27 October 2013
Indian Grand Prix: Vettel crowned champion as the star of India
Sebastian Vettel has claimed his fourth consecutive world championship - and Red Bull clinched the team title as well - with a carefully executed strategy delivering an imperious win in India.
It's done - the championship battle is over.
A tense battle in the haze of India saw Sebastian Vettel finish the race in first place, and even though he didn't have it quite all his own way in 2013 unlike in former years, the title was his almost from the very start after early disaster struck the only man standing between him and his clinching a fourth consecutive world title.
Starting on pole position for the seventh time in 2013, Sebastian Vettel led the field to the grid with the hope and indeed expectation that he would seal not only his own championship, but also that of of his team Red Bull in the constructors' battle. It could hardly have fallen to a better venue for him to seal the deal, given that in both previous Indian Grand Prix races before 2013 there hasn't been a single race lap that he hadn't led - but that record at least would end here today, and sooner than expected.
When the lights went out in the haze hanging over the start line, Sebastian Vettel was able to cover off the two Mercedes cars and scamper off to the first corner while Lewis Hamilton briefly got the better of Nico Rosberg for second only for a flying Felipe Massa to blast both cars a few corners later. Mark Webber meanwhile was struggling to get up to speed as the highest-placed man on the grid running the medium tyres and lost out on the entry into turn 1, banging wheels with Kimi Raikkonen which caused him to slow momentarily and take a hit on the rear from Fernando Alonso, whose front wing was clipped in the process.
With a 2.4s lead over Massa at the end of lap 1, Red Bull executed a radically early pit stop for Vettel, calling him at the end of just the second lap to ditch the short-lived soft option tyres. That meant an even earlier than expected finish to Vettel's perfect record out in the lead in India, leaving him exiting pit lane in 17th place and handing control of the race to the Ferrari. Other early stoppers for a change of tyres included Paul di Resta, Jean-Eric Vergne, while front wing damage for Alonso and a puncture for McLaren's Jenson Button also saw them both in earlier than their teams had planned - highly damaging to both men's race hopes after they had started on the prime tyres and been planning a long first stint, a strategy now in ruins.
Massa's lead lasted until his own first pit stop at the end of lap 8, more in line with the expected strategy and in line with the approach taken by Hamilton and Raikkonen. That meant that after suffering that nightmarish start, Webber was finding the race coming right back to him as he took the lead for the first time ahead of other cars yet to stop that included Sergio Perez, Daniel Ricciardo and Romain Grosjean, with Vettel the fastest man on track and quickly shuffled back up to fourth place some 15s behind his team mate and still on course to resume the lead once Webber's turn to stop came around.
Vettel made that third with an easy pass on Grosjean on lap 12 (the Frenchman struggling to make a set of the soft options work well beyond their 'best by' date) and a prompt repeat on Ricciardo on lap 13. It was all falling into place for Vettel, whose only remaining rival for the championship - Fernando Alonso - was marooned in 15th place after his front wing change in a race that he had to win to keep the title battle mathematically alive for another week.]
A drive-thru for a jump start by Esteban Gutierrez took the yet-to-stop Sauber out of sixth place and promoted Massa back up a place, but the Ferrari was now over 12 seconds adrift of Vettel as the next-best of those to have pitted. It seemed that the task of working his way back through traffic had hardly been a problem for the world champion after all despite the pre-race concerns, who long-ago laid to rest any suggestions that he was unable to pass cars in a race and who provided an emphatic reminder of his skills again here today. Only Perez separated Vettel from Webber, with McLaren assuring their man that he was still on 'Plan A' even as Vettel closed and ultimately passed the Mexican for second on lap 21.
The early pit stops out of the way, the race had settled down as the strategies that the drivers had committed to unfolded. Alonso was doing his best to fight back, but despite a muscular move on Guttierrez on lap 22 he was still outside the points in 13th place, some three seconds off the back of the Force India of Paul di Resta. Alonso's team mate Massa meanwhile was coming under attack from Nico Rosberg on lap 24 and briefly lost sixth place at turn 4 before the Mercedes ran wide and allowed the Ferrari to take back the position in turn 5, all the while with Lewis Hamilton approaching the duelling pair from the rear with the idea of picking up the spoils should there be a clash.
Nico Hulkenberg's move on Williams' Valtteri Bottas for ninth place on lap 25 succeeded only after the Sauber took to the run-off at turn 4, adding to the simmering controversy this weekend about drivers gaining advantage by exceeding track limits seemingly with the blessing of the FIA in the pre-race driver meetings. The incident was investigated by race stewards, but this simply endorsed the 'hands off' approach to off-roading at Buddh International Circuit this weekend with no further action deemed necessary after the officials accepted that Hulkenberg had run wide to avoid causing a collision.
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