F1's successful return leaves U.S. wanting more

AUSTIN, Texas Mon Nov 19, 2012 1:12am EST

McLaren Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain, Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel (L) of Germany and Ferrari Formula One driver Fernando Alonso (R) of Spain drink champagne during the podium ceremony after the U.S. F1 Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas November 18, 2012. Hamilton won the U.S. Grand Prix on Sunday while championship leader Vettel failed to clinch his third consecutive drivers' title on his 100th career start. Alonso came in third. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

McLaren Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain, Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel (L) of Germany and Ferrari Formula One driver Fernando Alonso (R) of Spain drink champagne during the podium ceremony after the U.S. F1 Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas November 18, 2012. Hamilton won the U.S. Grand Prix on Sunday while championship leader Vettel failed to clinch his third consecutive drivers' title on his 100th career start. Alonso came in third.

Credit: Reuters/Robert Galbraith

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AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton claimed the victory and Red Bull clinched the constructors title but the biggest winner at the U.S. Grand Prix was Formula One with commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone immediately calling for more races in America.

"The future of F1 in the USA? I think we'll finish with three races here within the next three years," a beaming Ecclestone told reporters. "The race was fantastic wasn't it? Really was a super race.

"If you tried to plan this, to have the (title) race finish in Brazil, you couldn't have done a better job.

"Everybody is very happy here. The governor's happy, they're all happy. You feel good when you've done something that works."

On a busy sporting Sunday with a full slate of National Football League action and NASCAR crowning their champion in Florida, the U.S. Grand Prix held its own, delivering gripping drama as Formula One made a rousing return to America following a five-year absence.

Circuit of the Americas, the United States's only purpose-built F1 track carved spectacularly out of the south Texas scrublands at a cost of $400 million, provided a magnificent stage as McLaren's Hamilton out-raced championship contenders Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso for the win.

A capacity crowd of almost 120,000 flooded into Formula One's newest venue on a sun-splashed day to cap off weekend of partying that had attracted jet-setters and A-listers along with the political and business elite to the quirky Texas capital.

Among those spotted roaming the paddock were Mexico president Felipe Calderon, Texas governor Rick Perry, movie mogul George Lucas, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and director Ron Howard, who is about to release a Formula One-themed movie.

Conspicuously absent was Austin's most famous sportsman, disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, who kept a low profile with world's media at his doorstep.

NEW ERA

Although all conceded there was much work to be done before the series can claim a firm foothold in the U.S., many hailed Sunday's race as the start of a new era for Formula One in a market it is determined to conquer.

"I think they have done a great job here. The track is fantastic." Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said.

"I think we saw a great race today and the enthusiasm from the fans and the public and the town has been tremendous. It looks like Formula One has been a big hit here in Texas.

"We just have to make sure we continue to put on a good show. You can see the enthusiasm there is for Formula One it would be great at some point to have another race in the States, which is obviously under discussion."

Formula One teams up and down the Austin paddock could not hide their delight at being back in the U.S., while Ecclestone found a new-found enthusiasm for a market he had once dismissed.

It seems almost certain that more U.S. races will find their way onto the calendar.

Plans to put a race in New Jersey next year were postponed when local organizers said they could not be ready in time but Ecclestone remained confident that the event will find a place on the 2014 schedule while tossing out Los Angeles as another serious possibility.

"It's been a great weekend, the fans have been amazing this weekend," said Hamilton, who also won the last F1 race staged in the United States in 2007.

"The warm welcome we've had has been fantastic and I think this is probably one of the best, if not the best grand prix we've had all year.

"Especially for me and my team, this is so special." (Editing by John O'Brien)

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