Michael Bailey: A sneaky feeling for Fernando Alonso, while Heikki Kovalainen closes on unwanted record

Jumping for joy - Lewis Hamilton celebrates his Austin success; a taste he may have to wait to enjoy again, given the Merc that awaits him. Photo: Hoch Zwei Jumping for joy - Lewis Hamilton celebrates his Austin success; a taste he may have to wait to enjoy again, given the Merc that awaits him. Photo: Hoch Zwei

Thursday, November 22, 2012
3:36 PM

It may well have been a wonderful season full of twists, turns and stellar performances – and there may well be more to come in Brazil – but there should be little doubt Austin raised the bar again.

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Good week, bad week

GW – Lewis Hamilton: Judging by Mercedes’ current form, it’s worth taking the time to enjoy Lewis at the top of his game with McLaren – it was a fitting farewell to his boyhood team.

BW – Caterham: Out-qualified by both Marussias in Austin, and while they recovered in the race, it’s fair to say the second half of 2012 has been one to forget.

In reality, the usual discussion points attached to Formula One trying to make it stateside are old hat. There is a true, organic underground appreciation of F1 in the US – one farmed on the fertile plains of the internet. Proof came this weekend.

Days of full grandstands and passionate crowds – even with Nascar competing for people’s attention.

The purpose-built track lovingly crafted and delivered on time, relatively to budget and despite a few internal squabbles and writs.

And most importantly, an enthralling race on arguably the best designed Formula One track for many a year.

"It’s not very easy to find a driver like me…"

Quote of the week: Felipe Massa makes sure Ferrari realise what they’ve got

F1 has a US home. The sport is there to stay. More is set to come.

In all honesty, even if the USA hasn’t lapped up Sunday’s events, the rest of us would have – led by Ferrari’s audacious manipulation of the rules.

Their deliberate breaking of the seal on Felipe Massa’s gearbox – all with the aim of earning the Brazilian a five-place grid penalty and therefore sending championship challenger Fernando Alonso to the better gripped outside of the grid – was bold, fiercely competitive and ultimately a masterstroke.

And what’s more, their honesty in stating what they were doing and why, as they did it, should earn them respect. It’s deceit, treating the watching public like fools, that deserves denouncing.

Ferrari merely took a gamble and saw it pay off. It may yet earn an even bigger result after Sunday.

In 2010, with Alonso leading the championship heading into the final race in Abu Dhabi, Maranello botched their title pursuit as dodgy strategy calls played a part in Sebastian Vettel earning his first drivers’ crown.

Switch to Austin 2012, and Narain Karthikayen’s inability to follow the annoying blue flags and submit to Vettel – and to the detriment of his own, admittedly futile race – effectively handed Lewis Hamilton the race win and ultimately kept Alonso’s title challenge alive.

Now, only one more Red Bull alternator failure and an Alonso podium would see the Spaniard get his revenge.

For those who believe in fate, Austin may well have done more than simply reintroduce the US to F1.

It could be Heikki Kovalainen is not only on the brink of leaving Formula One, but that it will happen with a fairly unwanted record in tow.

As things stand, there is a large question mark hanging above the Finn’s future. Kovalainen is proven in F1, and that has previously saved him from bringing in the budget and sponsors others would need to secure a seat.

But the sport has changed and Caterham, if the speculation is to be believed, look set to name two new drivers with fresh financial impetus for the 2013 season.

And on top of that, the Finn now needs to hope for a miracle to avoid more misery.

Unless Kovalainen can somehow manufacture the Hingham-backed constructor’s first point since arriving in the sport at this season’s finalé in Brazil, he will become the driver with the longest run of pointless finishes.

Italian Piercarlo Ghinzani was the previous record holder, picking up 59 race failures after his fifth at Dallas in 1984 for Osella. Spells with Ligier, Tolemann and Zakspeed saw him unable to add to his career points tally before leaving the sport.

Kovalainen’s finish outside the top 10 in Austin – something to be expected given Caterham are yet to score a championship point since joining the F1 grid in 2010 – equalled Ghinzani’s record meaning the Finn will hold the dubious distinction all on his own should the expected happen in Sao Paulo on Sunday.

That said, it isn’t all Caterham’s fault – Heikki’s run began at the 2009 Japanese Grand Prix, when he was still with McLaren.

“I’d much rather be setting a record for most consecutive points-scoring positions than non-scoring, but it is what it is,” Kovalainen told Autosport. And of course, his future also remains up for discussion.

“I’m not in favour of raising a budget; I’ve told my management I don’t want to do that,” he added. “If I don’t get a race drive, I’ll have to do something else. That would be a shame, but sometimes that’s how life is.”