Superb Vettel claims fourth title with India win
The German, whose victory also secured a fourth straight constructors' crown for Red Bull, needed to finish in fifth place or higher to secure another drivers’ crown, but ended up reaching the chequered flag first, half a minute clear of Mercedes' Nico Rosberg who was second, with Lotus's Romain Grosjean an impressive third having started 17th.
Fittingly it was Red Bull’s chief technical officer Adrian Newey who joined Vettel on the podium to receive the constructors’ trophy on behalf of the brilliant RB9 car he had designed.
The only downside for Red Bull was Mark Webber’s retirement from second place, riding shotgun for Vettel, with alternator failure on the 39th of the 60 laps. Later Vettel was told on the 52nd lap to stop using his drinks bottle and not to engage KERS, as the team advised him not to take any more energy out of the car than was absolutely necessary.
Things went wrong for Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso - the only man who could stop Vettel from securing the title in India - right from the start. As Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen and Webber collided at the first corner, Alonso was left with nowhere to go and collected the Red Bull, damaging his front wing and forcing him to pit for a replacement on the second lap. After that his Ferrari was never right and he never got higher than his eventual 11th place finish.
Vettel blasted into the lead from pole and then pitted to switch his soft Pirellis for the mediums as early as the second lap. That dropped him to 17th place, three ahead of Alonso, but the Red Bull was healthy and he began to climb back through the field very rapidly.
Meanwhile, having overtaken the two Mercedes’ on the opening lap to run second, Ferrari’s Felipe Massa led a race again, staying in front from lap two until his own stop on the eighth, whereupon the medium tyre-shod Webber moved as planned into the lead. Now it was clear, as if it hadn’t been even before the start, that the race was between the two Red Bull pilots. Bit by bit, as they traded fastest laps, Vettel got a 14.5s gap down to 10.4 by the time Webber stopped for a brief stint on the softs on the 28th lap. Vettel then made a very fast stop for more mediums on the 31st lap, before Webber switched back to mediums on the 32nd.
Now they were on similar tyres, 12.5s apart, with Vettel leading, and gradually the gap went out, tenth by tenth, until Webber’s sudden demise. One minute he was keeping his team mate honest, the next he was told with urgency to “Stop the car.”
Behind the Red Bulls, the situation was confused by drivers such as McLaren’s Sergio Perez, Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo and Force India’s Adrian Sutil making very long runs on the mediums on which they started, and others ditching their softs within the first 10 laps.
By lap 20, Webber was leading Perez and Vettel, with Ricciardo next from Sutil, as Massa scrapped with the Mercedes of Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. Further back the Lotuses were on charges after what were intended to be their sole stops. Grosjean had used a set of softs to climb from 17th on the grid after his qualifying snafu and made them last a remarkable 13 laps to climb up to fifth.
After the next round of stops which started with Webber’s on lap 28, the real order finally began to form more clearly apart from Sutil hanging on to third in the wake of the Red Bulls. Raikkonen was fourth, then came Rosberg ahead of Grosjean, Massa, Ricciardo - who would stop on the 33rd lap for a brief spell on softs - Hamilton and Perez.
When Ricciardo stopped again, for mediums on lap 37, then Sutil at last on 41, Raikkonen was up to second but was 25s adrift of Vettel and in no position to challenge. Indeed, he was having to conserve his tyres and was beginning to struggle. As Rosberg closed in on the Finn, Grosjean fought up to fourth, saving his rubber while keeping Massa, Hamilton and Perez at bay.
Rosberg overtook the fading Raikkonen for second on lap 52, and after a touch with his begrudging team mate, Grosjean went up to third on the 56th. Raikkonen was then consumed by Massa, before Perez pounced on both him and Hamilton on the 58th lap. That was when Raikkonen pitted for a set of soft tyres and slipped to seventh before setting fastest lap on the last tour.
By then Vettel had won by nearly half a minute from Rosberg, while Grosjean’s tremendous drive earned him his third straight podium. Massa had challenged him briefly before having to settle for fourth, with Perez striding away from Hamilton to give McLaren 10 valuable points.
Paul di Resta drove a quiet but effective race to take a welcome eighth, passing Sutil on the 44th lap. The German had taken a set of softs and boldly tried to make them last to the finish. Astonishingly he achieved that, but even better he somehow managed to fend off the attentions of Ricciardo, who had Alonso in his wheeltracks. Thus the Spaniard’s appalling day, which brought his already dwindling title hopes to an end, concluded without a single point for the first time since Malaysia in March. At the end Williams’ Pastor Maldonado was just over half a second adrift of the Ferrari. Maldonado’s team mate Valtteri Bottas had starred, mixing it with Alonso, Ricciardo and Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez in the fight for 11th, before a final stop dropped him back to 16th.
Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne had an unhappy run to 13th, but nothing like as bad as Jenson Button’s to 14th. The McLaren driver got hit by Alonso on the opening lap, stopped for soft tyres on the sixth, and never regained ground as his troubled car required three more stops before his ordeal was over.
It was also a bad day for Sauber. Nico Hulkenberg ran strongly and was a decent points contender in seventh place until his C32 ran out of brakes, and Gutierrez would have been a points contender but for a drive-through penalty for a jumped start. He finished 15th.
Max Chilton did a long stint on the mediums and hung on to beat Marussia team mate Jules Bianchi by 0.7s in their fight for 17th, while neither Caterham finished. Giedo van der Garde was involved in a collision on the first lap when he got pincered between Chilton and team mate Charles Pic, and retired in the pits, while the Frenchman later succumbed to a serious technical problem.
On a great day for the team, Red Bull secured their fourth constructor’s title despite Webber’s demise, with 470 points, while Mercedes have moved ahead of Ferrari with 313 points to 309, as Lotus closed in with 285. McLaren have 93, and Force India eased away from Sauber with 68.
Vettel's elaborate doughnut celebrations following the chequered flag earned Red Bull a 25,000 Euro fine and the German a reprimand for failing to go straight to parc ferme, but on a day when they made history, you sense they won't be all that bothered.