Sebastian Vettel headed up the ninth Red Bull Racing 1-2 finish in F1 history at Istanbul Park on Sunday to open up a commanding 34-point lead in the 2011 Drivers’ World Championship after four of the scheduled 20 races.
Vettel, who had to bounce back from a Friday accident to claim his fourth straight pole position in 2011, used that advantage to the maximum, sprinting into a lead he never relinquished through another entertaining 58-lap Grand Prix.
Behind him Australia’s Mark Webber fought a race-long duel with Ferrari star Fernando Alonso after the two of them were briefly bottled up behind Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes in the opening stages of the race.
With just 10 laps remaining on a day when there were 78 pit stops, all three front-runners made a late call for tyres – their fourth of the afternoon – before Webber caught Alonso in a thrilling sprint to the line.
Once again Webber produced the move of the day, a superbly-executed round-the-outside pass on Alonso on lap 52, to claim second place, making his sequence of results in 2011 5-4-3-2 and moving up into third in the standings behind Vettel and McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton.
For Vettel it was the 13th victory of his 66-race F1 career, but the World Champion is keeping a tight lid on talk of an easy stroll to a second straight title: “I think that the day you start to think that you are unbeatable is the day you get beaten, for sure,” he said after his third win of 2011.
“We all try to win, obviously, and all try to be better than the other guys but I think there’s always someone at some point who will teach you a lesson and will give you a very hard time and beat you.”
Always pragmatic in his approach to the job, Webber stressed that they were all playing catch-up behind his 23-year-old team-mate: “It’s up to us to do the best we can to try and bring this to a stop sooner rather than later,” he said.
“Every driver on the grid has weaknesses, some more than others but it’s up to you to try and interrogate those sometimes when you can and that’s what being in sport is all about.”
Webber revealed that his stirring drive in the last race in China, where he went from 18th on the grid to the podium, was on his mind as the race in Turkey wound down: “I was saying to myself, ‘I can’t finish third having started 18th on the grid and then finish third having started on the front row.’ So I needed to finish second, so thank God we did that.”
Alonso was also down-to-earth as he reflected on Ferrari’s first podium of the year: “Finally we enjoy racing again,” he grinned after a race in which he overhauled Webber for second spot at two-thirds distance but had to yield again right at the end.
Behind the flying front three there was a remarkable gap of 30 seconds to fourth-placed Hamilton, who was never in contention for a second straight win of 2011 but laid on some spectacular entertainment in his own race-long joust with McLaren team-mate Jenson Button.
The pair were eventually separated by Rosberg, who got away to a great start, relegating Webber to third off the line, but had to give best after four laps and was never able to reproduce his qualifying pace in race trim.
Lotus Renault confirmed their status as ‘best of the rest’ as Nick Heidfeld and Vitaly Petrov claimed seventh and eighth, while there was further encouragement for Red Bull’s sister team Toro Rosso as Sébastien Buemi finished ninth – his second top-10 result of the season – ahead of Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi. The Japanese ‘did a Webber’, blasting through the field from 24th on the grid after an engine failure in qualifying to secure the final point of the day in 10th.
Fastest lap of the race went to Webber with a 1:29.703 on lap 48, an average speed of 214.226 km/h. As the Australian bids to complete his sequence of results by making it 5-4-3-2-1 he need only wait until May 22 when the teams return to Barcelona, the track that yielded the first of Webber’s four victories in 2010.
1. Vettel 93 points
2. Hamilton 59
3. Webber 55
4. Button 46
5. Alonso 41
6. Massa 24
1. Red Bull Racing 148 points
2. McLaren-Mercedes 105
3. Ferrari 65