Sebastian Vettel overcame an early pit stop to take a dominant victory in the Indian Grand Prix, to seal his fourth consecutive World Championship with three races to spare.
It was a bittersweet day for the Infiniti Red Bull Racing team, however. After looking like taking a one-two finish, Mark Webber was forced to retire with alternator failure. Despite this, Red Bull still did enough to take their fourth constructors’ championship in as many years.
As expected though, Vettel’s victory certainly wasn’t as straight forward as in recent races. The German made a good start, with the real man on the move being Felipe Massa, who jumped from fifth place on the grid to second. Behind were Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, while Mark Webber was lucky to escape significant front wing damage after contact with Kimi Raikkonen at the first turn.
Fernando Alonso wasn’t so lucky, and damaged his front wing after contact with both Webber, and later at turn four with Jenson Button. Any hope of a strong result after starting on the prime tyre therefore disappeared, and the Ferrari man was forced to pit for a replacement wing at the end of lap two.
Vettel was in the pits too, making the switch on to the harder tyre, promoting Felipe Massa to the lead. The champion elect re-joined on track down in nineteenth place, but was soon charging back through the pack. His only remaining championship challenger, Alonso, was not making such good progress and was struggling with damage sustained in his first lap skirmishes.
By the end of lap eight, all the leading contenders who had started on the option tyre had made a visit to the pit lane, meaning that as had been expected, Mark Webber led. McLaren’s Sergio Perez held a strong second place, with Daniel Ricciardo in third, the pair of them on the same strategy as Webber.
Perez’s team mate Jenson Button had hoped to copy Perez’s strategy, but was forced to pit early following the lap one contact. It therefore cost him any chance of scoring points, with him being classified in fourteenth position at the end of the race.
By this stage, Vettel was already back up into sixth place. The Red Bull man quickly dispatched Adrian Sutil, the long stopping Romain Grosjean and Daniel Ricciardo to take third, and began to close down Perez. Such was Vettel’s meteoric progress, it became clear that any hope Webber had of winning the race was ebbing away.
Romain Grosjean was making good progress and only stopped at the end of lap 13 – far further than anyone else had managed to do on the soft tyres. It was the start of an amazing comeback from the Frenchman, who would end up on the podium after starting in seventeenth.
Further down the pack and Fernando Alonso and Esteban Gutierrez were enjoying a good scrap outside the points. The Mexican Sauber driver scored his first ever points last time out in Japan, but looked unlikely to repeat that performance after serving a drive through penalty for jumping the start.
Vettel’s progress continued as he overtook Sergio Perez for second, the McLaren driver not fighting the position too hard as his team had instructed. In clear air, Vettel then began into Webber’s advantage, before the Australian made his first stop at the end of lap twenty eight to take on the soft tyres.
Vettel therefore took over the lead in earnest, but soon handed the position back to Webber when he made his second stop at the end of lap thirty one. But Webber’s time back in the lead would be short lived as he soon pitted only a few laps later for his final stop.
With the pit stop cycle completed, it looked as if Red Bull was heading for a comfortable one-two. Any hope of that disappeared on lap forty however, with Webber pulling off track with alternator failure.
His nearest challenger having now retired, Vettel was left with a comfortable margin over Kimi Raikkonen and Nico Rosberg, but there was still action to come from behind.
Raikkonen was gambling on going to the end of the race after an earlier stop, but soon began to lose pace. Nico Rosberg quickly closed on the Lotus, before dispatching the Finn with a DRS assisted overtake. It wouldn’t be the only position he’d lose before the end, with Grosjean, Massa, Hamilton and Perez all gaining on him.
With only a few laps to go, Grosjean had caught his team mate, and attempted to overtake him around the outside at turn four. He took the position by running off the road, but sensibly handed the position back to avoid penalty. With Massa gaining on the pair however, Lotus instructed Kimi to let Grosjean go with some rather colourful language, before Massa quickly found a way through as well.
Hamilton and Perez were still gaining however, but with the two drivers ahead of him struggling with tyre wear, Perez managed to pass both Hamilton and Raikkonen in one go. He completed the move in the DRS zone to move up to fifth place, with Hamilton further demoting Raikkonen. Accepting defeat, the Lotus driver pitted with only a couple of laps to go. Such was the gap to eighth place man Paul di Resta, he was still able to remain in seventh.
Vettel nursed his car to the end to take his sixth consecutive race victory, and his tenth of the 2013 season. Nico Rosberg and the superb Romain Grosjean completed the podium with early race leader Felipe Massa and Sergio Perez rounding out the top five. In doing so, the Mexican equalled McLaren’s best finish this season. Lewis Hamilton dropped from third on the grid to finish sixth, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen.
There was joy for the Sahara Force India team as they saw both cars finish in the points at their home race, with di Resta getting the better of Sutil for eighth and ninth. 2014 Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo took the final point with tenth place, seeing off the attention of Fernando Alonso. It was a dismal day for the Ferrari driver, who failed to score points in races he has finished for the first time since Silverstone 2010.
Caterham also suffered a torrid day with both their drivers retiring, the only other two cars along with Webber failing to make the finish. Charles Pic retired with mechanical problems, whilst an angry Giedo van der Garde was forced out after contact with Max Chilton on the first lap. Chilton still managed to hold off team mate Jules Bianchi for “new team” honours.
Vettel was left to complete some crowd pleasing doughnuts in front of the main grand stand, before throwing his gloves into the crowd. It was a nice gesture as he joins the elite list of drivers to have won four titles along with Juan Manuel Fangio, Alain Prost and his childhood hero, Michael Schumacher.
The next race takes place in just one week in Abu Dhabi at the Yas Marinas Circuit.