Another perfect day for Vettel… Hamilton and Massa clash yet again… Webber finishes just off podium… and drivers pay tribute to Dan and Marco.
Sebastian Vettel won the inaugural Grand Prix of India for Red Bull Renault, leading every one of the 60 laps to claim his 11th victory of the season and the 21st of his World Championship career. For once, though, the focus in F1 was not on tyres, engines and statistics, but on the wider picture. Before the race began the drivers and other figures from F1 gathered on the grid to observe a minute’s silence for Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli, both of whom had lost their lives in the previous two weeks.
In his moment of triumph after the race Vettel remembered the two great talents lost to motor sport. “A little bit mixed emotions,” admitted the 24-year-old German. “It’s the first Grand Prix in India, I’m very proud to be the first winner, but looking back at the last two weeks we lost two of our mates and our thoughts are with them.”
Vettel raced into the lead from his 13th pole position of 2011 and was never headed, setting a new record for the number of race laps led by any driver in a single season as he beat Jenson Button’s McLaren Mercedes by 8.4 seconds, with the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso almost a further 16 seconds behind in third place.
“All in all it was a very smooth race,” said Vettel, who also set the fastest race lap of 1:27.249, an average speed of 211.643 km/h, to complete the perfect weekend for any driver with pole, race victory and fastest lap. His pole was also the 16th for Red Bull in 2011, another new record for any team in a single season.
Button, fourth on the grid, grabbed second spot with a decisive overtaking move on Mark Webber’s Red Bull Renault, which started from the front row, on the long main straight on the opening lap. The Australian then lost out to Alonso when the two stopped for the last time at two-thirds distance.
“Last race I really struggled first lap so I wanted to redeem myself here,” said Button. “I managed to get Mark into Turn 4,” he explained, “then Mark proceeded to push me for the next eight laps – push me very, very hard. He had a go into Turn 4: we both braked very late, both ran wide, I kept the position and then I was able to kick in and pull a gap. Then it was basically trying to hang on to Sebastian!”
Alonso also admitted he had been worried by Webber’s late race pace: “With more laps the podium was getting more and more difficult so the finish arrived just at the right moment,” grinned the Spaniard. “To taste the champagne in the first race in a new country is a nice feeling.”
With Webber fourth, Michael Schumacher then won his private battle with Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg to finish fifth of the 19 classified drivers. Australia’s other driver, Daniel Ricciardo in the HRT Cosworth, equalled his best F1 result with 18th.
Once again one of the main talking-points of the race was a collision between Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren Mercedes and the Ferrari of Felipe Massa. It happened after 24 laps as Hamilton tried to force his way up the inside at Turn 5, the Brazilian cut across and there was contact.
“Felipe just turned in on me, he gave me no space,” said Hamilton to his team via radio, and the stewards agreed: Massa was given a drive-through penalty, then worse followed when the Ferrari’s front left suspension failed after heavy contact with the kerbs and he retired just 10 laps later.
Hamilton overcame the vibration induced by his clash with Massa to come home seventh ahead of the impressive Jaime Alguersuari in the Toro Rosso, with Adrian Sutil’s Force India and the Sauber of Sergio Perez rounding out the top 10.
Toro Rosso’s strong late-season form means they are now level on 41 points with Sauber in the fight for seventh place overall, and both teams still have sixth place, currently occupied by Force India on 51, in their sights.
Vettel closed with words of praise for the latest new venue in F1. “It was great to be here,” he said. “Having had debuts in several places in the last few years,” he said, “this is one of the races that will settle in quickly and we will all be happy to come back.”
When he was allowed to think about racing, Vettel was quick to dispel any thoughts of easing off with the title won and the season almost at an end. “The whole team’s still hungry,” he grinned, “and the best thing is we still have two races to go!” The next of those two is the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina on November 14.
1. Vettel 374 points
2. Button 240
3. Alonso 227
4. Webber 221
5. Hamilton 202
1. Red Bull Renault 595 points
2. McLaren Mercedes 442
3. Scuderia Ferrari 325