Was it ever in doubt? Sebastian Vettel claimed his fourth consecutive World Drivers Title today in sublime style, as he dominated the Indian Grand Prix for a third successive year. Vettel managed to convert the compromised strategy of starting on the option tyre to great effect, as he scythed his way through the field after his initial stop on lap two. The victory could have easily been a 1-2 finish for the team but for an unfortunate alternator failure on Mark Webber’s car which curtailed his progress in the closing stages. However, Red Bull still managed to wrap up the constructors title in what was a near perfect occasion for the team.
Vettel drove the near perfect race. After defending well from a fast charging Mercedes duo into Turn one, Vettel stopped to ditch his soft compound tyres on lap two. The negative aspect of his strategy was always going to be the traffic which would inevitably hold up the German in the midfield, however, Vettel managed to clinically pick off the medium compound starters, one by one and was able to make his way up into P3 before teammate Webber and company on the prime tyre had even stopped.
From here, it was a cruise to victory, yet not an entirely comfortable one. On lap 40, Mark Webber, who had recovered from a poor start to take P2 after his final stop, suffered a sudden and unfortunate alternator failure. The incident was not dissimilar to the failure which cost Sebastian Vettel the race victory in the 2012 European Grand Prix, hence Red Bull were hugely concerned that the race leader could be vulnerable to the same issue. Consequently, radio communications between Rocky and Sebastian were largely guidance to help Vettel coast to victory. The team did everything possible to regulate any possible issues, including sending a message forbidding Sebastian from using his drinks bottle, in an attempt to reduce output on the battery. Fortunately for Sebastian, his RB9 avoided issues and he came home to win the race and more importantly, clinch the championship.
On the inlap, Vettel took an unorthodox approach to the customary procedures and in a magnificent display of human emotion and overwhelming relief, the German took to the pit straight, performing doughnuts in front of an excitable crowd. After emerging from his car, he climbed the fence between the grandstand and the track, throwing his gloves into the crowd. It was a beautiful sporting moment. Unfortunately, rules are rules and the FIA have since given Vettel a reprimand and handed Red Bull a 25,000 euro fine. However, I don’t think either Vettel nor his team are about to loose any sleep over the punishment.
In regards to his incredible season, Sebastian stated; “It was not an easy season, even though people from the outside had the idea we had it in our hands. It was a difficult one all in all. It was very difficult for me personally to receive boos even though I hadn’t done anything wrong. To overcome that, and give my answers on the track, makes me very proud. It’s incredible to race some of the best drivers in the world, it’s a very strong field and to come out on top of them is unbelievable. I don’t feel old and to achieve that in such a short period is very difficult to grasp – maybe in ten years, then I’ll be a little bit better at understanding what we have done so far.”
While P1 was never in doubt, who would join Vettel on the podium was always in question. Nico Rosberg managed to convert his strategy well to finish in P2 after initially falling behind Felipe Massa, whom he managed to jump after the second stop. Meanwhile, Romain Grosjean surly claims the driver of the day accolade as he managed to brilliantly convert a one stop strategy to rise from P17 on the grid to P3. His miraculous drive was packed with action – not least his fierce tussle with Kimi Raikkonen in the final laps. While Kimi was on the same strategy, Romain’s excellent 14 lap opening stint on the option compound meant that he was able to attack his teammate at the end of the race. Raikkonen, who was P3 at the time, received a rather fraught radio message from Trackside Operations Director Alan Permane, in which Alan shouted, “Kimi, get out of the f***ing way.” The team deemed Raikkonen to be significantly slower than Grosjean, which was allowing Felipe Massa, (who was on fresher tyres) to mount a challenge to the Frenchman. Raikkonen’s reluctance to yield the position was more due to his concern that Massa would also pass him if he allowed Grosjean through. At the end of the lap, Kimi let his teammate through, while his fears in regards to Massa were realised. This was merely cosmetic as the Finn was forced into a second pit stop just two laps from the end as his tyres hit the performance cliff. He eventually fell to P7.
Lotus have since expressed their disappointment at Kimi’s behaviour out on track, as he forced Grosjean off the road when the two were battling. This incident acts as explanation for the stern words used over the radio. “It was a little disappointing, to be honest. He knew his tyres were finished and there was no need to have a battle,” Permane told Sky Sports F1. “Romain was racing hard and I’m sure we’ll have a chat in the office about it.”
Elsewhere, Felipe Massa marginally missed out on his second podium of the season, finishing just 2 seconds behind Grosjean. However, the other side of the Ferrari garage were far from satisfied, after Fernando Alonso suffered a dismal afternoon, finishing in P11. Fernando lamented his race as an “uphill battle” after initial contact with Mark Webber at Turn one damaged the front wing. While this was replaced when he made his scheduled stop on lap two, he reported heavy steering in right hand corners, which he has suggested could have been due to damage to the front right toe – an affect of the collision. “It was not a clear start,” said the Spaniard. “I was a bit unlucky because I think Mark was also having contact with someone and the third part of that equation was me. And I had a battle in corner four as well with Jenson Button. The race was uphill from that moment. The car was damaged. The steering wheel was very heavy into the right corners and light into the left corners.” With only 12 points taken by Ferrari from the weekend, Mercedes have climbed above the Italian outfit in the constructors championship, while Lotus have significantly closed the gap to their rivals. The fight for second in the constructors is hotting up, yet with an out-of-form Alonso struggling to lead the team, Ferrari are in danger of becoming the weakest link of the trio.
Meanwhile, Force India enjoyed a great day, in which both Adrian Sutil and Paul Di Resta secured points in P9 and P8 respectively. It was a magnificent result for the team, especially considering that they were entertaining a number of sponsors at their home race this weekend. Paul Di Resta, who managed to score his first points in seven races stated; “It’s great to score points here in India – the team’s home Grand Prix and a really important race for us. We took an aggressive strategy by pitting at the end of the first lap to change from softs to medium tyres – which was always the plan. After that we effectively split the race in two and I pitted again for my second set of medium tyres on lap 30. The other positive is that we’ve steadily improved the car over the last few weeks and I’m feeling more comfortable, so I think we can be optimistic of performing at a similar level in Abu Dhabi next week.” Force India have extended their lead in the constructors over close rivals Sauber, who experienced a dismal afternoon. Esteban Gutierrez’s race was ruined by a clumsy jump start, while Nico Hulkenberg’s four race run of point scoring finishes came to an end, due to a brake failure. “Today I would have passed the finish line in eighth place,” stated a disappointed Hulkenberg. “We don’t know yet what happened. When I was braking into the last turn something clicked and all of a sudden my brakes were gone. Something must have been broken on the car. Following that I pitted and went out again, but something wasn’t right. It is very disappointing.”
It was also a bitterly disappointing day for Caterham, as both cars were forced into retirement. Giedo Van Der Garde was the victim of Turn One contact with Marussia’s Max Chilton, while Charles Pic suffered a hydraulics leak.
However, all of tonight’s headlines will undoubtedly be stolen be Sebastian Vettel. He now joins an illustrious group of four time world champions alongside Fangio, Prost, and Schumacher. Vettel and Red Bull can now enjoy the final few races. Can Sebastian win them all and equal Michael Schumacher’s record of 13 wins in a season? Only time will tell…