Sebastian Vettel moved 13 points clear of Fernando Alonso in the Formula One Drivers’ Championship with a commanding victory in India.
It was Vettel’s second victory in a row at the circuit, his fifth win of the campaign and his fourth in succession. Alonso could only manage second behind the defending champion, a result which leaves him on 227 points compared with Vettel’s 240. Mark Webber would likely have given Red Bull Racing another 1-2 finish but for a KERS problem that allowed Alonso, 12 laps from home, to ease by. Webber then held off a late charge from Lewis Hamilton to hold on to third and his fifth podium finish of the year.
“I think it’s been an incredible two years for us, both times to come here and win the race. To get the pole on Saturday and win the race on Sunday is fantastic,” said Vettel. “There’s always a very nice trophy so I’m very, very happy to pick up another nice one this year, so a very special grand prix. I don’t know what is it about this circuit but I really like the flow of it.”
Vettel’s fifth win of the season was largely sealed at the start. When the lights went out both he and Webber made good starts off the front row. The Australian momentarily drew alongside but he had to give way though as they lanced towards turn one.
With that battle won, and in clean air at the front of the pack, Vettel was able to build a solid lead over the first half of the long opening stint. After a dozen laps he had forged a gap of over eight seconds over third-placed Alonso. Webber was also settling into a good rhythm, almost four seconds clear of the Spaniard.
Vettel made his one and only stop on lap 33, taking on the harder compound and from there began to pace himself as he arrowed towards his fourth victory in a row.
“I think we felt after a couple of laps that the tyres were holding up reasonably well and then when you cross around 15-16 to 20 laps with still something in the tyres left, you obviously know it goes more to the direction of one stop,” he said of his long first stint. “I think we were very competitive on the soft tyres; on the hard tyres I think McLaren and Ferrari were pretty competitive. I think we were probably not as competitive on the primes as on the soft tyres but all in all a fantastic race.”
Behind the leader, Webber was having a tougher time. After his single stop he came under brief pressure from Alonso, but the Red Bull driver responded to break clear of the sub-one second gap Alonso needed to remain within to activate his DRS. It looked like Webber had done enough to secure second but then the Australian reported that his KERS was no longer working.
That difficulty saw him once again fall into Alonso’s orbit and the Ferrari driver, scenting an opportunity, stepped up the pressure. Webber defended bravely but with no boost the gap to the Ferrari soon fell below the one second mark again and on lap 48 Alonso slipped past.
“It [the KERS] was on and off, and then completely off. I was a moving target,” he said. “We needed to screw around with brake balance and just manage as best we could [to not] lose rhythm and tempo. We needed to keep the focus, but it is so demoralising on that straight with no KERS – it is not really a battle. Fernando came past – they have good top gear – and that was it.”
It was a tough break for Webber who was holding off Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren in the final laps of the race.
“I pushed as strong as possible to get to the end of the race, but I was lucky Lewis made a mistake on lap 57,” he said of his battle with the McLaren driver. “That was important because he was starting to get a bit of momentum. I was keen to keep him out of DRS as much as possible.”
For Alonso, Webber’s KERS issue was a gift. Despite seeing Vettel extend his championship lead, the 18 points earned by the Ferrari driver limited the damage and kept his title aspirations alive with three rounds to go.
“Nothing [has] changed in one race,” he said of his championship hopes. “There are 75 points [left] and we are 13 behind and we know we need to improve. We are not fast enough, especially on Saturday, but we can improve the situation in Abu Dhabi or in the USA. As we saw with Mark’s KERS problem, it can happen to Seb or it can happen to us, so I am optimistic.”
He conceded, however, that Ferrari must improved quickly if he is to stand a chance of taking his third championship win.
“I think we need to bring some new parts to Abu Dhabi and hopefully improve a little bit the competitiveness of the car and get closer to Red Bulls on Saturday and hopefully Sunday as well,” he said. “There are three races remaining and the championship is the main target. We need to recover some points. It would be nice to finish in front of Seb there [Abu Dhabi] and if we win even better. For that we need to make a step forward as at the moment we are not able to win.”
With Hamilton fourth, fifth place was taken by McLaren team-mate Jenson Button, with Felipe Massa sixth. The final points positions where taken by Kimi Räikkönen in seventh for Lotus, Nico Hülkenberg’s Force India eighth, Romain Grosjean ninth in the second Lotus and and Bruno Senna taking the final point in tenth for Williams.
Formula 1 Airtel Indian Grand Prix | 2012 | RESULTS