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Vettel too hot for rivals in India

30 October 2011

If few curious Indian Grand Prix spectators knew the stars of the sport before the inaugural F1 race at Buddh International Circuit, Sebastian Vettel did a good job of currying favour by romping to his eleventh victory of the 2011 campaign.

After fending off Red Bull Racing team-mate Mark Webber at the start, the German was never headed, pulling out enough of an advantage, as Webber then squabbled with Jenson Button, to avoid any threat from the McLaren's DRS, and was able to complete both his pit-stops without anyone coming close to stealing the lead. Behind Vettel, who amused himself by chasing another rare fastest lap, there wasn't a great deal of action to enthral the crowd, although Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa added a little spice to proceedings by coming together for the fourth time this season.

With Hamilton relegated to fifth by his penalty for ignoring yellow flags in practice on Friday, it was down to Webber - or lightning start from either of the second row starters - to keep Vettel honest but, although Webber matched his team-mate's getaway, the German was comfortably in front as the field reached turn one. Fernando Alonso then fancied a shot at the Australian into the right-hander, but succeeded only in running wide and allowing Button through into third.

Further back, the chaos predicted for turn three arrived early as Rubens Barrichello clipped the back of Williams team-mate Pastor Maldonado and, in then having to move left, collected Kamui Kobayashi. The Japanese driver, having been forced into the run-off, opted to rejoin as directly as possible, straight into the path of the hapless Timo Glock. Kobayashi was out on the spot, while Glock made a pit-stop for repairs before also having to call it a day.

Barrichello needed a new front wing and pitted along with Sergio Perez, who got rid of his harder Pirellis, and Jarno Trulli, who needed a new rear tyre after being tagged by Narain Karthikeyan at turn three, while Vitaly Petrov and Paul di Resta both followed Sauber's lead in swapping hard rubber for soft.

The order at the front was shuffled further on the opening lap when Button drafted past Webber on the run to turn four, cementing himself in second place despite the Australian attempting to come back at him, and touching wheels with the McLaren, a couple of laps later. Hamilton, meanwhile, had lost a place to nemesis Massa off the line and continued to run in sixth through the first ten laps, with the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher - the latter after another fast start - trying to keep up with the McLaren.

By the end of lap ten, Vettel had been able to open out a near five-second lap advantage over Button, and the first round of pit-stops, which came shortly afterwards, did little to alter the order as the frontrunners each took on another set of soft tyres. Hamilton and Massa continued to run in close proximity, however, and, on lap 24, the Briton decided that the time had come to make his move.

Picking the quick turn five instead of either of the tighter corners at the end of the DRS zones, the Briton moved to the inside and had his front wheels alongside the Ferrari when Massa, clearly checking his mirrors, opted to turn in. The contact, based on recent races, was almost inevitable, although both cars were able to continue after taking to the tarmac run-off. Somehow, Massa maintained his position, but Hamilton, with damage to the front wing, needed to make another stop for a replacement, dropping to ninth as a result.

As with previous incidents between the pair, who stood together at the one-minute silence for Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli but still don't speak, the stewards decided that their intervention was needed but, this time, it was Massa who copped the penalty, dropping him to seventh just as Hamilton passed Jaime Alguersuari for eighth. Even though the Ferrari driver was reporting gearbox problems, there was no chance for battle to be rejoined as, having pitted for hard Pirelli and a new front wing, he clipped a kerb and broke his front suspension for the second time in as many days....

Massa's switch to the harder option tyre signalled the start of the second and final round of stops, although some tried (and failed) to stretch their efforts to a single stop. Webber was among the first to call, having seen his margin over Alonso cut by almost a second a lap, but Ferrari responded brilliantly, pitting its man two laps later and getting him back out ahead of the Australian. Webber attempted to stay with the Ferrari but ultimately had to settle for fourth, ensuring three world champions on the podium for India's first taste of F1.

With Hamilton and Massa out of the equation, the battle for fifth boiled down to a scrap between the two Mercedes, with Schumacher having moved ahead of Rosberg in the closing stages after delaying his second stop as long as possible. Having opened enough of a gap to give his crew a cushion, the seven-time champion was able to resume without losing a position, edging him closer to his team-mate in the overall standings after climbing from eleventh on the grid. Rosberg, meanwhile, had a big gap over the recovering Hamilton, who came home as the last unlapped runner.

Behind the subdued Briton, who has two races to regain the spark that made him the most exciting man in F1 in recent seasons, Alguersuari added to Toro Rosso's increasingly impressive tally, and benefited from Bruno Senna having to make a late stop to comply with the tyre rules to bring the Italian squad level with Sauber in the constructors' standings. STR also edged closer to Force India in the battle for sixth, despite the under-pressure Adrian Sutil gaining another couple of points for ninth, and would have moved clear of Sauber had Perez not made the most of his opening lap tyre change to claim the final scoring position.

Toro Rosso could have had two cars in the top ten had Sebastien Buemi not been forced to park his machine wreathed in smoke just moments after passing Hamilton for eighth. The Swiss joined Massa and Maldonado, who appeared to suffer a drive failure while running 13th, on the sidelines alongside the early casualties, while Senna's late stop dropped him behind Renault team-mate Vitaly Petrov in eleventh and twelfth. di Resta was a disgruntled 13th after his strategy failed to play out, while Heikki Kovalainen came home two laps down after being badly delayed by both HRTs while trying to keep ahead of the leaders in the closing laps. The Finn remained ahead of Barrichello, while Jerome d'Ambrosio salvaged Marussia Virgin's weekend by overhauling the HRTs that had run ahead of him early on. Trulli rejoined after his first lap contretemps, but struggled with floor damage on his Lotus before pitting a lap from the end.

Button's second place secured the same position for McLaren in the constructors' championship, while Vettel racked up another record after passing Nigel Mansell's 1992 mark for laps led in a single season. Those notables, however, won't help a race that was definitely more korma than vindaloo stand out from others when it comes to looking back over the season.


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