It seemed that second would have to be enough for Vettel this week, although Hamilton's initial move to run and hide at the front lost its momentum and allowed Vettel to stay in touch, the Red Bull flirting with being back within DRS activation range. But ultimately it became clear that Hamilton was simply teasing Vettel while playing safe with fuel mileage and hardware reliability: when the finish finally came, the McLaren was still comfortably in the lead as the chequered flag flew.
"Awesome job," the McLaren pit wall broadcast over the team radio.
"We definitely deserved that one, guys. We definitely did," responded Hamilton, having finally clinched a win after two painful incidences of being denied by reliability issues at Singapore and Abu Dhabi.
Wearing a brand new Pirelli-branded stetson, Hamilton duly took the top step on the podium at the brand new Circuit of the Americas. The last man to win a US Grand Prix at Indianapolis in 2007 had become the first driver to win a US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. This time there was no question of a subdued demeanour that's been the case at times in the past, Hamilton beaming broadly as he celebrated in style with Vettel, Alonso and McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh on the champagne-soaked podium.
Hamilton had got his wish to claim at least one more win for McLaren before moving in to Mercedes in 2013; Alonso got his wish to force the world championship to the season finale next week in Brazil, even if he hadn't quite been able to make good his boast of outscoring Vettel in the race.
As for Vettel himself: maybe in seven days time he'll be celebrating his third world championship. For today, he'd just have to make do with having safely delivered the constructors title to Red Bull for the third consecutive season. Not a bad day at the office, all things considered.
Full race results
Full championship standings