AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Sebastian Vettel is back in America and he wants to win the race Lewis Hamilton snatched away from him at the end of last year. 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.
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Sebastian Vettel is back in America and he wants to win the race Lewis Hamilton snatched away from him at the end of last year.
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 on Thursday. "But we come into this weekend and everything's different."
Few have edged Vettel, who has dominated this season with 11 victories and already won his fourth consecutive Formula One world championship.
If Vettel wins on 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 on Thursday, a shrug of humility from a driver who is already among the F1 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 I) 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, and the return of F1 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.
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 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.
"It was definitely not what I was expecting and also not what McLaren was expecting, especially as when I signed for them they had such a competitive car and it's not what we have right now," Perez said.
McLaren will promote 21-year-old Danish driver Kevin Magnussen for 2014. He'll be the first rookie driver for McLaren since Hamilton in 2007.
And Hamilton's season hasn't been what he wanted after his move to Mercedes. The former world champion won four times last season but has just one win this year, in Hungary, and is a distant fourth in the driver standings.
"I've not really thought about the drivers' championship for a long, long time," Hamilton said. "Unless you're first, the rest of it doesn't really appeal to me so much."
Also on Thursday, Lotus announced that veteran Heikki Kovalainen will drive the last two races of the season in place of the injured Kimi Raikkonen, who is out because of back surgery.
Raikkonen, who is leaving Lotus for Ferrari in 2014, lies third in the championship. Kovalainen has started 109 GP in previous stints with Renault, McLaren, and Caterham. He finished 18th for Caterham at the U.S. Grand Prix last year but hasn't raced this season.
Team principal Eric Boullier said Lotus chose the veteran Kovalainen over reserve Davide Valsecchi in part because the team is still fighting for a better position in the constructors' championship, where it sits in fourth. Kovalainen has 109 career starts in F1 with four podium finishes.