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Hamilton is grand

English rookie driver continues surprising Formula One showing by winning U.S. race at Indianapolis to increase his lead in the standings.

June 18, 2007|Jim Peltz | Times Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — If Lewis Hamilton goes on to become the first rookie to win a Formula One world championship, he can say it started with the capture of North America.

Hamilton, surpassing even his own expectations, drove another textbook race Sunday to win the U.S. Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway one week after scoring his inaugural Formula One victory at the Canadian Grand Prix.

Just as he did in Montreal, the 22-year-old English driver for McLaren Mercedes won from the pole position even though he had never visited the track until this year.

Formula One's first black driver, Hamilton won by 1.5 seconds over teammate and two-time series champion Fernando Alonso, who also provided the only challenge to Hamilton in the 73-lap race.

"What a dream," a beaming Hamilton said at a postrace news conference. "I would never have thought in a million years I'd be here today. This is a great week in my career and in my life."

Ferrari teammates Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen finished a distant third and fourth, respectively, in front of about 100,000 on a hot, steamy day.

The top four finishers, in fact, ended the race just as they started on the 2.6-mile, 13-turn Indianapolis track.

After seven races, Hamilton has yet to finish worse than third, and he widened his lead in the championship standings to 10 points over Alonso.

It's an unprecedented start for a Formula One rookie, and Hamilton acknowledged that he's now a bona fide contender for the series title. But he cautioned that it's "far, far too early to think about it or get any hopes up."

Hamilton said his main hope when the season began was merely to reach the podium in at least one race, that is, to be among the top three finishers.

Asked if he imagined having two victories before the season was half over, he replied: "Absolutely not."

"It's just insane," he said. "I find it very, very hard to come to terms with everything. I don't think anyone expected me to do as well as I'm doing."

This was the eighth U.S. Grand Prix, and Hamilton became the first rookie to win the event. Michael Schumacher, the seven-time series champion who retired after last season, won five of the previous seven races, including last year's race, on the road course built specifically for Formula One.

Alonso, 25, didn't make it easy for Hamilton, but twice he fell short trying to pass the rookie.

After a standing start in the middle of the speedway's 3,000-foot-long front straightaway, Alonso crowded Hamilton as they slowed going into the first turn, a sharp right-hander.

But Hamilton prevailed, and Alonso said that might have been his only chance to grab the lead.

"The start was the key point of the race," Alonso said. "All I could do was stay as close to Lewis as possible."

Behind them, three drivers collided and their cars were knocked out before completing a lap: David Coulthard of Red Bull, Ralf Schumacher (Michael's brother) of Toyota and Honda's Rubens Barrichello, who won the race in 2002 with Ferrari.

Just past the half-way point, Alonso caught Hamilton again as they drove side by side along the front straightaway.

"I was a bit nervous about that and knew he was coming," Hamilton said. "Fernando was right up my tail."

But Alonso said his charge "was not enough to overtake him," and Hamilton again kept the lead as they entered the first turn. He was never challenged again.

"I didn't win, but I finally managed to leave Indianapolis with a trophy," said Alonso, whose previous best finish had been fifth last year when he drove for Renault.

Earlier in the week, Alonso had caused some friction by telling Spanish media that Hamilton's success meant the rookie was getting more support from McLaren Mercedes, a notion the team rejected.

But Sunday, the teammates hugged each other after climbing from their cars, and Hamilton praised Alonso for giving him room while they raced closely for the lead.

"He fought very well, very professional," Hamilton said. "Our respect for each other is really growing."

*

Scott Speed, the Manteca, Calif., native and the only American driver in Formula One, finished 13th for his Scuderia Toro Rosso team.

"It was definitely a tough race," he said, "but we are working in the right direction."

Sebastian Vettel, making his first Formula One start as a substitute for Robert Kubica of BMW Sauber, finished eighth. Another rookie, Heikki Kovalainen of ING Renault, finished fifth.

Nico Rosberg of the Williams team appeared set to finish sixth, until an oil leak sidelined him with only a few laps remaining. After he came to a stop, the leak caught fire and Rosberg had to quickly scramble out of the cockpit.

The series' next race is the French Grand Prix on July 1.

james.peltz@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Formula for success

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Rookie Lewis Hamilton started from the pole position and held off teammate Fernando Alonso to win his second Formula One race in a row and the second victory of his career.

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Results from Sunday's U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

1. Lewis Hamilton, Britain, McLaren-Mercedes

2. Fernando Alonso, Spain, McLaren-Mercedes

3. Felipe Massa, Brazil, Ferrari

4. Kimi Raikkonen, Finland, Ferrari

5. Heikki Kovalainen, Finland, Renault

6. Jarno Trulli, Italy, Toyota

7. Mark Webber, Australia, Red Bull

8. Sebastian Vettel, Germany, BMW-Sauber

9. Giancarlo Fisichella, Italy, Renault

10. Alexander Wurz, Austria, Williams

Drivers' standings

(after seven of 17 races):

1. Lewis Hamilton, Britain 58 points

2. Fernando Alonso, Spain 48

3. Felipe Massa, Brazil 38

4. Kimi Raikkonen, Finland 32

5. Nick Heidfeld, Germany 26

6. Giancarlo Fisichella, Italy 13

7(t). Robert Kubica, Poland 12

7(t). Heikki Kovalainen, Finland 12

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Source: Associated Press

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