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The First U.S. Grand Prix at Austin Was a Resounding Success

Full of Action, Lewis Hamilton Beat Vettel in Late Race Pass

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The series had been absent from the United States for five years after struggling to find its place in America despite more than half a century of effort. That it made a successful return in November 2012 was in no small way helped by the race's taking place at the first circuit built for Formula 1 in the United States. It also probably did not hurt to reintroduce Formula 1 to Americans in Austin, a city whose motto is ''Keep Austin Weird.''

A capacity crowd of 117,429 watched a wild and suspenseful battle between the remaining contenders for the drivers' title, Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, on a track and at a site that delivered all of its promise and more.

Vettel started the race from the pole, and led for the first 42 laps of the 56-lap race. But Lewis Hamilton in a McLaren Mercedes passed him with 14 laps left, and Hamilton hung on for the victory. Alonso, meanwhile, did everything he could to remain in contention for the drivers' title, starting from seventh on the grid and finishing third.

After the race, with just 13 points separating the No. 1 and the No. 2 drivers and a race victory worth 25 points, it meant the season title came down to one final race, the following week in Sao Paulo.

Hamilton, for whom it was his 21st career victory in F1, also won the last U.S. Grand Prix, at Indianapolis in 2007.

''This is one of the best, if not the best, Grand Prix we have had all year,'' Hamilton said after the race. ''It was the first Grand Prix here, and I won the last one here as well, so I am massively proud.''

Vettel, who pointed out his own ties to Formula 1 racing in the United States, including his 100th circuit race Sunday and his Formula 1 debut at the Grand Prix in Indianapolis in 2007, said the Austin race had been incredible. ''It was a close battle with Lewis; he had one chance, and he took it,'' he added.

This was also a victory for Austin, which went to great lengths to ensure success after the series failed to take hold at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 2000 to 2007.

It had its local touches for the drivers - the top three finishers were given cowboy hats. And the weekend was not short of star power, with the movie directors Ron Howard and George Lucas attending, along with the billionaire Carlos Slim Helú of Mexico, whose telecommunications company, Telmex, sponsors the Sauber team.

A three-day Formula 1 fan festival that included music, activities for children and other entertainment opened the event to more than racing fans, something few other series' sites have accomplished. Good weather, including sunny skies and temperatures of 73 degrees Fahrenheit (23 Celsius) for race day, certainly helped.

There were also almost none of the anticipated traffic concerns either, as almost 500 shuttle buses took spectators the 7 miles, or 11 kilometers, from downtown Austin to the track in Elroy. Of course, not all Austin residents were pleased. One put a banner on the roof of his home in 6- and 12-foot letters reading, ''Howdy! F1%,'' a reference, and complaint, to the smaller percentage of fans who opted for the more expensive helicopter rides to the circuit.

But Formula 1 team directors cautioned that the Grand Prix based in Austin and the series's latest attempt at success in the United States could not be judged solely on this race.

''The first year you come to a race at a facility like this, it's great to see what fantastic support it's had - but it's about maintaining that support,'' said Ross Brawn, the director of the Mercedes team.

''There are things that we do during the season to monitor exposure and reaction, and we will be looking at all the factors that help us judge how much of an impression this race is making,'' he said.

From the sporting point of view, Austin delivered in a way that Indianapolis failed, by providing a track built for Formula 1 cars. The result was a spectacular race of passing and competition, more akin to Nascar than to the processional Formula 1 racing of the past that could never seduce American fans.

The Circuit of the Americas, as it is named, left very little to chance. Performing the interviews with the drivers on the podium after the race was Mario Andretti, one of only two Americans to win the Formula One drivers' title.

''We just witnessed an awesome, awesome race right to the end,'' said Andretti, who won the title in 1978 to join Phil Hill, the 1961 champion.

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