Formula One United States GP: German/Austrian Two-Step

Coming into this weekend’s race, there were only two races on the current Formula One calendar where victory eluded Sebastian Vettel. One is Hungary and he won’t get a chance to rectify that for another eight months. The other is the United States Grand Prix which he only had two attempts at winning.

Well, actually, you can change that to the United States Grand Prix was one of the few races he hadn’t won after absolutely dominating the second running of an F1 Grand Prix in Austin.

f1-2013-us-startThe race started with another Red Bull front row lockout. Vettel led away from the lights but Webber fell back having been caught on the outside of Turn 2 which saw Romain Grosjean and Lewis Hamilton go by. Before Webber could really fight back, Adrian Sutil spun into the barrier at the end of the back straight which necessitated a safety car.

Vettel had no trouble pulling away steadily at the restart. Neither did Grosjean. However, Hamilton was being told to nurse his tyres which made him easy prey for Webber who made a spectacular pass on the outside of Hamilton to take 3rd. Apart from that battle, there weren’t many close battles early in the race.

Pit stops started around Lap 18 with most runners electing to run a one-stop strategy. While most races saw Pirelli trying to rig multi-stop strategies, they went conservative with tyre selection in the US. Still, the exchange of pit stops allowed for some movement such as Alonso by Perez for 6th.

Despite being told to back it down and save the tyres over the last half of the race, he still managed a dominant win that saw him lead for all but two laps and win by 6.2 seconds. A late charge from Webber couldn’t stop Grosjean from taking 2nd with the Aussie rounding out the podium in his second to last race.

Lewis Hamilton nursed his tyres home to fourth. Fernando Alonso clinched 2nd in the Drivers’ standings with his 5th place finish. Nico Hulkenberg continued his 2014 job search with a 6th. Sergio Perez put a good showing in for his Mexican fans who crossed the border for the day by crossing the line in 7th. Valtteri Bottas scored his first career points by finishing 8th. Nico Rosberg made it a double-points day for Mercedes in 9th. And Jenson Button rounded out the points in 10th.

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f1-2013-us-kovalainenYou probably noticed that Kimi Raikkonen wasn’t running this week’s race. He won’t be running next week either. He, along with his management and doctors, decided to end his season early for back surgery as a result of the troubles that first came up in Singapore. In his place was Heikki Kovalainen who finished 14th after needing a front-wing change.

It’s been well documented that Raikkonen hasn’t been paid a cent by Lotus for his efforts this season. Given that he’s moving to Ferrari next season and will actually be paid, I would imagine that the team’s current financial situation may have had something to do with Raikkonen ending the season early.

I like to think of this situation as the Anti-Costanza. Unlike George’s wallet, Kimi’s wallet is so thin as a result of Lotus not paying him that he got backpain. I know he’s probably financially secure for the rest of his life but I just liked the analogy.

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Silly season is in full swing now that Sergio Perez has been dropped by McLaren and rookie Kevin Magnussen has been drafted in as only the third rookie to debut with McLaren in the last 20 years.

f1-2013-us-kovalainen-lotusThe whole of the driver market seems to hinge on where Pastor Maldonado’s money ends up. His money makes him the favourite to land at cash-strapped Lotus. However, if the investment deal with Quantum gets signed, though many F1 insiders consider it unlikely, it could be either Nico Hulkenberg or Sergio Perez who end up at Lotus.

Meanwhile, Force India are reportedly keeping Adrian Sutil on board for 2014. That leaves only one seat there for several drivers to end up with. Maldonado’s money could end up there if he doesn’t buy a seat at Lotus. If Maldonado doesn’t go to Force India, Hulkenberg, Perez and Paul di Resta are all in play for that seat. And now there’s talk that IndyCar’s Chip Ganassi Racing is interested in signing Dario’s cousin to fill Dario’s vacated seat.

That would leave only one last desirable drive in the sport. That’s the first seat at Sauber. With the Russian sponsorship money of Sergey Sirotkin funding the team in 2014, who ever is left from the Maldonado/Perez/Hulkenberg trio would have to be the favourite for that seat. I know The Hulk isn’t happy about not being paid but would he rather take a chance on getting paid by Sauber than end up out of the sport for the second time in four years?

It’s a shame that silly season all revolves around the underwhelming, buffoonish and talent-lacking Pastor Maldonado and his Venezuelan sponsorship funding. In a perfect world, it would be the 22 best drivers in the sport. However, we’re a long way from a perfect world in Formula One.

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f1-2011-brazil-trackThe next race is next week and is the final race of the 2013 Formula One World Championship season. It’s also the final race for naturally aspirated V8 engines, wide front wings, high noses and a bunch more features of the current car formula. Next year, we’ve got a completely new formula. As is the case every few years in F1, next week marks the end of another era.

With nothing on the line in Brazil, there won’t be any interesting storylines to follow. Maybe Felipe Massa can get a farewell victory in the Ferrari. Could Heikki Kovalainen complicate the driver market by scoring a win for Lotus? Or perhaps it’ll be more of the same with another Vettel win.

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