- F1 title battle still on for Brazil finale
- Brazil finale to be 'uncomfortable' for Vettel - Alguersuari
- Massa's deliberate penalty gives Alonso title boost
- Ferrari checked with FIA before changing Austin grid
- Karthikeyan says FIA on his side after Vettel criticism
- Force India decision would almost complete 2013 grid
- 'Joy of racing' makes Schu comeback a success - Andretti
F1 title battle still on for Brazil finale
F1 will have its championship finale in Brazil next Sunday, after Sebastian Vettel failed to win the US GP.
But Red Bull's German further expanded his points lead over his never-say-die title rival Fernando Alonso in Austin, with the gap now 13 points with just the twentieth race of the season in Sao Paulo still lying ahead.
"It's looking a bit better after today," said Vettel. "Now we have another step to make in Brazil."
Red Bull secured its third consecutive constructors' championship on Sunday, but the team was not really celebrating after Vettel was beaten to the flag by race winner Lewis Hamilton.
Vettel was frustrated to have been passed by McLaren's Hamilton in the DRS zone, after the German was held up in the preceding corners by backmarker Narain Karthikeyan.
"That wasn't your fault," team boss Christian Horner told Vettel - who had sounded furious on the radio - afterwards.
"It's going to be a busy week ahead of us," Horner said on British television Sky.
But the mathematics are very much in Red Bull's favour, because even if Ferrari's Alonso wins at Interlagos next week, Vettel would only have to finish fourth to be champion.
With a looming forecast of rain for Brazil, however, Alonso - who climbed from seventh on the grid to third at the chequered flag on Sunday - is not giving up.
"You've been brilliant all season," F1 legend Mario Andretti told Alonso on the podium, "and obviously you're fighting to the end."
Reliability could also be a factor, as Vettel's teammate Mark Webber retired on Sunday with yet another failed alternator, even though supplier Renault had debuted a new specification this weekend.
"Very much so, it (reliability) is so fragile," Red Bull's Adrian Newey admitted on Sunday. "Renault haven't managed to find a proper solution to that one."
Brazil finale to be 'uncomfortable' for Vettel - Alguersuari
For superstitious Sebastian Vettel, the fact he is 'unlucky 13' points ahead of Fernando Alonso on the cusp of his third drivers' title will not be lost on the German.
"Let's see if it will be lucky in seven days time in Sao Paulo," said Ferrari in a post-race statement.
Actually, the points gap gives Vettel a huge advantage for the 2012 finale, because even if Alonso can drag his less competitive car to the top of the Interlagos podium, Red Bull's German could then finish just fourth and still be champion.
"Maybe on paper that chance is not so big, maybe 25 per cent," Spaniard Alonso, who has been quoting much bigger percentage chances recently, said after Austin.
"But deep down, I feel it (the chance) is much more than that.
"Anything can happen at Interlagos and we saw again how important reliability can be, didn't we?"
He is referring to Mark Webber's failure in the sister Red Bull on Sunday with yet another alternator problem.
And there is also a forecast of rain for Sunday in Brazil.
"Clearly, if it's dry and we have a normal race, one can expect Red Bull to be in front of everyone and us on the third or fourth row, so the more unknown factors there are, the better it is for us," said Alonso.
Jaime Alguersuari, a former Red Bull-contracted driver but a Spaniard like Alonso, thinks Vettel will be heading to Sao Paulo feeling nervous.
Asked if the title is now all but decided, he told Mundo Deportivo: "For the best car yes, for the best driver, no.
"Brazil will be a very uncomfortable race for Vettel, and very comfortable for Fernando," he said.
"Vettel can only lose the championship, because in theory he has already won. But theory doesn't give you ten points.
"Fernando, who at the age of 31 knows something about formula one after 11 years, is already the de-facto runner-up and so he can only win.
"Who has been involved in elite sport knows what can go wrong when you are defending an advantage, and how well you can go when you have nothing to lose.
"So Brazil will give us something very interesting," said Alguersuari.
Massa's deliberate penalty gives Alonso title boost
Ferrari on Sunday sparked a pre-race controversy by deliberately inflicting a penalty on Felipe Massa.
A long-life gearbox rule means that breaking an official FIA 'seal' - usually necessary only in the event of a technical problem - incurs a five-place grid penalty.
Brazilian Massa qualified ahead of Fernando Alonso on Saturday, so the deliberate 'seal' breaking moved the Spaniard moved one place up the grid, from eighth to seventh.
With the US grand prix being the penultimate grand prix of the year, Ferrari's tactical move - a decision made "for strategy considerations" according to the famous Italian team - may prove crucial.
Alonso needs to finish fourth or higher in order to prevent Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel from winning the drivers' title on Sunday, if the German wins the race.
The main consideration, however, was about the "dirty side" of the grid; a higher factor in Austin given the newness and low-grip nature of the Circuit of the Americas asphalt.
"Starting from the dirty side of the track would have been penalising," a statement posted on Ferrari's official website explained.
"There was a significant risk of finding ourselves too far behind the leaders at the end of the first lap. It was a decision agreed by both drivers," claimed the team.
"We've always maintained that the interests of the team come before that of the individual drivers and this has always been our very transparent policy."
Although completely within the rules, Ferrari's move is highly controversial. British broadcaster Sky's pitlane reporter Natalie Pinkham wondered: "It's legal, but is it fair?"
"Not much to feel about it. It's their business," Red Bull's Vettel said on the grid.
Ferrari's strategy worked well for Alonso a few minutes later, when the Spaniard moved up from his new seventh on the grid to fourth on the first lap, while the 'dirty' side of the grid struggled.
"Engineers were right," said Sky commentator Martin Brundle, "it was all about one grid slot."
Ferrari checked with FIA before changing Austin grid
Stefano Domenicali had his head held high when he answered a clear "yes" to a post-race question from the media on Sunday.
Just before the race, Ferrari's team boss had approved mechanics breaking a seal on Felipe Massa's gearbox not to fix the unit, but simply to create a penalty that would benefit Fernando Alonso.
Asked if that is within the so-called 'spirit' of the rules, Domenicali insisted: "Yes, otherwise I would not have done it.
"It is something that is within our possibility to do it," said the Italian, revealing that the famous Maranello based team even checked with the FIA beforehand.
As ever in F1, the purists were split over the decency of the Massa sabotage, but most had to agree that legendary team founder Enzo Ferrari would have approved.
But a rival team boss is quoted by Auto Motor und Sport: "That is not what the gearbox rule is for."
McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh was happy to put his name to his critique.
"Lest we forget, when Fernando was with us it was not doing those things that meant that Fernando left us," he said.
"You all have to go racing the way you see fit. But I think if I had qualified on the fast side of the grid and then been moved to the slow side I would have been very pissed off."
Britain's Daily Mail said the Massa drop is "at odds with the wider sporting ethos", while the Times said F1 should be about racing on track "as fairly as possible".
Domenicali pointed out that Ferrari was at least honest.
"We could have easily simulated something but we wanted to be completely transparent. If another team boss said we did not make the right decision, he's lying."
Indeed, Domenicali said Ferrari made the decision so late in the day because there were rumours Red Bull was ready to respond by breaking into Mark Webber's gearbox.
"That's part of the strategic decisions. It's part of the game," he insisted.
Massa, who has signed on for another year in 2013, took the decision on the chin but admitted he was not "jumping for joy".
"It's difficult to find a driver like me," smiled the 31-year-old, whose countryman, friend and former Ferrari number 2 Rubens Barrichello was in the paddock on Sunday.
Karthikeyan says FIA on his side after Vettel criticism
Narain Karthikeyan has hit back at Sebastian Vettel, following the latest bout of criticism from the reigning world champion.
Vettel's Red Bull boss, Christian Horner, pointed the finger at HRT's Karthikeyan after Vettel lost the lead of the US grand prix on Sunday to Lewis Hamilton.
"The race unfortunately hinged on one backmarker that didn't use his mirrors," he said.
Vettel screamed angrily into his radio after losing the place to Hamilton, and some immediately thought the German was being critical of the McLaren driver.
"It was not targeted at Lewis," Vettel clarified afterwards, "it was more targeted at the backmarker which gave a nice big envelope with an invitation to Lewis."
Red Bull and Vettel claim Karthikeyan failed to get out of the way to be lapped fast enough, which gave the chasing Hamilton the momentum to launch his successful pass.
Vettel and Indian Karthikeyan already have an unhappy history, after the German called him a "cucumber" following another track run-in earlier this year.
Now, after Vettel's latest criticism, Karthikeyan said: "I can't hear the bulls**t anymore.
"At the drivers' briefing Charlie Whiting told us very clearly that it is not possible to let the leaders past in the very fast first sector," the HRT driver is quoted by Auto Motor und Sport.
"Charlie told us that we should let the faster cars go from turn 8, the first slower corner, which is exactly what I did. Vettel was at the briefing. Did he not hear?
"He complains too often and too hard."
Indeed, one of Vettel's closest friends in the paddock is Timo Glock, but on this occasion he is siding with fellow backmarker Karthikeyan.
"We drive our own race in these fast corners, because there are so many pieces of rubber off the racing line.
"The rule is that you have to let them pass by the third blue flag, not before."
F1 legend Niki Lauda also saw nothing extraordinary about the Vettel/Karthikeyan incident.
"Lapping cars is always better for the pursuer than for the leader," he said.
Force India decision would almost complete 2013 grid
F1's grid for 2013 is almost complete, with the vacancy at Force India now the most sought after job in the paddock.
On paper, only Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes and Toro Rosso have finalised and announced their race drivers for next season.
But Williams is hotly tipped to pair Pastor Maldonado with Valtteri Bottas, while Sauber is expected to sign Esteban Gutierrez to partner Nico Hulkenberg.
Moreover, Timo Glock is expected to be joined at Marussia by Max Chilton, and Caterham is likely to field Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde.
Lotus is ready to keep Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen, and has even confirmed the latter appointment, but Germany's Auto Motor und Sport reports that there is some uncertainty over Raikkonen's salary.
Journalist Michael Schmidt said the Finn has been "more expensive" than Lotus expected, having initially agreed to pay him a lucrative bonus for each point scored.
So far, the 33-year-old has a whopping 206 points on the board.
Even so, the most open 2012 vacancy is really at Force India, whose Paul di Resta will certainly stay put for next season.
His teammate, according to Auto Motor und Sport, will be selected from a long shortlist of more than a dozen suitors.
The report said names including Jules Bianchi, Heikki Kovalainen, Bruno Senna, Davide Valsecchi, Luiz Razia, Johnny Cecotto jr and Rodolfo Gonzalez were all on the list.
Even Rubens Barrichello - who was in Austin at the weekend - and 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve expressed interest, Schmidt reported.
After a meeting in Mumbai last week, however, Vijay Mallya-led Force India reportedly narrowed the list to a much shorter shortlist, having ruled out the veterans and also the 'pay drivers'.
Auto Motor und Sport said 2011 Toro Rosso teammates Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari, and former Force India racer Adrian Sutil, now have the best chances of all.
Force India is tipped to make an announcement in Brazil.
'Joy of racing' makes Schu comeback a success - Andretti
Mario Andretti says Michael Schumacher's three-year return to F1 was a success because he enjoyed it.
"He never lost the love and joy of racing," Andretti, the naturalised American who won his F1 title in 1978, said at the US GP on Sunday.
"That's the thing I most admire," added the 72-year-old, who at the brand new Circuit of the Americas interviewed podium champions Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso.
A long way down the results sheet, in an abysmal sixteenth place, was the seven time world champion Schumacher, whose failed comeback with Mercedes will finally end in Brazil next weekend.
"Of course his comeback was not a great success," Andretti is quoted by SID news agency, "but the important thing is that he enjoyed it.
"And if he does retire for good, we will miss him. He's still the best of all time," he added.
As for the 2012 title head-to-head between Vettel and Alonso, Andretti admitted he probably admires the achievements of Ferrari's Spaniard a little more.
"Alonso has no weaknesses," the Italian-born former Ferrari driver is quoted by El Pais, a Spanish newspaper.
"His car was always outpaced but he has taken full advantage of every opportunity.
"Vettel's talent is unquestioned, but clearly he has the best car. Fernando deserves the title more because he has had the most personal influence on the results.
"Early on, Vettel was not happy with his car; he only began to dominate in the last third of the championship, when Red Bull found a way to improve the RB8.
"Now, Webber is also very fast, and when both drivers in a team are ahead it means the car is very competitive.
"Fernando thinks he deserves it more because he is at a disadvantage compared to Vettel, and I agree with him," added Andretti.
Fellow F1 legend Niki Lauda, however, warned the sport to brace for more and more Vettel success.
"It's not only that Seb can break all of Michael's records -- he will break them!" he told Bild newspaper.
"Red Bull can give him the best car again and again."