Sebastian Vettel has won the Indian Grand Prix at a canter to secure a fourth successive World Championship crown and ensure Red Bull Racing won its fourth Constructors’ Championship in as many years as well.
The German is the sport’s youngest-ever four-time World Champion and just the fourth ever to achieve the feat, joining the likes of Michael Schumacher, Juan Manuel Fangio and Alain Prost among the sport’s elite.
It was a race dominated by tyre strategy, and after converting pole position into the lead, Vettel elected to pit at the end of the second lap of the race to rid himself of the high-wearing Soft-compound Pirelli tyres.
That handed the lead to Felipe Massa, who had made a brilliant getaway from the third row of the grid to leap into second place on the opening lap.
It was an intense opening lap. Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso – both shod on the Medium compound tyres – made poor getaways, but Alonso’s was particularly rough, tagging both Webber and Jenson Button in a scruffy sequence of corners to earn himself a broken front wing and terminal steering damage.
The Spaniard had to pit at the end of the opening lap for a new nose, and managed to limp his battered car home eleventh – effectively meaning he could wear his celebratory helmet at next weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as well.
Also in the wars was Giedo van der Garde, who suffered his second successive first-lap retirement after being hit by Max Chilton’s Marussia.
Up at the front, Massa continued to lead from the Mercedes duo, while Vettel steadily worked his way forward after emerging on-track in 17th position after his stop.
As the remaining soft-tyre shod runners pitted in the opening dozen laps, Webber – the first of the Medium-tyre starters – assumed the race lead from Sergio Pérez in the McLaren.
The Australian’s lead ran until Lap 28 – by which point Vettel was up to second place – when he made his first pit stop, switching to the Soft-compound tyres and giving his teammate the race lead.
Vettel only held that for three laps before he made his second and final pit stop, staying on the Medium tyres and giving Webber the lead once again.
Webber’s soft-tyre stint lasted just one lap longer before he was back in for a final Medium-compound stint, emerging 13 seconds behind his teammate and faced with the unlikely prospect of trying to hunt down a driver who’d been quicker than him in every single session of the weekend.
That all became academic when – rather typically – the mice got into the machinery and Webber was out with an alternator failure, ruining what little prospect existed of a race to the line between the pair. You certainly had to feel for Webber, who stalked back to the pit lane and no doubt can’t wait until he takes up Le Mans racing next year.
Webber’s retirement promoted Kimi Räikkönen into second place, with the Finn trying to go the distance on a one-stop strategy after switching from the softs to the mediums on the seventh lap of the race.
Into the final ten laps of the race, Räikkönen was still hanging in there, although faced with the prospect of a fast-closing Nico Rosberg and Romain Grosjean, the latter of whom had driven heroically from his lowly 17th on the grid.
Grosjean was delivering possibly the best drive of his career and also pulling a monster stint on the Medium-compound tyres (having done an impressive thirteen-lap opening stint on the Softs).
Ultimately, Räikkönen’s poorer tyre condition proved his undoing, and he was quickly overhauled by Rosberg, Grosjean, Massa, Pérez and Hamilton before he peeled into the pits with two laps to grow, throwing on a set of soft tyres to claim seventh place and the fastest lap of the race.
Rosberg and Grosjean would complete the podium, while Massa finished a solid fourth and Pérez secured a season’s best fifth to give McLaren some solace. Teammate Jenson Button had a miserable race after his first-lap contact with Alonso, running well down the order before the team opted to park him on the final lap of the race, presumably to give him a fresh gearbox next time out.
Hamilton was a no-doubt disappointed sixth in the second Mercedes, finishing two spots ahead of the Force Indias of Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil, who delivered the team its first double points finish since the British Grand Prix.
Despite warnings from Pirelli that its soft and medium tyres should not be used for any more than 15 and 35 laps a stint respectively, the pair defied conjecture with excellent drives – particularly Sutil, who ran a 41-lap opening stint – to claim a nice six-point haul for the team.
Daniel Ricciardo picked up another point for Scuderia Toro Rosso with tenth place, driving a 33-lap opening stint that saw him run as high as second place before he switched briefly to the softs and then returned to medium-compound tyres to the finish. He and teammate Jean-Éric Vergne sandwiched the wounded Alonso and Pastor Maldonado in the Williams.
The remaining finishers comprised Esteban Gutiérrez – who copped a drive-through penalty for a jumped start and plenty of complaints about his on-track defence – Valtteri Bottas and the Marussias of Max Chilton and Jules Bianchi, with the tailender duo covered by by 0.7 seconds at the finish line.
But all eyes were really on Vettel when he received the chequered flag after the 60-lap race. The German completed his slow-down lap and then undertook a truly impressive post-race celebration with a series of near-perfect tyre-smoking doughnuts on the start/finish straight, before climbing out and bowing down to his car, and then scaling the catch fencing to throw his gloves into the ecstatic crowd.
No doubt the FIA rule-makers will deem that he’s broken a number of post-race procedures with his antics and will fine an amount equivalent to roughly six minutes of his wages, but it added a degree of unpredictability and joie de vivre that has otherwise been missing from the 2013 Formula 1 World Championship season.
You certainly can’t begrudge him his tremendous success, and the celebrations proved – perhaps just briefly, in spite of his phenomenal skills behind the wheel – that he is a mortal like the rest of us.
2013 Indian Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (60 laps):
|1.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing Renault RB9||60||1:31:12.187|
|2.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W04||60||+ 29.823|
|3.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Renault E21||60||+ 39.892|
|4.||Felipe Massa||Scuderia Ferrari F138||60||+ 41.692|
|5.||Sergio Pérez||McLaren Mercedes MP4-28||60||+ 43.829|
|6.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W04||60||+ 52.475|
|7.||Kimi Räikkönen||Lotus F1 Renault E21||60||+ 1:07.998|
|8.||Paul di Resta||Force India Mercedes VJM06||60||+ 1:12.868|
|9.||Adrian Sutil||Force India Mercedes VJM06||60||+ 1:14.734|
|10.||Daniel Ricciardo||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR8||60||+ 1:16.237|
|11.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari F138||60||+ 1:18.297|
|12.||Pastor Maldonado||Williams Renault FW35||60||+ 1:18.951|
|13.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR8||59||1 lap behind|
|14.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-28||59||Gearbox|
|15.||Esteban Gutiérrez||Sauber Ferrari C32||59||1 lap behind|
|16.||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Renault FW35||59||1 lap behind|
|17.||Max Chilton||Marussia Cosworth MR02||58||2 laps behind|
|18.||Jules Bianchi||Marussia Cosworth MR02||58||2 laps behind|
|19.||Nico Hülkenberg||Sauber Ferrari C32||54||Handling|
|DNF.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing Renault RB9||39||Alternator|
|DNF.||Charles Pic||Caterham Renault CT03||35||Hydraulics|
|DNF.||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham Renault CT03||1||Collision|