Greater Noida: Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel led from the front from start to finish to win the Indian Grand Prix, a repeat of his phenomenal performance at the inaugural race at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida last year.
It is Vettel’s fourth win on the trot this season, and the 25-year-old German driver, who has topped the driver’s championship for the past two seasons, is on the cusp of becoming the youngest triple champion in Formula One history.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, also in the race for the driver’s championship, finished second, and now trails Vettel by 13 points with just three more races to go in the season. Vettel’s teammate Mark Webber finished third, and Force India notched up four points with its driver Nico Hulkenberg finishing eighth.
The lone Indian driver in the race, Hispania Racing Team’s Narain Karthikeyan, managed to finish the race at 21st, despite a season marred by technical troubles that resurfaced here and forced his teammate Pedro de la Rosa to pull out in the 45th lap.
“I really enjoyed the race,” Vettel said. “It was important for me to open a gap early on, and I had a good exit at turn three, and that let me open up a gap.”
The on-track performance from Vettel and Alonso also reflected their larger fight for the driver’s championship—Vettel had a flawless run in what is undoubtedly the best car in F1, while Alonso pulled off some deft manoeuvring and edge-of-the-seat driving in his slower Ferrari to grab his place on the podium.
Alonso, who was fifth on the starting grid behind the two Red Bull cars and the two McLarens after Saturday’s qualifying, overtook McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton on the first corner of the first lap before going past Hamilton’s teammate Jenson Button in the fourth lap.
“I used the slipstream and got behind them,” Alonso said. “I think the McLarens forgot I was there while they were fighting with each other, and I just moved in.”
With Hamilton in close pursuit, Alonso pressed Webber hard for the third position, and when the Red Bull driver’s KERS (kinetic energy recovery system, which allows drivers to use recycled energy from braking for short bursts of extra speed) started stalling, Alonso’s chances brightened. The Ferrari driver grabbed that opportunity on the long straight in lap 48, when he burst ahead of Webber for the second place.
“I still feel I can be the world champion,” Alonso said. “We need to improve the competitiveness of the car, get some new parts for Abu Dhabi (the next F1 race, on 4 November), and then I’m optimistic.”
Hamilton went all out as well after hearing of Webber’s KERS problems over the team radio, but despite posting some fantastic lap times, just could not catch up.
“I started to lose my rhythm because of the KERS problem,” Webber said. “I was lucky that Louis (Hamilton) made a mistake on lap 58, which I saw in the mirror.”
Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team’s Michael Schumacher began the race in what is to be his last season in F1 with a burst rear tyre in the first lap, which scuttled any chances of a respectable finish, before retiring in lap 58.
Both Rosa and teammate Karthikeyan suffered brake problems, with Karthikeyan being told by his team as early as during the seventh lap that his brake temperatures were very high.
“I also lost a little bit of my front wing early on and had problems with the balance of my car,” Karthikeyan said. “But the biggest problem was the overheating of the brakes. They warned me on the radio because we had to make it to the end, and we did that. I’m happy to have finished my home race.”
Karthikeyan has had to retire due to mechanical problems six times in 17 races this season. At the end of the race, both Alonso and Vettel felt that it was one of their best performances of the season.
“It’s a track that is always challenging and I love that,” Vettel said. “On turn 15, you always think that you are making a mistake; you just can’t get it right, and that’s a big challenge.”
“It’s difficult to chose my favourite performance this season, but I’m really proud of Malaysia and Valencia (he won both),” Alonso said, “and this one’s definitely up there with them.”
If Alonso manages to upstage Vettel at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where he came second last year, and Vettel had to retire in the first lap, the battle for the Driver’s Championship will go down to the wire.