ROUND 16 – India, October 27, 2013
1st: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault) 1hr 31m 12.187s (202.130 km/h)
2nd: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) gap: 29.823s
3rd: Romain Grosjean (Lotus Renault) gap: 39.892s
Kimi Raïkkönen (Lotus Renault) 1:27.679 = 210.426 km/h on lap 60
Vettel 1:24.119 = 219.332 km/h
Vettel 322 points • Alonso 207 • Raïkkönen 183
For only the third time in Formula 1 history we have a World Champion who has taken the title in four consecutive years. Sebastian Vettel joined Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher in the sport’s pantheon when his 10th victory of 2013 and his third in a row at Buddh International Circuit put him beyond the reach of Fernando Alonso, whose Ferrari failed to make the top 10 in India. Vettel makes up a quartet of four-time champions which also includes Alain Prost.
Vettel’s sixth straight victory looked effortless: teammate Mark Webber, on the harder Pirelli tyre and a different strategy, dwelt on the line and later retired with an alternator failure, while the Mercedes pair of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton could never get near the 26-year-old German. Rosberg was second ahead of Romain Grosjean, who produced the drive of the day to bring his Lotus Renault through from 17th on the grid to the podium.
“I’m speechless,” said the normally verbose Vettel. “I crossed the line and I was empty. I took ages to think about something to say. It’s one of those moments when you want to say so many things but you can’t. It’s been such a phenomenal season,” he added, clearly having learned an adjective from his Australian teammate. “To join people like Prost, Michael and Fangio is unbelievable.”
By way of contrast, Webber was denied the chance to share the podium spotlight as Red Bull Renault also wrapped up their fourth straight Constructors’ Championship. “Did you say stop the car?” he asked disbelievingly as the race reached two-thirds distance with him in second place. “There was already a gearbox issue, which I’d informed the team about, but there was very little warning about the alternator,” said Webber, whose body language after his retirement was eloquent in itself. It was his third stoppage in the last four races and leaves him vulnerable to Rosberg, just four points behind as they fight for fifth place overall.
Alonso’s vain bid to keep the title race alive foundered on a first lap of bumping and barging that saw the Spaniard hit Webber among others in the sprint for the first corner. Pitting for repairs, he was on the back foot for the rest of the race and eventually came home 11th. Teammate Felipe Massa, in the last throes of his Ferrari career, claimed fourth place. On a relatively good day for McLaren Mercedes Sergio Perez produced a robust drive to score his best result of the year in fifth place. The Mexican responded to recent criticism with a late-race move that carried him past Raïkkönen and Hamilton: “Fifth place is a great result for me,” he said. “Without question, I have a lot of pressure on my shoulders, but it’s always sweeter when you perform well while under pressure. I’m extremely satisfied. In the closing laps, it was a fantastic feeling to get past Kimi and Lewis in a single move. I just braked as late as I could for Turn Four to try and keep Lewis behind – and I managed to do it. It’s been a tough season, but today’s result is a promising sign and really motivates the whole workforce ahead of the last three races.”
Summarily dealt with by Perez, Hamilton slipped to sixth, but that plus Rosberg’s podium meant Mercedes eased in front of Ferrari to second in the constructors’ standings. The German summed up the current state of Formula 1 perfectly afterwards. “Our target was to be the best of rest this weekend and it worked out perfectly,” he said.
Lotus too enjoyed contrasting fortunes. After a tactical mistake by the team in qualifying Grosjean started 17th but displayed his new-found maturity with a strong drive to the podium. It included some forceful dealings with departing team-mate Raïkkönen as the Finn’s tyres gave up the ghost towards the end. “I wouldn’t have bet a penny on me being on the podium today,” said Grosjean after his third consecutive top-three finish. Coming home seventh, Raïkkönen had the minor consolation of setting fastest race lap on the last of the 60 after a last-gasp stop for fresh rubber.
While Indian-led Sauber were unable to keep their recent good form going, Force India delighted the Buddh crowd by getting both of their drivers into the top 10 for the first time since the British Grand Prix half a season ago. Paul di Resta came home in eighth place, one ahead of Adrian Sutil as the drivers split their strategies. “We took an aggressive strategy by pitting at the end of the first lap to change from softs to medium tyres – which was always the plan,” the Scot explained. “After that we effectively split the race in two and I pitted again for my second set of medium tyres on lap 30.” Sutil meanwhile risked a one-stopper and it paid off handsomely with the German’s first points haul in the last three outings.
Last but not least, Aussie Dan Ricciardo claimed his first point in four races when he brought the Toro Rosso home in 10th place. Disappointed to be outpaced by the Force Indias, Ricciardo praised his 2014 team-mate Vettel and also borrowed a Mark Webber adjective in doing so: “Vettel? Phenomenal!” he said. “Particularly since the summer break, when he grabbed the title and never let anyone else look at it.”
Coming up: round 17 in Abu Dhabi
The pressure’s off, with both titles done and dusted – but don’t expect Vettel to lift the right foot just yet. The all-time record for the number of race wins in a single season belongs to M. Schumacher, Esq. If Vettel can keep his current run going he could still equal that score…