Vettel supreme in Indian stroll: Grand Prix review

By on Monday, October 29, 2012

The statistics keep rolling in for Sebastian Vettel. Not only was his Indian Grand Prix victory his fifth win of the season – and fourth consecutively – he has now led every racing lap since Lewis Hamilton pulled over in Singapore, as well as all 120 laps in Indian Grand Prix history.

F1’s second visit to India wasn’t the best advertisement for the sport in the country; F1’s title run is being fought between two great drivers but recent processional affairs appear to have created apathy towards the battle, particularly in light of the frantic races in the opening segment of the season.

Vettel’s start wasn’t brilliant, but the reigning champion edged Mark Webber out sufficiently enough to ensure that the lead was retained into Turn One. Webber briefly came under threat from the two McLaren drivers, but they soon had Fernando Alonso to contend with.

“During the first lap, I was primarily focusing on not colliding with Jenson, then I saw Fernando [Alonso] in my right mirror. He was towing me from very far back”, said Hamilton. The McLarens compromised each other slightly on the exit of Turn 3, enough to give Alonso the sufficient slingshot on the approach to Turn 4. Button jinked to the left of his team mate, with the Spaniard heading to the inside as they continued down the long straight. Hamilton boldly put his car on the inside line into the wide corner but drifted out onto the kerb, allowing Alonso back in front. Button maintained third place and their battle came to an end as the track narrowed at Turn 5.

“There were just millimetres between Lewis, Fernando and me”, recalled Button. “I’ve never had a start quite like that before – unbelievably hard-fought – and none of us hit each other. It was so close, so tight, yet so clean”.

“I tried to immediately attack the McLarens getting into their slipstream. They were fighting among themselves and maybe they forgot about me and I managed to get past at least one of them”, added Alonso.

The squabbling trio of champions allowed Red Bull to pull away at the front of the pack. Vettel led Webber by a couple of seconds after the opening tour, with Button another few seconds in arrears. Ferrari set up the gear ratios perfectly for Alonso and he soon dispensed with Button. Hamilton took a little more time in getting past his team mate, but by now Button was visibly struggling with his option tyres.

Button pitted comparatively early – on Lap 25 – but his strategy was hindered as he emerged behind the late-stopping Romain Grosjean, condemning the 2009 champion to fifth place.

Hamilton maintained the gap to Alonso, but was battling a downshift problem that McLaren decided to resolve when their man was due to pit for his only stop.

“I was having to change down with my right hand instead of my left, so the team elected to change the steering wheel at the pitstop”, Hamilton said. “I’ve never had to change a steering wheel during a race before. The guys did it fantastically quickly, under immense pressure, so I want to say ‘well done!’ to them all. I took the wheel off before I’d even stopped the car, and threw it out of the car. The team then fitted a new one, I clicked it into first gear, and I was away – all in just a bit over three seconds flat.”

Alonso and Webber also made their only stops of the race around the mid-distance mark and Alonso began to hound his Australian rival. Alonso initially dropped back behind Webber, but got into the DRS zone and – with Webber struggling with a KERS problem – eased through into second place.

Alonso nevertheless believes that he is extracting the maximum from the F2012 but insisted that he is not able to win races.

“A great start, a great first lap, a good top speed and the right tyre management produced, along with me driving at 120% for each of the sixty race laps, this second place. We can fight the Red Bulls, but at the moment, we still don’t have a car capable of winning”.

Webber was soon being hunted down by Hamilton, but was able to resist the charging McLaren when his predator made a mistake at Turn 3 on the penultimate lap.

“I tried to chase down Mark [Webber] in the closing laps, but by then it was too late and he was going too quickly for me to be able to mount a serious challenge. But I never give up, and, right until the very last corner, I thought I might just be able to catch him, but in the end it wasn’t to be”, said the outgoing McLaren driver.

Button had a lonely run to fifth, ahead of a close battle between Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen. The Lotus driver appeared to have more pace than Massa but was lacking in straight line speed. Raikkonen took advantage when Massa exited the pits and ran side by side with his former team mate on the approach to Turn 3. But Massa used the DRS zone to ease through on Raikkonen and reclaim sixth.

Nico Hulkenberg raced to a fine eighth place, ahead of Romain Grosjean, who started on prime tyres and made a late stop onto options. Bruno Senna claimed the final point after going around the outside of Nico Rosberg at Turn 4.

Paul di Resta struggled with balance throughout the weekend and could only muster twelfth, while Daniel Ricciardo beat Kamui Kobayashi to thirteenth by four tenths of a second.

Most of the midfield seems to collide with each other at some point in the race. Jean Eric Vergne damaged his front wing on the opening lap after running into Michael Schumacher. The contact gave the retiring seven times world champion a puncture and dropped him to the back of the pack. He pulled into the pits with five laps remaining, while Vergne plodded on to fifteenth place. Kobayashi and Pastor Maldonado made contact on the approach to Turn 5, which resulted in a puncture for the Venezuelan, while Sergio Perez tried to go around the outside of Ricciardo at Turn One – having already run wide at Turn 4 – and sustained a race-ending puncture.

Vitaly Petrov beat Heikki Kovalainen after the Finn developed a KERS issue at two-thirds distance, while Charles Pic took a credible nineteenth place after making up five places at the start. Narain Karthikeyan finished his home race in twenty-first, but team-mate Pedro de La Rosa suffered a brake failure at Turn 4 and spun into the barriers.

Up front there was no such problem for Sebastian Vettel. There had been some sparks appearing from underneath his RB8 towards the end of the race, but the team was never hugely concerned that any issue was problematic. Vettel’s 26th career victory was another example of the art of race management, but he doesn’t have his hands on the championship trophy. Not just yet.

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