Sebastian Vettel survived a late scare with his car’s floor to claim his fourth consecutive victory today. He lead every lap at the Buddh International Circuit, with championship rival Fernando Alonso claiming second. Mark Webber just managed to hold onto the final podium place.
It was a relatively clean start as Vettel saw off a challenge from his team mate Webber in the short run to the first corner. But behind, the Ferraris and McLarens duelled down the long back straight, with Button managing to hold onto third, Alonso improving to fourth and Hamilton dropping to fifth.
Meanwhile Michael Schumacher’s race was compromised straight away. After a disappointing qualifying session yesterday, he was hit by Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne at the first corner, resulting in an instant puncture. Both cars would manage to recover to the pits for repairs.
Not long later, Alonso managed to pass Button for third as it became evident the McLarens were struggling for pace. Hamilton was also able to find a way past his team mate, whilst behind Kimi Raikkonen got used to the sight of Felipe Massa’s rear wing.
Despite a lack of action towards the front of the field, there was some good battling elsewhere. On lap fourteen, Nico Hulkenberg managed to pass Sauber’s Sergio Perez for eight place, with Perez pitting not long afterwards. Elsewhere, Romain Grosjean was involved in a titanic scrap with the two Williams cars of Bruno Senna and Pastor Maldonado for tenth place. Grosjean eased ahead in the DRS zone, whilst Senna capitalised on his team mate’s battle to move up a place as all three began to gain on the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg ahead.
Following an early pit stop, Perez had dropped behind Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo, and was soon trying to find a way past once again. But, in a near identical incident to what befell Vergne and Schumacher, Perez received a puncture after trying to overtake the Australian at turn one. He would retire into the pits only two laps later.
Grosjean had soon found a way past the slow Mercedes of Rosberg, the German manufacturer once again showing a lack of pace as Schumacher failed to make progress back through the field.
With tyre degradation not being such an issue at the Indian circuit, a one stop strategy seemed to be the way to go for many of the teams. Jenson Button was the first of the big names to pit on lap twenty six. Having been struggling for pace in fifth, he re-joined in ninth.
Two laps later and Raikkonen and Rosberg were in the pits, the Finnish driver frustrated by his lack of straight line speed, meaning he’d been stuck behind Felipe Massa since the start of the race. Ferrari reacted and brought Massa in two laps later. Initial it appeared as if Raikkonen had done enough to jump Massa as he passed the Ferrari man whilst he was coming out the pit lane. However, with a DRS zone only a few corners later, Raikkonen was powerless to stop Massa flying by once again.
Towards the front of the field, Fernando Alonso had begun to gain on Mark Webber for second, but was soon to pit. Not long later, Hamilton, Webber and Vettel made their mandatory stops with the order remaining unchanged, but Alonso now closer to Webber than he had been at any point previously in the race.
There was still great action to be found in the mid pack, with the Williams drivers once again right in the thick of it. Kamui Kobayashi, Maldonado and Senna all found themselves sharing the same piece of race track, as Maldonado dived past the Japanese driver. But at the very next corner, there was the slightest contact between Kobayashi’s front wing and Maldonado’s rear tyre, resulting in yet another puncture with Maldonado ending off track.
He recovered to the pits, not before delaying Vettel as he re-joined the track however.
At this point, Massa was told that fuel was “critical” for him, which questioned whether Alonso had the same issue. He continued to gain on Webber, but could not find a way past for now, even with use of DRS. Further back, Grosjean and Button battled over fifth and sixth places, the long stopping Lotus driver managing to hold off Button on his newer tyres. Senna, having survived various problems around him, and managed to pass Rosberg’s Mercedes for the final points position.
Hamilton meanwhile, had suddenly found pace and was gaining on both Webber and Alonso ahead of him. But Webber was struggling – his KERS had failed, and despite reassurances from Red Bull that it’d “come back” – it failed to do so and Alonso easily breezed past thanks to DRS on the long back straight to move into second.
Vettel was still comfortably in the lead by ten seconds, but had a brief scare. A part of his car’s floor had become loose and was sparking on the ground. Alonso was informed of Vettel’s problem and encouraged to push, but with only a handful of laps to go there wasn’t enough time to capitalise – indeed, the Ferrari driver had an off track moment of his own in his bid to catch Vettel.
Vettel took the chequered flag, his winning margin being just a shade over nine seconds by the end of the race. Alonso finished second to keep his title hopes alive, whilst Webber just saw off a late challenge by Lewis Hamilton to remain in third. Hamilton was backed up by his team mate Jenson Button in fifth, with Massa holding off Raikkonen to the end, whilst Hulkenberg, Grosjean and Senna completed the top ten.
Vettel extends his championship lead over Alonso to thirteen points with three races to go. The teams now move on to Abu Dhabi, with the race at the Yas Marina circuit – where Vettel claimed his first title back in 2010 – taking place in just seven days’ time.