Sebastian Vettel claims his sixth successive victory, his 10th of 2013, at the Indian Grand Prix, giving him and Red Bull Racing an unassailable championship lead as they complete the ‘quadruple double’.
It was somewhat inevitable. But for Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull, it didn’t make their fourth successive world title any less sweet. Vettel arrived in India on the back of five consecutive victories, with only Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso capable of preventing the title from being wrapped up. Vettel needed just a fifth place to secure his crown, and that was assuming Alonso could win, but ultimately the title was won in style as the champion stormed to victory and celebrated by doing donuts on the pit straight.
The pre-race build up focused on which strategy would be best. Pirelli anticipated that the option tyres would last no longer than a handful of laps, with the prime tyres expected to last around 25 tours of the Buddh circuit. A two stop strategy was therefore a must, but several drivers opted to qualify on the slower, harder compound. Mark Webber in fourth perhaps presented the greatest threat to Vettel’s winning streak, with Alonso in eighth.
The start eliminated Vettel’s primary threat for the title in a couple of messy incidents. Webber’s slightly tardy getaway gave Kimi Räikkönen a sniff of an opportunity and the two almost made contact. In avoiding Räikkönen, Webber slightly lost the back end of the Red Bull RB9, clipping the front of Alonso’s car and causing slight damage to the Ferrari. Webber recuperated in seventh place, but Alonso suffered further woes when he made contact with Jenson Button at turn four. Alonso’s plan to run long on the medium tyres was immediately scuppered and he pitted for a new front wing; the title was already in Vettel’s hands. Button joined him in the pits for repairs as he sustained a puncture in the contact.
Vettel romped away up front to the tune of 2.7s at the end of the first lap. The man in second place was not front row starter Nico Rosberg, but Ferrari’s Felipe Massa. The Brazilian used the slipstream from the Mercedes on the first lap to sweep past both Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton and move up to second.
Pirelli’s optimum strategy suggested that getting rid of the options at the end of lap two was the best way to go. Vettel duly obliged and came into the pits for a fresh set of prime tyres. The other option shod runners soon pitted, leaving Webber with a lead of around 12 seconds. It was now a game of cat and mouse; Vettel had few problems dispatching with slower traffic and the race win was easing into his clutches. Webber pitted for option tyres, got that stint out of the way and then switched to the mediums. Vettel also made his second stop for mediums midway through the race, leaving him with a healthy lead over his team-mate. Both Red Bulls were comfortably clear of the battle for third, although that particular scrap soon became the fight for second.
Webber was noticeably slower through the final sector of the circuit, with race engineer Simon Rennie warning him of gearbox synchronisation problems. Webber lasted a few more corners but was told to stop the car due to an alternator failure.
Webber’s misfortune elevated Räikkönen into second, albeit a postcode behind race leader Vettel. Räikkönen attempted to complete the race on a one stop strategy, although his planned 52 lap stint ultimately failed to pay dividends. Rosberg passed the Finn with consummate ease with eight laps remaining, with Räikkönen’s lap times dropping like a stone.
Team-mate Romain Grosjean was also attempting a similar strategy, although he stretched his first stint longer, thus meaning his tyres were far fresher. The duelling Lotuses ran side by side on the way down to turn four, with Grosjean taking the outside line. Räikkönen forced him wide and Grosjean shot across the run-off, conceding the position to avoid a penalty for gaining an advantage by exceeding track limits. With Lotus embroiled in a close battle for second in the constructors’ championship, and Massa closing down rapidly on Grosjean, tensions ran high. Lotus radioed Räikkönen to “get out of the f***ing way,” which prompted an angry retort from the Finn. Grosjean eventually got through on Räikkönen, with Massa close behind and the 2007 champion had to conceded defeat and pit for a second time.
Grosjean held on by a couple of seconds to complete an astonishing recovery after starting from a lowly 17th on the grid. Massa secured fourth, meaning that Ferrari has equalled McLaren’s record of 64 consecutive races in the points.
Sergio Pérez completed his finest race of the season as he came home in fifth place, just four seconds down on Grosjean. It equalled McLaren’s best result of 2013 and took some pressure from the Mexican’s shoulders. It came as little surprise that Pérez excelled in a race where astute tyre management was vital, for this is Pérez’s strongest asset. He completed a long stint on prime tyres to run in second place and raced well to secure fifth place.
Hamilton endured a quiet race as he finished in fifth; the Mercedes driver struggled to preserve his tyres, while Räikkönen finished in seventh.
Force India enjoyed a positive race for the first time since the summer as Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil finished eighth and ninth. The team arrived at their ‘home’ race (they’re based opposite Silverstone) on the back of an awful run of form but di Resta raced well to collect four points, while Sutil ran an astonishingly long stint on the primes to run near the front, but came home in ninth.
Daniel Ricciardo took the final point for Toro Rosso, fending off the advances of the beleaguered Alonso throughout the final stint. Alonso pulled off a couple of good moves but his efforts were ultimately in vain as he finished a race outside of the points for the first time since the British Grand Prix in 2010.
Pastor Maldonado was 12th, ahead of Jean-Eric Vergne and Button. Esteban Gutiérrez endured a difficult weekend and came home in 15th, with Valtteri Bottas 16th. Max Chilton headed Jules Bianchi, while Nico Hülkenberg was classified but retired with a handful of laps remaining. The German driver was set for eighth place but suffered a braking problem and pulled into the pits.
Neither Caterham driver finished the race; Charles Pic lost hydraulic pressure while Giedo van der Garde sustained damage after making contact with Chilton on the opening lap.
Vettel came across the line almost half a minute ahead of Rosberg and promptly celebrated his title by completing another lap and performing donuts on the pits straight, much to the delight of the crowd. The stewards, though, hand to enforce the rule book, reprimanding Vettel. It was the German’s sixth successive win and 10th of 2013 as he clinched his fourth title in a row.
The ‘official’ term is that Vettel has an unassailable championship lead; the FIA won’t recognise him as the world champion until the prize gala in December.
But the form of Vettel and Red Bull since the summer break has been quite outstanding. Vettel arrived at Spa Francorchamps with a comfortable 38 point lead but in six races that has been extended to a title winning 115. He has dropped just 78 points all season – 25 of those courtesy of a crocked gearbox at Silverstone – and has a points hit rate of 80.5%.
There are still three more races for Vettel to go and win; should he do so he would equal Michael Schumacher’s record of 13 wins in one season. But for now, he’s just soaking up the moment.
“I’m speechless. I crossed the line and I was empty. I took ages to think about something to say. It’s one of these moments where you want to say so many things but you can’t. It’s been such a phenomenal season. I think the team and the spirit inside the team is so strong; It’s a pleasure to jump in the car and go out for the guys and girls and try to give it all I have.. I want to say a big thank you to the team to all the people behind us. It was for sure not an easy season and even though people on the outside thought we had it in our hands, I think it was difficult.”
“It a was tough season for me personally, to receive boos even though we haven’t done anything wrong; to overcome that and give the right answer on the track and get acceptance makes me very proud. To join people like [Alain] Prost, [Juan Manuel] Fangio and Michael [Schumacher] is unbelievable. I think this is one of the best days in my life so far. There are so many people that I have to thank; I’ve always tried to listen and learn and it’s incredible to race some of the best drivers in the world.”