alonso had dropped a bit behind Hamilton, just two second back. Further down the order, di Resta pitted on L50 from eleventh. He left Vergne and Gutierrez behind him on the track fighting over twelfth.

Vettel continued to slow in the lead, but remained fairly safe as Webber looked for any way around Grosjean. In actual passing, Kovalainen moved into fifteenth with a pass up the inside at T1 on Maldonado with five to go. On the radio, Red Bull encouraged Webber to do the same as he had the previous lap, as it seemed to gain him a tiny bit.

Pic pitted for his second stop on L52, while the stalking game continued near the lead. Grosjean pulled out a race fast lap on L52, gaining a couple of tenths on Webber. Further back, Alonso had left Hamilton to fourth while Hulkenberg gained behind him.

Red Bull next told Webber to try all the KERS on the final corner to “try something different.” As he pushed, the Red Bull got a bit out of shape for the Australian. Webber would soon indicate that he was using a lot of his tyres. Vettel continued to slow in the lead, but had more than six seconds gap with three to go.

Fighting over the final points paying position, Button had a go from well back on Ricciardo, but could not quite make the pass. Button had a go around the outside through T1, pushing hard across to take tenth from the Australian. In another scrap, Hulkenberg looked set to take Alonso’s fifth as the Ferrari stepped out on Alonso. Alonso allowed him through in T1, then came back ahead to keep the position.

Vettel was safe enough to take the win, with Grosjean and Webber holding station behind for the podium positions. Hamilton ended the race he won last year quietly in fourth, while Alonso held of Hulkenberg for fifth. Bottas scored his first ever F1 points in eighth. On the final lap, Gutierrez looked to pass Vergne for twelfth, but managed instead to spin out and finish behind Massa. Their incident would come under investigation after the race. Vettel closed with an emotional message to Red Bull, reminding them that, “I love you,” and that they should remember and cherish days like this. He celebrated with donuts.

Final Positions, 2013 United States Grand Prix:

1. Sebastian VettelRed Bull1
2. Romain GrosjeanLotus6.21
3. Mark WebberRed Bull8.31
4. Lewis HamiltonMercedes27.31
5. Fernando AlonsoFerrari29.51
6. Nico HulkenbergSauber30.41
7. Sergio PerezMcLaren46.61
8. Valtteri BottasWilliams54.51
9. Nico RosbergMercedes59.11
10. Jenson ButtonMcLaren77.21
11. Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso81.01
12. Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso84.51
13. Felipe MassaFerrari86.92
14. Esteban GutierrezSauber91.72
15. Heikki KovalainenLotus95.02
16. Paul di RestaForce India96.82
17. Pastor MaldonadoWilliams1 Lap1
18. Jules BianchiMarussia1 Lap1
19. Giedo van der GardeCaterham1 Lap1
20. Charles PicCaterham1 Lap2
21.Max ChiltonMarussia2 Laps2
 Adrian SutilForce India
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