Vettel victory takes F1 title battle down to the wire
7 November 2010
Victory for Sebastian Vettel, the F1 2010 Constructors' World Championship for Red Bull Racing and four competitors still left in mathematical contention for the drivers' crown heading into the Abu Dhabi finale in seven days' time – that is the balance of the Brazilian Grand Prix this weekend.
With Mark Webber following his Red Bull team-mate home to clinch the runner-up laurels at Interlagos and world championship leader Fernando Alonso taking his run of consecutive late-season podium finishes to five – and, indeed, seven from the last eight races – it means the most thrillingly unpredictable F1 season in recent memory still has time for one final twist in-store under the desert sun. Roll on Abu Dhabi!
Despite all of the drivers appearing remarkably and some even disarmingly relaxed in the build-up to the start in Sao Paulo – belying just how much was at stake and the propensity of the much-loved Autodromo Carlos Pace to throw up drama and excitement by the bucket load – the race got underway amidst a great deal of tension and apprehension.
First-time pole-sitter Nico Hulkenberg got away well when the starting-lights went out, but then seemed to hesitate – which gave Vettel just the momentum he needed to aim his Red Bull RB6 down the inside into Turn One for the first time and snatch the lead. Behind the pair, Webber just managed to chop a fast-starting Lewis Hamilton off on the outside line – and then later around the lap, the Australian made short work of clearing Hulkenberg too, selling the young German a dummy on the approach to Turn Four and then sweeping down the inside on the exit to snatch second place.
Behind third-placed Hulkenberg, Hamilton ran fourth and Alonso fifth, as further down the order Vitaly Petrov – always wild – endured an off-piste excursion that dropped the Russian rookie practically to the rear of the field. A racy-looking Alonso got a tremendous run on Hamilton heading into lap two, but was unable to take advantage of it on the outside into Turn One, but a lap later and the job was done, as the McLaren-Mercedes star went wide in Turn Four in much the same manner as Hulkenberg had done the previous lap and his Ferrari rival needed no second invitation.
As Vettel edged clear at the front and new fourth-placed man Alonso began to hassle Hulkenberg for all he was worth – aware that he was losing more than a second a lap to the leaders – the Williams ace boldly staved his pursuer off, performing a good defence against the world championship leader as the Spaniard darted about every which way in a palpably faster car.
Further down the order, Jenson Button and Michael Schumacher were enjoying an energetic scrap over ninth, with the German legend diving down the inside into turn one to seize the advantage – and shortly afterwards, Alonso successfully found a way by Hulkenberg into Turn Four on lap seven, with his adversary thinking about fighting back but just as swiftly thinking better of it.
That left the pole-sitter with his hands full fending off an aggressive Hamilton, with Renault's Robert Kubica, his own Williams team-mate Rubens Barrichello and Schumacher all queuing up in close attendance behind too. Alonso, meanwhile, set about trying to reduce the seven-second deficit separating him from second-placed Webber – but it soon became apparent that he did not have the pace to do anything about it.
Button became the first man to pit from tenth place on lap twelve, with Felipe Massa in next time around, though the home hero would unfortunately find his challenge destroyed by having to come back in again the following lap to rectify a cross-threaded wheel nut on his right-front wheel. Barrichello was similarly delayed in his own stop as a flurry of pit-lane activity ensued.
Hulkenberg and Kubica were in next, rejoining again in the same order – but the biggest beneficiary was Button, who leapfrogged both of them and very nearly jumped his own team-mate following Hamilton's stop several laps later, whilst talking of internecine team-mate duels, after getting bottled up behind Adrian Sutil, a disgruntled Schumacher found himself jumped by Nico Rosberg once the stops had all shaken out.
As Hamilton immediately set a new fastest lap on the fresher rubber, whilst the fired-up Button later squeezed his way around the outside of Petrov – before the pair of them both assertively found a way past the ever-combative Kamui Kobayashi, who had made his F1 debut in the very same race twelve months earlier, although the young Japanese star made Button work harder for the pass than he did Hamilton.
That left Vettel leading from Webber – with the gap ebbing-and-flowing between the pair although generally remaining at around two-and-a-half to three seconds – and Alonso third, a status quo that would be preserved following the trio's respective pit-stops. Hamilton and Button ran fourth and fifth, ahead of Kobayashi and Rosberg, with Sutil, Schumacher and Hulkenberg making it a Teutonic quartet at the foot of the top ten.
Whilst Vettel went on to set a new fastest lap, Webber beat it next time around, forcing his team-mate to push his engine to its absolute limit in order to successfully respond, well aware that the Heppenheim native has less mileage left in his motors than he does.
The 34-year-old closed to just 1.8 seconds shy of his team-mate before finding his momentum suddenly stopped in its tracks as he lost a full second lapping Hispania Racing rookie Bruno Senna, making clear his frustration with the Brazilian with a shake of the fist as he finally found a way past – and plenty more traffic looming up ahead, and none of it seeming to play in the Australian's favour...
As Rosberg cleared an understeer-plagued, non-stopping Kobayashi for P6, there was further misery for Barrichello as the Paulista picked up a left-front puncture following contact with Scuderia Toro Rosso's Jaime Alguersuari into Turn One, as the local star went for a bold move around the outside in his efforts to recover from his earlier delay.
In what was clearly not a good day for Brazilians, Virgin Racing rookie Lucas Di Grassi pulled into the garage, but of far more significance still, Vettel and Webber were fast approaching a gaggle of eight cars all in a line. This was getting critical. As Massa pulled cleanly out of Vettel's way, he was less generous towards Webber – and Sebastien Buemi was arguably even less accommodating towards the Australian still.
With Red Bull unwilling to implement team orders and Webber consequently taking the matter into his own hands as he relentlessly hunted his quarry down, but then the race was suddenly neutralised after Vitantonio Liuzzi lost control of his Force India and thumped it into the Turn Two tyre barriers, bringing out the safety car.
Fourth-placed Hamilton too advantage of the opportunity to come in to change his deteriorating tyres, having lamented that they were no longer giving him any grip – but more unexpectedly, Button pitted too, falling to the very back of the pack in the process, whilst Rosberg came in twice, following a miscommunication over tyre choice, yet somehow still maintained sixth place.
Another man with some overtaking to do was Webber, who with the safety car having blunted his charge still needed to clear the lapped Hulkenberg and Kubica if he was still to have a go at Vettel for the lead. As the safety car peeled back into the pit-lane, Vettel was presented with the gift of a clear track ahead – and just over two seconds in-hand over a somewhat sleepy Webber, as he set about scampering away and set a new fastest lap of the race to drive home his dominance. Three seconds separated the pair come the end of the lap.
Alguersuari did Alonso few favours as one Spaniard came up to lap the other – squeezing his countryman towards the pit wall – as the two McLarens ran line-astern and Vettel continued to pull away from Webber, eking his margin out to some 3.3 seconds as the man from Queanbeyan began to suffer from an overheating engine. Buemi clumsily nerfed Massa out of the way in their private duel over twelfth place, but the duel at the front was rapidly disappearing, as another searing fastest lap with only ten tours remaining opened the gap up to four-and-a-half.
Buemi continued his various shenanigans with Sutil, as Alonso kept Webber honest by matching his pace in third – and fastest lap for the Oviedo native on lap 64 kept the pressure on, closing to just within three seconds of the second-placed man. As the laps ticked down, so that deficit did likewise, with under two-and-a-half seconds between the pair entering the final four tours and the tension mounting.
Massa's robust afternoon in the Ferrari bumper car saw him make contact with Petrov with two laps remaining, but there was no such drama – or switching-of-positions – up at the front of the field, as Vettel motored serenely on and took the chequered flag for his fourth victory of F1 2010 and a result that kept him in the chase for the coveted crown. Webber held onto second – and in so doing closed down Alonso's world championship lead to just eight points – with the Ferrari star claiming the last podium position in third.
Hamilton and Button crossed the line separated by less than a second in fourth and fifth, ahead of Mercedes duo Rosberg and Schumacher, Hulkenberg – who perhaps inevitably faded to eighth in the final reckoning, but thereby lifted Williams above Force India in the constructors' rankings – and Kubica and Kobayashi, who rounded out the points-scorers as Sauber's alter native strategy paid off.
Outside of the top ten, Alguersuari, Sutil, Buemi, the luckless Barrichello and Massa, Petrov, Nick Heidfeld, Lotus twins Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli, Virgin's Timo Glock and HRT pairing Senna and Christian Klien completed the finishers.
The one-two for Red Bull Racing left the Milton Keynes-based squad celebrating its maiden constructors' world championship in only its sixth season in the top flight, but with Alonso still on top in the drivers' standings by the handy margin of eight points, the question is, will they be celebrating quite so much in a week's time..?