Vettel led most of the 2012 U.S. Grand Prix until Hamilton overtook him with a bold passing move with 14 laps to go, sending the Englishman to the top of the podium to wear the black Stetson cowboy hat presented to the winner.
“To be able to overtake him was one of the best things ever,” Hamilton said Thursday. “But we come into this weekend and everything’s different.”
Few have gotten the best of Vettel, who has dominated the 2013 season with 11 victories and already won his fourth consecutive world championship.
If Vettel wins Sunday at the Circuit of the Americas, he’ll set a single season record with his eighth consecutive victory. And it would keep the German on target to match countryman Michael Schumacher’s record of 13 in a season.
“It’s a long weekend. I’m not really here to break a record,” Vettel said Thursday, a shrug of humility from a driver who is already among the Formula One greats. “Surely I wouldn’t mind if that turns out to be the case, but that’s not the reason I jump in the car.”
And if he does win, what will greet him? Cheers or more of the boos that have chased him after some of his victories this season?
“It’s not nice … (but) think I understand it,” Vettel said of the boos. “If you’re not a Red Bull fan, the last couple of years you could say weren’t that great for you. If you are a Red Bull fan, obviously they were fantastic.”
Last year’s inaugural race in Austin had an air of excitement over the new track, the return of Formula One to the U.S. amid a title chase. Vettel was poised to win his third world championship until Hamilton pushed the title chase to the last race of the season in Brazil.
Vettel’s dominance has sapped some of the sizzle from the return trip.
“It’s more relaxed. The tension of the championship is not there anymore,” Vettel said. “We’re looking forward to the race. Last year we were very close to winning and didn’t get there in the end.”
Not everyone can be so at ease.
McLaren driver Sergio Perez had looked forward to the race so close to his native Mexico, but on Wednesday announced he’s leaving McLaren after just one season. How he drives the last two races could determine whether he has a seat with another team next year.
Thousands of fans from Mexico cheered Perez here last year when he was still driving for Sauber. He moved to McLaren as a replacement for Hamilton, but Perez has struggled through a disappointing season with no podium finishes for himself or teammate Jenson Button.
Being dropped so late in the season “puts me in a very difficult situation for my future” as he tries to find a new team, Perez said.