Given his pole position starting slot, it was certainly no surprise to see Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel take another dominant victory in India – his fourth in a row , continuing a run started at the end of September at the Singapore grand prix. What was perhaps more of a surprise, though, was that Fernando Alonso somehow hauled his Ferrari into second place, despite starting on only the third row of the grid, behind not just both Red Bulls, but also both McLarens.
Before looking at the top two, let’s pause briefly to look at McLaren’s race. Yet again, the team found themselves comprehensively outpaced by Red Bull Racing in Saturday qualifying, with the only surprise being that the eventual deficit to pole was only around a quarter of a second for Lewis Hamilton, who started ahead of his team-mate, Jenson Button, in third place on the grid.
While the race pace, particularly for Hamilton, was actually pretty good given that the Stevenage born driver finished just under 14 seconds behind race winner Vettel, McLaren, and their drivers, got things wrong at the start of the race. Hamilton and Button were busy squabbling among themselves at the start, as Hamilton’s poor getaway off the line allowed Button to breeze past him. As the two British drivers jockeyed for position they let Alonso take advantage to pass first Hamilton, pushing him down to fifth on the first lap, but a few laps later Button, who seemed to struggle for pace in the first stint in particular. Indeed, Hamilton soon re-passed his team-mate, too, just a lap after Alonso had cruised past using DRS.
Given that Hamilton crossed the line just 0.7 of a second behind third placed Mark Webber, who was struggling in the closing stage of the race with a KERS issue in his Red Bull, this first lap bickering probably cost the Englishman a podium finish, and possibly more with Alonso only a few seconds ahead at the end of the race. Hamilton, though, thought after the race that victory was beyond his reach, saying “”Even if I’d had a better start than I did, the guys in front were still maybe a bit too fast, particularly in the first stint”. As it was, the highlight of the race for McLaren was probably in the pits rather than on the track as they might have hoped. Hamilton pitted not only for fresh tyres, but also a new steering wheel, on lap 33. Hamilton explained the reasons for this after the race, “During that first stint I started having a downshift problem – I was having to change down with my right hand instead of my left, so the team elected to change the steering wheel at the pitstop”. The entire pit stop took just 3.3 seconds, or 3.1 by McLaren’s timing – an amazing achievement by both team and driver.
Sadly for McLaren and Hamilton, their speed in the pits didn’t quite translate into speed on the track, with Vettel in almost complete control from start to finish. Indeed, the German led every lap of the race, having now led 200 consecutive race laps, to take an imperious race win. The only slight worry for Vettel were the sparks coming from the underside of his Red Bull with just seven laps remaining. In the end, though, there was no cause for concern as Vettel who dismissed the incident, saying “I saw some sparks at the end from the car, but we saw a lot of cars throwing sparks this weekend, and we joined them”. His team was similarly unconcerned and the German took his 26th race win putting him seventh on the all time list of Formula 1 race winners one ahead of double world champion Jim Clark, and one behind triple world champion Sir Jackie Stewart.
Vettel, of course, is a double world champion himself, but after the result in India it’s looking increasingly likely that he might not only equal Stewart’s total of victories come the end of the season, but also his number of championships. Not only that, though, but Vettel remains in prime position to take his third consecutive world drivers’ championship – a feat only achieve by Juan Manuel Fangio in the 1950s, and more recently seven time world champion Michael Schumacher. Vettel is certainly a driver who takes great pleasure in such statistical achievements, and given his current form it would certainly be hard to bet against him.
One man who will be doing everything possible to upset the odds and take a third world drivers’ championship of his own, though, is Spain’s Fernando Alonso. While Vettel extended his championship lead over Alonso to 13 points with victory in India, my driver of the race award goes to the Spaniard. Starting in fifth position, victory was always going to be an uphill task with a Ferrari F2012 that is clearly not in the same class as the Red Bull RB8, which is really coming into its own toward the end of the season. Nevertheless, Alonso did everything he could to upset the form book and challenge for the win, passing both McLaren’s early on and an ailing Red Bull of Mark Webber with 12 laps to go.
The gap to Vettel was too big to bridge in India, though, with the German following his usual modus operandi and pulling himself clear of his team-mate, and the chasing pack, in the opening few laps of the race. While Alonso was unable to make up the time deficit to Vettel, even by overdriving in the final few laps, it is still quite possible that he may well overcome the points deficit at the end of the season. Certainly, with 75 points still on offer in the final three races of the season, a 13 point lead for Vettel is not enough for him to be comfortable just yet.
Vettel can take great comfort, though, that the pack of drivers chasing him for the 2012 world drivers’ championship is now thinning out. With a fifth place finish in India, Jenson Button saw the gap to Vettel in the championship grow to a now insurmountable 99 points. Button’s team-mate, Lewis Hamilton, and Vettel’s team-mate, Mark Webber, are still mathematically in the hunt for the title, but with a points deficit of 75 and 73 points respectively it would take nothing short of a miracle for either of the drivers to take the title. Certainly for Hamilton, three consecutive race wins would be needed, with three no scores for Vettel and a similarly disastrous run of results for Alonso, for him to take the title (on race wins). Webber would need a similarly unlikely run of results for his team-mate and Alonso. That leaves just Kimi Raikkonen, who saw his own deficit to Vettel grow to 67 points after finishing in seventh, behind Felipe Massa, in India. Given that the Finn has yet to win a race this season, it looks more likely that he’ll lose his third place in the championship to Webber or Hamilton than overhaul Alonso and Vettel.
That just leaves the top two. After the result in India, it is clear Ferrari and Alonso need to stop the rot to avoid falling further behind Vettel in the championship. In order to do that, they will certainly need to bring some extra performance to the car in a week’s time in Abu Dhabi, as Alonso acknowledged after the race in India, sayin “I think we need to bring some new parts to Abu Dhabi and hopefully improve a little bit the competitiveness of the car and get closer to Red Bulls on Saturday and hopefully Sunday as well”. The Abu Dhabi track is home to Ferrari World, maybe that’s an omen for Alonso and the Scuderia…
*Ahead of the race in Abu Dhabi, you might like to check out this interesting ‘Race Through Yas Marina Circuit’ created by sponsors Ethiad Airways. Race through Yas Marina Circuit allows you to drive around an animated version of the track, view images from the circuit including the pits, grandstands and previous winners and read about facts about the circuit such as the tech and manpower behind the construction. It also features information about Abu Dhabi’s most popular landmarks, a video of a full lap around the track and stats about key elements that can make the difference between winning and losing at Yas Marina Circuit. Check the preview video below, and explore the full feature at http://www.etihadairways.com/yasmarinacircuit