AUSTIN, Texas - In only its second year, Austin's U.S. Grand Prix became part of Formula One history Sunday.
German driver Sebastian Vettel won in the United States for the first time - and for a record eighth straight victory in a single season. The win snapped a tie with German legend Michael Schumacher.
Vettel celebrated his accomplishments by turning some doughnuts in his car and then dancing up to the podium and spraying champagne.
Vettel, who has heard boos on the podium at some other races this year, was instead greeted by hearty cheers. He was elated but also reflective after the win.
"People tend to forget that every single weekend is a challenge," Vettel said.
Lotus driver Romain Grosjean took second, and Vettel's teammate, Australian Mark Webber, was third in the penultimate race of his F1 career.
"You realize there comes a point where it's not what it once was," Webber acknowledged.
Defending U.S. Grand Prix champion Lewis Hamilton held off Ferrari's Fernando Alonso for fourth, and the two popular Mexican drivers, Sergio Perez of McLaren and Sauber's Esteban Gutierrez, finished seventh and 14th, respectively.
Gutierrez had been docked 10 spots after Saturday's qualifying and said: "It was a very tough race starting from P20. We had to make up a lot of positions on track." For almost all of the race, the only thing Vettel had to chase was history. The winner of the pole position on Saturday, the four-time world champion was able to hold that position through the treacherous, uphill Turn 1.
"Yesterday was when the victory was made easier for Seb," said Webber, who was nipped by his teammate in qualifying.
"We knew the start would be crucial," added Grosjean, who was able to get the jump on Webber, but not Vettel.
The race got off to a slow start, especially compared with last year's, when the safety car never took a single lap. This time the racers didn't even make it one time around the 3.4-mile circuit before Force India's Adrian Sutil skidded into a wall and brought out the safety car.
On the restart, Vettel was able to get a jump on the field. He didn't run away and hide as he often does, but he did run away. Even though his margin over Grosjean decreased a tad as the race wore on, he was never in serious danger of finishing second.
"You want the gap to increase always. You don't want it to get smaller," Vettel said. His winning margin over Grosjean was a little more than six seconds in a 56-lap race that lasted just shy of 1 hour and 40 minutes.
Austin's second grand prix was even more festive than its first.
Before the race, fans in the main grandstand were treated to a virtual dance-off between the University of Texas chap girls and the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. The enthusiastic UT contingent also included cheerleaders, the band and Hook "Em, the costumed mascot.
The day started out overcast, but the skies cleared, and the temperature hit 85 degrees by noon. The lingering cloud at the Grand Plaza area wasn't the fog that slowed Friday's practice runs, but wood-fired smoke from Juicys grilling some outlaw burgers and giant Western sausages.
Texan Danielle Bradbery, winner of the fourth season of the TV show "The Voice," sang the national anthem from the observation deck of the 250-foot tower. Celebrities in the paddock included Sting, Matt LeBlanc, Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith, displaying her Antonio tattoo on her right arm.
The crowd for Sunday's race was announced as 113,162, which would make it Austin's second-largest sporting event behind last year's inaugural F1 race. That one drew more than 117,000 and had a three-day attendance topping 265,000.
Circuit officials said this year's three-day attendance was 250,324.
On Saturday, F1 qualifying faced stiff competition from a home football game for Texas against Oklahoma State, but it appears Austin's grand prix avoided the sophomore slump.
Vettel, meanwhile, is in the midst a hot streak like the sport has seldom seen.
"We have to remember these days. There is no guarantee they will last forever," he told his team shortly after the win.