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Hamilton edges teammate Alonso, wins U.S. Grand Prix

6/18/2007

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Lewis Hamilton is as surprised as anybody by
his sensational start in Formula One.

The 22-year-old Englishman fought off a couple of challenges
from Mercedes McLaren teammate and two-time world champion Fernando
Alonso on Sunday to win the U.S. Grand Prix, the second straight
victory for the first black driver in F1's 61-year history.

"Coming into the season, being realistic, I never expected
anything like this, but I hoped to do well,'' Hamilton said. "I
hoped maybe I'd get a podium at some point. This is just insane.''

This latest win, coming on the heels of his inaugural F1 victory
a week earlier in the Canadian Grand Prix, gave Hamilton his
seventh top-three finish in as many starts -- one of his numerous
unprecedented feats for a rookie.

Another is his lead in the points.

After being tied for the top with his teammate, Hamilton took an
eight-point lead in the standings with his win in Montreal and will
now carry a 10-point margin over Alonso into the French Grand Prix
in two weeks.

The two finished 1-2 for the third time this season, but this
time the order was reversed from Malaysia in April and last month's
race at Monaco.

Hamilton started from the pole for the second straight race and
Alonso tried hard to pass his less experienced teammate at the
start. He darted to the outside and pulled nearly alongside
Hamilton for a moment, then backed off and dived to the inside as
the leaders squirted through the first two narrow turns, a sharp
right-hander and then a left-hander.

"I think the start was the key point of the race because after
that, whatever, you were second and we finish second in the race,''
Alonso said.

Hamilton managed to stay in front and was able to continue to
fend off pressure from the hard-charging Spaniard to the end of the
73-lap event on Indy's 2.605-mile road circuit.

Alonso almost wrested the lead from Hamilton as they began lap
39. He had been dogging the back of his teammate's silver and red
McLaren for several laps and pulled alongside on the main
straightaway but was unable to complete the pass as they drove into
the first turn.

The outcome of the race remained in question until Alonso locked
up his brakes on lap 47 and drove through the grass, allowing
Hamilton to pull out to a 2.5-second lead. Hamilton drove on to the
win without further challenge, finishing 1.5 seconds -- nearly half
the main straight -- ahead of Alonso.

"To follow that close is not easy,'' Alonso said. "I did have
my chance [at the end of lap 38], but it was not possible. I could
get close to him but not overtake. He made no mistakes.''

Asked about his teammate's attempt to pass at the midway point,
Hamilton said, "I was very nervous about that. I saw him coming.
But I made sure I made one move [to block], which is all you're
allowed, and made it stick.

"So it was very, very tough, but he fought very well, very
professional. At the end, I managed to pull a gap and ... I was
able to maintain that gap and control the rest of the race.''

Unlike Canada, where Hamilton had to have perfect restarts to
maintain his lead after each of the five full-course caution flags,
Sunday's race was very clean, with the safety car remaining behind
the pit wall all day.

Even so, it wasn't as easy as it looked.

"They came across the radio and said '15 laps' and I was like,
'Yeah!' And the 15 laps just seemed a lifetime, especially when
you're out in the lead, trying to maintain it, not to push too hard
and not to damage the car. But I was able to do it and, as I said,
[it was] just very, very emotional.''

Reports earlier in the week that Alonso thought his new teammate
was being given preference by the British-based McLaren team were
allayed by the warm hug they gave each other when they reached the
victory podium.

The two then turned to the cheering crowd with arms over each
other's shoulders, smiling widely.

"We're very, very close on the track and I think we are getting
closer and closer off track,'' Hamilton said. "And our respect for
each other I think is growing and it's great. We're really happy
for the team. But, once again, I'm just proud and honored to be
sitting next to him as I've always looked up to him for the last
few years.''

Ferrari had won six of the previous seven F1 races at Indy, five
of them by now-retired Michael Schumacher. But, this time, the
McLarens were just too strong.

The Ferraris of 2006 Indy runner-up Felipe Massa and Raikkonen,
who replaced Schumacher, battled each other most of the day before
finishing third and fourth, respectively, with Renault rookie
Heikki Kovalainen fifth, followed by Toyota's Jarno Trulli and Red
Bull's Mark Webber.

"It was difficult to fight the McLarens with their consistency
and their pace,'' said Massa, sounding somewhat frustrated. "We're
going to work a lot the next two weeks to improve the car. The
championship is not so close, but we need to keep fighting.''

BMW Sauber's Sebastian Vettel, a 19-year-old rookie filling in
for Robert Kubica and making his first F1 start, finished eighth,
earning the final point. Kubica missed the race after sustaining a
concussion and a sprained ankle in a spectacular crash in Canada.

Fifteen of the 22 cars were running at the finish.

Honda's Rubens Barrichello, a former USGP winner when he was
with Ferrari, didn't make it past the start, colliding with
Toyota's Ralf Schumacher and Red Bull's David Coulthard as they
fought for position near the back of the grid on the start. All
three were out before completing a lap.