Sebastian Vettel put one hand on his fourth consecutive World Drivers’ Championship title with an emphatic victory in India, finishing almost half a minute ahead of Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg and Lotus’ Romain Grosjean.
After crossing the line to provisionally become just the fourth driver in Formula One history to win four titles, Vettel admitted he could not express what the achievement, which will not become official until the end of the season, meant.
“I crossed the line, I was empty. I took ages thinking about something today,” he admitted. “It’s one of these moments you wish to say so many things but you can’t.
“The car was phenomenal today. It was phenomenal all season to be honest. I couldn’t ask for more,” he added. “I want to say a big thank you to the team, to all the people that were behind us. For sure it was not an easy season, even if people from the outside get the idea that we had it in our hands for quite a while, the last couple of races. But I think it was a difficult one, all in all.
“It was a very difficult one for me personally. To receive boos, even though you haven’t done anything wrong, to overcome that and to give the right answer on the track and finally get the acceptance that I think we’re all looking for as racing drivers… it makes me very proud to join people like Prost, Fangio and Michael.”
The German, starting from pole, held his lead at the start but, on fragile soft compound tyres pitted after just two laps. That dropped him to 17th but as others pitted and the backmarkers were dismissed, Vettel flew through the field, and within 10 laps he was up to P6 and pressuring Force India’s Adrian Sutil.
At the front, with the other soft-tyre starters peeling off towards the pits for a change of tyres, Vettel’s team-mate Mark Webber, who had opted to start on the more durable medium tyre, had taken the lead and was 14.5 seconds ahead of the German.
The battle, then, was between the two Red Bull drivers. Having passed Sutil and Daniel Ricciardo, who were on long opening stints and had not pitted, Vettel found himself lodged behind the similarly long-running Sergio Pérez, and Webber seemed to have the upper hand.
On lap 22, however, Vettel bustled past the Mexican and began to close the gap. Webber, recognising the threat pitted on lap 28, taking a set of soft tyres in the search of a burst of pace to maintain a gap. Vettel responded and made his second and final stop three laps later.
Webber did his best to make ground, but on lap 32 his soft tyres were gone and he made his final stop for mediums. He emerged in P4, 12.5 seconds adrift of the German on the same tyres and that was the victory decided.
Webber was still looking set for second place but just eight laps later he was out of the race, an alternator problem ending his afternoon early.
Behind the front pair, Nico Rosberg, who had started on the front row beside Vettel, put in a solid performance to claim second. The Mercedes driver cycled through a largely untroubled two-stop race and was in third place with nine laps to go behind a rapidly slowing Kimi Raikkonen.
The Finn was attempting to make radical one-stop race work. The Lotus driver had started on soft tyres and took on a set of mediums on lap 7. Amazingly, he kept the same set for the next 51 laps, attempting to keep the tyres alive until the finish.
It was a forlorn task, however, and as the last 10 laps came into view, his pace flagged alarmingly. Rosberg swept past on lap 52 to claim second.
“The start was a bit difficult, dropping behind [Felipe] Massa. He was definitely a lot slower,” said Rosberg of his race. “I gave it a go on one lap then on one lap but I couldn’t make it happen and he passed me back on the exit. And then the team did a fantastic strategy. I managed to get by him like that and, yeah, second place, I’m pleased with that. The car was working well today. Important for us to have a normal weekend, so a lot of points and giving Ferrari a run for their money in the Constructors’ [Championship].”
Behind him Raikkonen’s woes weren’t over. Team-mate Romain Grosjean was enjoying a superb afternoon and having started 17th after a miscalculation in qualifying, the Frenchman had made a different one-stop strategy work beautifully to climb to fourth. He eventually passed Raikkonen on lap 56 and claimed his fifth podium finish of the year.
“I would not have bet a penny on me being on the podium today,” said Grosjean afterwards. “But the car came back how it was on Friday. The race pace was really there. We did a very brave strategy – as we did yesterday. I think it was not the time to go safe and it paid off. We’re back on the podium it’s quite amazing from where we started.”
The struggling Raikkonen was later passed by Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and then the battling pair of Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez. The McLaren driver won their tussle to take a useful fifth place, ahead of the second Mercedes.
Raikkonen eventually settled for seventh place, having stopped at the end of lap 58 for a new set of softs. Behind him Paul Di Resta finished eighth, ahead of team-mate Adrian Sutil. The final point on offer was claimed by Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo.
Vettel’s victory also meant that Red Bull Racing provisionally sealed a fourth consecutive Formula One Constructors’ Championship with three races in hand.
2013 Indian Grand Prix – Race result
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 60 25
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 60 +29.8 secs 18
3 Romain Grosjean Lotus 60 +39.8 secs 15
4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 60 +41.6 secs 12
5 Sergio Perez McLaren 60 +43.8 secs 10
6 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 60 +52.4 secs 8
7 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus 60 +67.9 secs 6
8 Paul di Resta Force India 60 +72.8 secs 4
9 Adrian Sutil Force India 60 +74.7 secs 2
10 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 60 +76.2 secs 1
11 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 60 +78.2 secs
12 Pastor Maldonado Williams 60 +78.9 secs
13 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 59 +1 Lap
14 Jenson Button McLaren 59 +1 Lap
15 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 59 +1 Lap
16 Valtteri Bottas Williams 59 +1 Lap
17 Max Chilton Marussia 58 +2 Lap
18 Jules Bianchi Marussia 58 +2 Lap
19 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 54 +6 Lap
Ret Mark Webber Red Bull Racing 39 +21 Laps
Ret Charles Pic Caterham 35 +25 Laps
Ret Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1 +59 Laps