28 October 2012
Vettel hits new heights with four-in-a-row
In a largely static stage of the race, the most interesting driver to watch was Sergio Perez, who had rejoined the race in 16th after his pit stop and immediately looked much more on the pace on the fresh rubber, quickly making an easy meal of his team mate Kamui Kobayashi and then lining up his sights on Daniel Ricciardo for 14th. This first attempt ended up in a lock-up that ran him wide and off the track, and his second resulted in his right rear tyre getting sliced into by the front wing of the Toro Rosso on lap 20. That blew out the tyre and sent Perez limping back to the pits, where the team was eventually forced to retire the car with suspected floor damage.
That put paid to that experiment, and no one else seemed inclined to choose to deviate from a one-stop strategy despite several drivers starting to struggle well short of the midway point that they needed to make: Jenson Button reported understeer and vibration; Mark Webber was falling away from Vettel and into the clutches of Alonso; and Nico Rosberg was soon easy pickings for Romain Grosjean to pass on the long straight on lap 24; however, Rosberg was able to respond to a similar pass by Bruno Senna two laps later and retake the position despite his troubles.
Button was the first man to call it quits and head for pit lane on lap 26, switching to a new set of hard tyres intended to carry him through to the end of the 60-lap race. Senna was a hairy entry into the pit lane next time by, and on lap 28 Kimi Raikkonen was in slightly earlier than planned in an attempt to leapfrog Felipe Massa for position having been unable to make the move stick out on track. Ferrari reacted and promptly called in their man next time around, and got Massa back out just in front of the Lotus. Raikkonen pressed the advantage of having warmer tyres and got in front, only to hand the DRS advantage to Massa down the long straight to lose the position again to restore the former status quo.
There was a steady stream of pit stops now - including a new steering well in addition to tyres for Hamilton on lap 33 - with Pastor Maldonado coming out of pit lane immediately behind Kamui Kobayashi who was in 11th place but yet to stop. Maldonado immediately went on the attack and passed the Sauber, but then jinked across the track to take his racing line into the next left hander just slightly too early before he'd fully cleared the front of the slower car. Front wing end plate met rear wheel rubber for the third time in the afternoon, and with the same result: Maldonado's new tyre was sliced open and the Williams slithered off into the gravel. The Venezuelan was able to keep momentum and return to the track to limp back to the pit lane for repairs, and in the process managed to hold up the race leader Sebastian Vettel.
Grosjean and Kobayashi were among the last cars to pit on lap 38, and the Lotus' longevity had been costly to Jenson Button who had been stuck behind Grosjean since his own early stop and was now ten seconds off the back of his team mate Lewis Hamilton who was in fourth place and doing his absolute best to catch up to Alonso and Webber ahead of him up the road, even at the cost of possible excessive tyre degradation.
Behind Button, Massa was still keeping a lid on Raikkonen despite being given warnings about his critical fuel situation by race engineer Rob Smedley; Hulkenberg, Grosjean and Rosberg rounded out the top ten, but Senna was threatening to depose the latter from the points at any minute. That minute finally came on lap 52, when a small mistake by Rosberg gave Senna the chance to use DRS to get around the outside of the Mercedes through turn 4.
Vettel had a margin of ten seconds over Webber and all was looking well for another Red Bull 1-2; a good old safety car to close everyone up and reset the battle for a rousing climax wouldn't have come amiss, but unfortunately none was forthcoming - even when Pedro de la Rosa's HRT suffered brake failure and spun backwards into the barrier at turn 4 on lap 45 to require recovery by the track marshals.
But the Red Bull 1-2 was not to be after all: Webber had reported a KERS failure on lap 46 that gave Fernando Alonso the chance to catch right up to the back of the Red Bull. On lap 48 the Ferrari was finally in position to blast past Webber down the long straight, despite the fact that Alonso was also now being warned by the Ferrari pit wall to save fuel. Further down the road, Lewis Hamilton was spurred on by the reports of Webber being among the walking wounded and was now closing the gap between the McLaren and Red Bull with all possible speed. However, it was not to be for Hamilton: Webber had adjusted his driving and picked up the pace again, and when Hamilton locked up in the penultimate run through turn 3 it gave Webber the breathing space that he needed to hold on to a podium finish.
Vettel meanwhile was taking the chequered flag, a peerless performance despite a frisson of concern at Red Bull in the final laps when the floor of Vettel's car suddenly seemed to be running very low through the DRS zone and sparking on the track in a way that hadn't been the case up till then. No matter: Vettel and the team managed it and brought the car home with a crucial win over Alonso by over nine seconds, who had done all he could to minimise the damage to his title hopes in the championship standings.
It was a landmark victory for Sebastian Vettel: the first time he's won four consecutive races in the same season, he's not actually been out of the lead in a Grand Prix since the moment that Lewis Hamilton's gearbox failed in Singapore. That means he's now been out in front and in a class of his own for 205 consecutive laps (the fourth-longest streak in F1 history, behind Alberto Ascari's 1952 record of 305 and two runs for Aryton Senna in 1988 and 1989) which includes heading every single lap of the last three Grand Prix races. Amazingly, Vettel is the only driver to have ever led a lap of a Grand Prix race in India.
Tagged as: Ferrari , Sebastian Vettel , Mark Webber , Lewis Hamilton , Jenson Button , Webber , Red Bull Racing , Fernando Alonso , Felipe Massa , Kimi Raikkonen , India , Greater Noida , Indian , buddh , Felipa Massa
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