Hamilton lost out, as expected, by starting on the dirty side of the grid and exited the first corner third behind the Red Bulls of Vettel and Mark Webber. But after disposing of Webber on the fourth lap after a previous try hadn’t quite worked out, he then got the hammer down and reined in the other Red Bull.
Vettel proved a tougher nut to crack, and after getting the gap down to less than a second Hamilton began to lose ground just prior to his pit stop on the 20th lap. After the switch to Pirelli’s harder tyre, however, he began closing in again, and finally made a move stick as he used DRS to pass Vettel down the back straight on the 42nd lap, the Red Bull having been delayed slightly by traffic in the esses earlier in the lap. The German tried all he could to stick with him, but just didn’t quite have the McLaren’s pace, and as Hamilton had discovered, following was a whole lot harder than leading.
Behind them, and after a bit of tactical trickery by Ferrari, another superb drive from Alonso kept the Spaniard in play for the world championship.
Before the start much was made about the state of the track on the left-hand side of the grid, particularly by Hamilton who qualified second. Ferrari were so concerned, with Alonso due to start eighth, that they deliberately broke a seal on Felipe Massa’s gearbox so that he would get a five-place grid penalty that would move Alonso to seventh, on the clean side.
The ploy worked to perfection. Alonso jumped up to fourth behind the Red Bulls and Hamilton, closing out Michael Schumacher in Turn One, and thus immediately put himself in the lowest position he needed, assuming that Vettel won, to keep the title battle open. He rose to third when Webber’s car stopped after 16 laps with alternator failure, and stayed there to the flag, secure in the knowledge that Massa had climbed back up to fourth after his enforced grid penalty and thus had his back. It was a noteworthy run by the Brazilian.
Behind them, Jenson Button hauled his McLaren to fifth after starting on the harder tyre and running until the 32nd lap before changing to the mediums. He conquered the Lotuses of Kimi Raikkkonen and Romain Grosjean, both of whom looked strong at one time. The Finn seemed a possible podium contender for a while, while the Frenchman recovered from an early spin and pit stop.
Force India's Nico Hulkenberg ran fifth for some time before the Lotuses hit their stride, and stayed in the points to take eighth despite attack from both Williams. Pastor Maldonado rubbed wheels in the first corner with team mate Bruno Senna on the 52nd lap as he squeezed through on the inside for ninth, and they were the final points’ scorers.
It was a poor day for Sauber, as a disappointed Sergio Perez didn’t have the car beneath him to deliver better than 11th place to the thousands of Mexicans who made the trek to Texas, while Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo, who ran strongly in fifth place at one stage while running out of sequence in the pit stops, was 12th. Nico Rosberg brought his Mercedes home an uncompetitive 13th ahead of Kamui Kobayashi’s Sauber, while Force India’s Paul di Resta clung on after an unhappy race to beat Schumacher home.
Vitaly Petrov led the newbies home in his Caterham, as Heikki Kovalainen very narrowly fended off Timo Glock’s Marussia for 18th and Charles Pic brought his MR01 home next. Both HRTs finished, with Pedro de la Rosa leading Narain Karthikeyan throughout.
Besides Webber, the only non-finisher was Vergne after damaging his Toro Rosso’s front suspension again during a fight with the Mercedes.
Vettel now leads Alonso with 273 to 260 points, and 25 is up for grabs in Brazil. And though Red Bull lost the race, Vettel’s second place was sufficient to clinch them the constructors’ championship for a third successive year.