Considering that Sebastian Vettel was on his way to making a small piece of F1 history, it was remarkable just how unremarkable the United States Grand Prix was for the four-time world champion. He aced the start, breezed the restart, and promptly disappeared into the dusty horizons of the Lone Star state never to be troubled again, seemingly in a world and certainly in a class of his own all afternoon long.
While Vettel got his familiar perfect getaway as the lights went out that released him uncontested into the first corner, Mark Webber had his equally familiar damp squib of a start. Wheelspin ensured that he quickly lost position to Romain Grosjean despite the Lotus being forced to go around the outside of turn 1 and through cement dust that had been put down after a support race incident leaked oil onto the track. Webber's day went from bad to worse when Lewis Hamilton also got by him in the exit of the same corner, indicating that the pre-race concerns about the Mercedes' brakes had been laid to rest.
Behind them it was the usual scramble for advantage, Esteban Gutierrez needing to bring the Sauber in for running repairs at the end of the first lap after some jostling for position left him with a puncture. But even as he did so, the race itself was put behind the safety car after Adrian Sutil pulled across the front of Pastor Maldonado's Williams in the run down to turn 12, resulting in a collision that put the Force India into a crunching impact with the unyielding metal barriers. Sutil was quickly out of the car, but the track officials needed four laps under yellow to clear up the wreckage and debris from the accident. Despite damage to his front wing, Maldonado initially tried staying out but he was subsequently shown a black-and-orange flag requiring him to pit for a replacement after it started to break up and shed debris on track.
Once the clean-up was finished, Vettel led the field to the restart on lap 5 and the Red Bull had no trouble taking off to safety once more, pulling out two seconds on Grosjean even before the end of the lap, while Hamilton also successfully maintained his advantage over Webber for third place. Behind them, a fired-up Sergio Perez tried to get his McLaren past Nico Hulkenberg to no avail, the Sauber once again proving a formidable obstacle for anyone seeking to get past on track. In any case, Perez had to be mindful of the threat of Fernando Alonso and Valtteri Bottas attacking from behind.
The biggest loser of the opening laps was Lotus stand-in driver Heikki Kovalainen, who perhaps understandably had been rather cautious in the first corners and been bounced down from eighth to 12th place as a result with Paul di Resta, Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Rosberg all able to take advantage of the fact that it's the Finn's first Grand Prix in a year. Kovalainen was able to hold off the Ferrari of Felipe Massa, however, while behind them both Jenson Button was suffering from damage to his own front wing from the first lap shake-out.
The first significant change of position since the restart came on lap 13, as Hamilton was being warned about new issues with overheating front brakes. Webber used the opportunity to get within RS range, and once that was done he was able to cruise around the outside of the Mercedes in the run down to turn 12, deftly applying the brakes on the exit to seal the deal and relegate the Briton to fourth place. Hamilton's humour wasn't improved by a new warning from the pit wall to manage his tyres: "I'm trying to manage that, I'm trying
to," he responded.
With everyone bar Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne having started on the medium option tyres, the time for drivers' first and likely sole pit stop of the day to take on a set of primes loomed large, with Kovalainen first to make a move onto pit lane on lap 18 in the hope of coming back out into clean air after a rather slow stop by the Lotus crew. No one else seemed inclined to immediately follow his example, Sergio Perez even telling his pit wall that he was experiencing very low tyre degradation. However the same couldn't be said for his team mate Jenson Button, who was next onto pit road for new tyres on lap 21 which triggered a covering response from Felipe Massa next time by. Massa rejoined right ahead of Button and succeeded in making the Ferrari wide enough to thwart the Briton's attempt to use his momentum to sweep past.
Perez meanwhile was under heavy pressure from Massa's team mate Fernando Alonso, and the team opted to pit him at the end of lap 23 which also saw stops for di Resta, Rosberg and Ricciardo in what was proving to be a very tight battle for position in the midfield. With Bottas in next time by, that left only seven cars yet to make their first stops - Vettel with an eight second lead over Grosjean, Webber setting a new fastest lap and now over three seconds ahead of Hamilton, with Hulkenberg and Alonso also running long while Vergne was up to seventh spot on the Hail Mary counter tyre strategy, which faltered when the primes finally cried 'enough' after just 28 laps, leaving the options with a lot of work to do if they were to last the whole of the second half of the race without a further stop.