AUSTIN — Sebastian Vettel, already with so much success in a relatively young career, added a major record to his resume Sunday when he won the United States Grand Prix for his eighth consecutive victory.
The German’s triumph at Circuit of the Americas allowed him to break the single-season mark Michael Schumacher set when he won seven straight races in 2004.
Vettel, who clinched his fourth consecutive Formula One championship with three races remaining in the season, had been more reluctant to talk about the consecutive wins record than his desire to atone for last year, when Lewis Hamilton passed him late to win the inaugural Austin race.
He took care of both issues with a victory fueled by a strong start from the pole position in his No. 1 Red Bull. Romain Grosjean of Lotus finished 6.3 seconds behind in second place, and Vettel teammate Mark Webber was third.
“Romain had a good start,” Vettel said. “It’s tough judgment up the hill [to turn 1], and then I just tried to focus on myself. We had incredible pace again in the car and could control the gaps. I don’t know, eight in a row — you are a legend.”
Webber started second but fell to fourth in the first turn of the race, and that slip may have contributed to Vettel’s victory. Without another Red Bull to directly challenge his speed, Vettel pulled away from Grosjean to build a lead of more than 10 seconds.
The only thing that delayed Vettel’s dominance was a crash by Adrian Sutil on the first lap. After a three-lap safety car period to clear the track, Vettel took advantage of the rolling, single-file restart and cruised.
By lap 16 of the 56-lap race, Vettel led by 6.3 seconds. On lap 35, his advantage topped out at 10.7 seconds. Grosjean narrowed the gap over the final 15 laps while fighting off a furious challenge by Webber, who had a few looks at a pass but never got close enough to pull off the move.
Vettel also posted the quickest lap of the race. Grosjean clocked a lap at 1 minute, 40.445 seconds on lap 52 to go to the top of the chart, but Vettel timed in at 1:39.856 two laps later.
About the only thing Grosjean could keep Vettel from doing was leading every lap. The Frenchman took the lead when Vettel made his lone pit stop on lap 27. The Red Bull crew changed Vettel’s four tires in 2.9 seconds, and he emerged in third place.
Webber pitted from second on the next lap, and Red Bull’s time of 2.3 seconds was the fastest stop of the race. After leading two laps, Grosjean made a 2.8-second stop and rejoined the field 9.9 seconds behind Vettel.
“Good start — I could pass Mark and almost got Sebastian. The car was working very well today,” Grosjean said. “If they [the Red Bulls] were going ahead, they had too much speed for us.”
If Vettel wins the season finale next week in Sao Paulo, he will tie Schumacher’s record of 13 victories in a season.
“I didn’t really answer the questions the last couple of days, because at the end of the day what makes me jump into the car is not a certain number,” Vettel said. “If you look, those names who had similar records or outstanding performances in the past, I think it’s impossible to understand.”
Hamilton finished fourth Sunday in a Mercedes, Fernando Alonso of Ferrari was fifth and Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg was sixth. They were followed by Sergio Perez, Valtteri Bottas, Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button, who made a pass around the outside of Daniel Ricciardo with two laps to go to steal 10th place — the final position that pays points in the championship.
Ricciardo will move from Toro Rosso to Red Bull next year to replace Webber, who is retiring from F1 to race Porsche sports cars.
Button recorded the highest top speed of the day, hitting the backstretch speed trap at 195.7 mph. Bottas’ eighth-place finish was the first top-10 of his career.
The win was Vettel’s 38th. The 26-year-old is three victories away from tying Ayrton Senna for third on the all-time list.
As he has done lately, Vettel celebrated by performing doughnuts for the fans at the far end of the 3.43-mile track. Gov. Rick Perry presented Vettel with his trophy, but the striking black Stetsons from last year’s podium ceremony did not return.
Grosjean, who looked rather exhausted on the podium, later spoke to reporters while beaming beneath a white cowboy hat. He’s done well in North America, as the ninth podium of his career matched the personal-best second he finished last year in Montreal.
Dreary conditions in the morning cleared for sunny weather by race time, and officials said 113,162 fans filled the stands and grassy slopes around the track, pushing the three-day attendance figure in Austin to 250,324.
“Second race here and we’ve got more than 100,000 people coming on Sunday,” Vettel said. “I think this is one of the best races we have all season. The whole city is going crazy, so it’s phenomenal to race here in front of the crowd.”
MATT CRIDER can be reached at 940-566-6906.