JIM VERTUNO, AP Sports Writer
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Sebastian Vettel climbed out of his Red Bull car, pumped his right fist then held up eight fingers, one for each of his consecutive victories.
Formula One’s baby-faced German dominator just keeps on rolling.
The four-time world champion won the U.S. Grand Prix in easy fashion Sunday, setting an F1 season record with his eighth straight victory behind another blistering drive that gave the field no chance to catch him.
“Incredible. It’s one of those (records) you never expect to be beaten,” Vettel said.
Vettel started from the pole position he snagged from teammate Mark Webber of Australia in the finals seconds of Saturday’s qualifying.
The No. 1 spot proved important. Vettel’s trademark quick start got him through the critical first turn ahead of the traffic and his lead was never threatened.
Lotus’ Romain Grosjean of France was second, his best finish of the year. Webber was third.
Vettel charges into next weekend’s season finale in Brazil with a chance to tie Michael Schumacher’s Formula One record of 13 victories in a single season. Schumacher set the mark in 2004, and also won seven straight races that year.
Vettel also is closing on the overall Formula One record for consecutive victories of nine, set by Alberto Ascari over parts of the 1952 and ’53 seasons.
“At the end of the day, what makes me jump into the car is not a certain number, but certainly today, when you realize you’ve done it, it makes you very proud in that moment,” Vettel said.
After the victory, Vettel spun his car through several doughnuts, a move that has drawn fines from the sports’ governing body earlier this season.
Vettel later appeared to wipe away tears as he stood on the winner’s podium while listening to the German national anthem. He has been so dominant this season and in recent years that he’s been greeted with boos after several victories. Vettel has dismissed the jeers as frustration from fans of teams who can’t beat him.
“We have to remember these days,” Vettel told his crew over his car radio after the victory. “I love you guys. We have an incredible team spirit. I’m so proud of you. I love you.”
The 26-year-old made his Formula One debut at 19 in the 2007 U.S. Grand Prix in Indianapolis and now has an American title that escaped him last year. Vettel led most of the 2012 race in Austin until Lewis Hamilton passed him late to get the win.
Vettel had called that a frustrating loss and ruthlessly dominated the field this time.
He avoided the danger of the treacherous first corner that pushes the drivers 133 feet up and into a blind left turn back down the hill. Once through that and still in the lead, Vettel immediately began pulling away.
Webber, frustrated at losing pole position on Saturday, had a terrible start from No. 2. Grosjean and Mercedes’ Hamilton both nosed ahead and pushed him into fourth barely seconds into the race.
“(Saturday) is when the victory was made easy for Seb,” Webber said.
Webber fought back to overtake Hamilton, who finished fourth. He pushed Grosjean through several tense laps late but couldn’t slip into second as Grosjean held him off.
“You want to be on the outside of turn one, but Romain was already there,” Webber said. “Romain drove a very good race.”
For Grosjean, it was another impressive result in the second half of the season as he earned his fourth podium finish of the year and third in six races.
“The strategy was pretty clear: If we were with Mark, we copied what he was doing. If he was pitting for hard tires, we would pit for hard tires,” Grosjean said.
The only dangerous incident came in the first lap. Sahara Force India’s Adrian Sutil was knocked out of the race when he bumped tires with Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez. The bump sent Sutil nose first into the wall and put the race almost immediately under a yellow flag. Sutil was able to climb out of the car unhurt.
For the 37-year-old Webber, Brazil will be his last race in Formula One. He’s leaving the series after 12 years, seven of them with Red Bull, a span that has featured some tense moments with Vettel.
Webber has nine career Formula One victories but none this year despite two starts from pole position and three more from No. 2. He’ll race next year for Porsche in the world endurance championships.
“It’s time,” Webber said about his departure. “Driving around in the middle of the race I was thinking, “Yeah, I’m really looking forward to it.'”