Hamilton and McLaren teammate Alonso sprinted away from the field for a one-two at Indy. By MARK HUGHES
There was a moment at the end of lap 39 when Fernando Alonso - still stuck in the remarkable Lewis Hamilton's slipstream - swerved over towards the pit wall and gesticulated at the McLaren team.
It was the frustration of an intensely competitive champion. Almost certainly, he was frustrated with himself. He'd made a decision the previous day that should have given him the winning race strategy. But it had turned out to be a mistake.
When he made that critical decision, he was missing one vital piece of information. And by making it he had inadvertently ensured that Hamilton would take his second grand prix win in seven days.
Although the McLaren drivers had been fuelled equally at the beginning of Q3, Alonso had pursued a policy of fuel saving thereafter in order to give himself a longer first stint in the race. Hamilton had decided against this and instead opted to burn off as much fuel as possible before fitting his new tyres.
Consistent with this, Hamilton had taken the pole - much as Alonso had expected. Fernando had this planned, at least from the beginning of Saturday. Why else did he spend Saturday morning practice running off line down the pit straight, cleaning up P2 on the grid, as if that was where he expected to qualify?
He even did this as he was finishing his qualifying lap. It was a well-thought-out plan that involved sitting behind Hamilton throughout the first stint, using the tow to eke out his fuel yet further. That should have given him two laps - possibly even three - more than Hamilton to the first stops.
In the traditional way of things, as long as he could be right behind as Lewis pitted, two or three low-fuel laps while the newly-fuelled Hamilton was heavy should have been more than enough to leapfrog Alonso past. Furthermore, he could run longer to the second stops too and thereby defend his lead. After which it would be game over, team formation, switch the engines down, well done Fernando. Except it didn't happen like that.
Instead, it happened like this: Alonso's cleaning up of the right-hand side of the grid had worked a treat. He got off to a better start than Hamilton, who made smartly for the inside, instantly on the defensive. Wheel to wheel they went down to Turn 1, each trying in vain to intimidate the other out of the way.
At 203mph Hamilton then moved left to take up his approach. Alonso tried sitting it out for a split second, then by necessity capitulated. No problem: Fernando could now simply revert back to the original plan - sit behind, save fuel, wait for the stops. This seemed entirely feasible, given that they seemed to be slowly losing Felipe Massa's third-placed Ferrari - not by much, but by enough.
The other Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen had been passed off the grid by both Nick Heidfeld's BMW and Heikki Kovalainen's Renault, and was therefore back in sixth behind slower cars, set for a badly compromised afternoon. Kimi hasn't been great away from the starts this year, almost like his concentration isn't quite there.
But in this case he had a mitigating circumstance: he was the only guy in the front half of the grid to start on the harder tyres. It could well be that their lower grip meant he was mugged by the softer-tyred cars around him.
He was in this position because he'd been obliged to run a second set of new softs in Q2 on Saturday, as his first run was potentially uncomfortably close to the cut-off point - he'd almost been caught out by not doing a second run in Montreal the week before. But it meant that, once he'd done his two new-tyre Q3 runs, he did not have a new set of softs left for the race.
What would be better off the grid - new hards or scrubbed softs? He and the team decided on the former. Although it compromised the early part of his race, there would be a payback later.
Behind Raikkonen on the first lap ran the heavy cars of Jarno Trulli and Giancarlo Fisichella, but a lap later Fisi dropped it under braking for Turn 4, rejoining back in 15th and allowing Mark Webber up to eighth, just clear of the battling Nico Rosberg's Williams and the BMW of Sebastian Vettel, who had gone straight on at the first corner in his debut start.
"I think maybe I hadn't got the rear tyres up to temperature, because I saw the cars behind me off the grid gaining and so I tried to overcome that by braking late. But it was too late and I had to go straight on to avoid hitting Kovalainen."
Meanwhile, Alonso wasn't having as easy a time as he'd been hoping. There was an awful lot of buffeting behind Hamilton - just as there's an awful lot of buffeting if you run close behind any of the current cars, with their array of upper-body aero appendages that dirty the airflow in their wake.
It was therefore hard work to stay within a second of Lewis. After four laps of this he tried dropping back a little. Then, to his dismay, he found he was still struggling - the left-front tyre was graining quite badly, and 1sec became 2sec within a couple of laps. Was he surprised by this? Not totally.
He'd experienced something during Friday practice that had made him worry: "I experienced it when I was testing the [softer] tyre. I followed Rosberg for four or five laps, and when I arrived at the garage afterwards the tyres were in very bad condition.
"But it hadn't worried him enough to change his fuel-saving plan. Being stuck behind Rosberg, he'd not been able to push the car to the maximum. It had still felt okay at the lap times he was running, despite the graining. Now he was finding the truth - and he began to realise his beautifully-thought-out plan could be in tatters.
Kees van der Grint, Bridgestone's chief track engineer, believes this year's generation of car makes the tyres far more susceptible to graining when in the wake of another car: "We cannot be sure what the mechanism is, but as a tyre guy I would say that the more choppy wake from these cars means that when you run close behind another car you lose a lot of front downforce, and therefore you work the tyre in a more severe, inconsistent way and this helps create the graining.
"Hamilton had experienced exactly this phenomenon when running in Alonso's wake at Monaco. Was it this experience that had led him to adopt his pole-chasing strategy? Had Alonso not analysed Monaco sufficiently to know this? He was certainly coming to know it now.
Van der Grint is adamant that this year, with these cars and these tyres, it is always better to be the guy in front at the start. Forget previous patterns of running longer to the first stops. That's old thinking.
Lewis ran to the end of lap 21 - as long as his fuel allowed - with a blistering series of late-stint laps that left the tyre-graining Alonso almost 4sec behind. Even if Alonso's tyres had been in good enough shape for him to make full use of the extra three laps in his tank, he would still have been too far back to leapfrog ahead.
As it was, he was called in on the very next lap. He made a great in-lap, over 1sec quicker than Hamilton's, though coming out just behind Trulli's Toyota meant his out-lap was 1sec slower, leaving the gap between them as still just under 4sec. They were fuelled to run just a lap apart to the second stops.
The McLarens increased their advantage over Massa at this time. Felipe had managed to stay within 7sec of Alonso through his first stint, but was delayed by traffic on his in and out-laps, this ballooning his deficit to 11sec.
From there he fell back, second place obviously out of his reach. Massa might have been challenged by Heidfeld, had the BMW not clattered across the grass on its in-lap. As he rejoined, Heidfeld lost further time when he was passed by Kovalainen, who briefly assumed the lead before his stop at the end of lap 26.
The extra laps allowed Heikki to rejoin just ahead of the BMW, which continued to be harassed by Raikkonen's Ferrari. At this point the race seemed to be coming alive again. Alonso had quickly passed Trulli - who didn't stop until lap 31 - and almost immediately realised he was closing down fast on Hamilton.
Lewis had got a couple of bad breaks in traffic, but more than that he was in trouble with graining rears: "I'd had a really good out-lap, but soon after that I got the graining, so maybe I'd pushed them too hard. I faced a lot of pressure from Fernando at this stage."
With the chance of a reprieve to his whole weekend, even to his title aspirations, Alonso was like a bloodhound on the scent, the McLaren's body language urgent as it hunted Hamilton down.
On the 35th lap they came to lap a four-car gaggle of backmarkers. Tonio Liuzzi's Toro Rosso was the last of these, and they caught it at the awkward twisty part of the track on lap 37. The run off Turn 11 - the tricky right-hander leading onto the long, long straight - was going to be critical.
Hamilton tried not to get too close, too soon to Liuzzi. Alonso pushed like crazy to get right onto Hamilton's gearbox, but suffered a little sideways moment as he entered the turn. This was cancelled out by Hamilton getting a little too hard, too early on the gas and getting sideways too. Liuzzi peeled off into the pits as the McLarens screamed by, Alonso tucked tight into the slipstream.
As they built up speed to over 200mph, Fernando ducked to the outside and there they sat, two silver bullets, wheels inches apart, engines screaming in unison at 19,000rpm, right feet hard to the bulkheads. But there was a limitation to Alonso's slipstreaming move - gearing. On Saturday there had been a headwind up the pit straight; today there was a tailwind.
With the 19,000rpm rev limit and parc ferme regulations, the engineers had only the weather forecast to guide them before deciding what final drives to run for Sunday. The McLaren guys had guessed conservative: the cars were running out of revs even before they reached the start/finish line.
Between there and the speed trap half a kilometre further up the track the McLarens gained no speed at all - both hard up against their limiters at 203mph. As such, Alonso was unable to benefit fully from his slipstream. So, for the second time, they approached the braking area side by side, with Hamilton on the inside. Again, there was no way Hamilton was going to be bullied aside. Coldly determined, he moved left to take up his line into the turn, and again Alonso was forced to concede.
"I feel I was definitely faster," said Alonso later, "but Lewis always had track position. It's clear that this race was won 90 per cent at the first corner after the start."
Alonso's emotions were clearly running high at this point, for next time they passed the pits Fernando swerved across and showed the team his fist. Alonso wants to be number one in this team, and here he felt he was being held up by a team-mate. Why weren't they telling him to move aside?
McLaren is doing its utmost to give absolute parity to its drivers - and here they were being allowed to fight for it. Unlike at Monaco. McLaren MD Martin Whitmarsh: "I'm sure any driver would like to - if they were in a position where they felt they're driving a quicker car at the time - be given 'right of passage' to the front. But we are running an absolutely fair programme."
Alonso stayed glued to Hamilton's gearbox for the next four laps, but was never again in a position to put a move on him. Thereafter, Hamilton's graining stabilised. A few laps later - at the end of the 50th - Alonso was called in for his second stop. A lap after that Hamilton was called in for his. Both still had fuel on board and could have gone longer.
Hamilton emerged ahead. The team allowed them five more laps of flat-out running, then in unison had them turn their engines down. Whitmarsh again: "They were consuming engine life. It was the first weekend of the new engines, and we were pretty mindful of the fact that they were pushing them pretty hard in pursuit of each other.
When we had to turn the engines down in the final section of the race, we did it simultaneously - it was done to the same extent on both cars so that they were able to continue racing." But the contest was effectively over.
Instead, the final stint was enlivened by a number of other close battles. Raikkonen had been fuelled longer to the second stops than Kovalainen and Heidfeld, and by leapfrogging them found himself just a few seconds behind team-mate Massa.
What's more, because Kimi had started the race on the harder tyres, he was now on the faster softs at a time when almost everyone else was on the mediums. Consequently he was flying. Being the only quick car on the faster tyre when the track was at its most rubbered-in - and therefore fastest - helped Raikkonen set the race's fastest lap in his chase of Massa. Some reckoned this showed Kimi could have worried the McLarens had he started near them. But that's probably exaggerating the case.
The softer tyre was worth around 0.3sec and Kimi's lap was only 0.1sec quicker than the McLarens' best. Just like McLaren, Ferrari was issuing no team orders, and Massa had his hands full keeping the grippier car of his team-mate behind. He managed it, but it was good to see Raikkonen back on form.
Kovalainen drove a superb, fully on-it and consistent race, playing the in/out-laps beautifully, absorbing pressure and coming out of it all in fifth place.
"No-one could have got more from that car today," said Renault tech director Bob Bell. "That's the Heikki we were buying into when we signed him." He had just failed to jump the battling Heidfeld and Raikkonen at the second stops, and as he came out he got a close-up view of Kimi going past the BMW into Turn 1.
Heikki was still pressuring Heidfeld when the latter retired on lap 56 with no hydraulic pressure. Nico Rosberg should have been next, having driven another very spirited race in the Williams. After holding off Vettel he overcame a stuck rig at his only stop and was charging along impressively when the Toyota engine cried enough just five laps from the end. On unusual long-first-stint/ two-stopping strategies, Trulli and Webber ended up fighting out sixth place.
Webber tried a desperate dive for the inside of Turn 1 with just a few laps to go, but Trulli refused to yield, forcing Webber to take a ride across the grass, almost losing a place to Vettel as he rejoined.
The three of them were nose to tail for the remainder of the race - Trulli and Webber banging wheels through Turn 6 at one point - but the order remained static.
A point on his debut puts Vettel into a select club. But two wins and a 10-point championship lead for a rookie is little short of miraculous.