The back half of the 2012 Formula 1 World Championship is beginning, more and more, to resemble last year’s campaign, after Sebastian Vettel cruised to his fourth consecutive race win with a dominant display at the Indian Grand Prix.
The German overcame a loose front aero splitter to lead home a hard-charging Fernando Alonso, while Mark Webber suffered a late-race KERS failure, managing to fend off a fast-closing Lewis Hamilton for the final podium spot.
The result gives Vettel a 13-point cushion over Alonso in the Drivers’ Championship standings. With three races left to run and Red Bull Racing showing incredible end of season form over its rivals, it’s looking more and more likely that he will claim a hat-trick of championship titles with just three races left to run.
In warm and very hazy conditions, Vettel managed to convert pole position into a race lead that would never be threatened, marginally squeezing team-mate Webber on the short blast to Turn 1. From that point, he was never headed, skipping away into an early lead to occupy first lap for each of the race’s 60 laps.
There was some drama at the first corner when Michael Schumacher was clipped by Jean-Éric Vergne under braking for Turn 1. Schumacher picked up a right-rear puncture, while Vergne pitted for damage to his front wing. Neither was a factor for the rest of the race, with Schumacher touring around in last position before retiring his car with a handful of laps to go in order to secure a new gearbox for next weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
That was one of three punctures witnessed during the race, in what was an alarming trend of front wings tagging tyres. Sergio Pérez turned in too early on Daniel Ricciardo as he attempted a passing move and saw his Pirelli go pop, and that led to the Mexican’s retirement at one-third distance.
|Punctures were the order of the day at the Indian Grand Prix…|
That wouldn’t be the last of it, as Pastor Maldonado suffered the same fate after he was clipped by Kamui Kobayashi at Turn 5. He would limp back to the pits and finish a lowly 16th.
The only other retirement came to Pedro de la Rosa, whose cooling-poor HRT suffered a sudden brake failure at the end of the back straight, sending the hapless Spaniard careering backwards into the barriers – fortunately without injury to the veteran driver.
Just behind him, a fast and exciting battle raged between Alonso and the two McLarens. As Button and McLaren diced for third place along the back straight on the opening lap, Alonso picked up an almighty slipstream to overtake both of them before Turn 4, only to be re-passed by both on the run into Turn 5.
On the next lap, Alonso tried again, using a high top-gear ratio and a helping of DRS to slingshot past Hamilton, before repeating the same trick on Button three laps later.
It was a clever set-up call by Ferrari, who tweaked both Alonso and Massa’s F2012s to be ultra-quick in a straight line, while their rivals at McLaren and Lotus – as Kimi Räikkönen found out all race – were being made to pay for opting for too much downforce at the expense of straightline speed.
Up at the front, Vettel ran a one-stop strategy and claimed an untroubled 26th career win, moving him ahead of Jim Clark and Niki Lauda on the all-time winners’ list, and only one short of the tally claimed by Sir Jackie Stewart.
He was thwarted from claiming back-to-back grand chelems – pole, leading every lap and posting the fastest lap of the race – when Jenson Button recorded the fastest tour of the Buddh International Circuit on the final lap of the race.
Behind him, Alonso managed to overhaul Webber with just over a dozen laps to run, courtesy of the Australian being stymied by a KERS failure. After breezing by the hobbled Red Bull, Alonso set about trying to chase down Vettel in the closing laps, but ran out of time and grip to make a grandstand finish even look remotely likely.
|After breezing past team-mate Button, Hamilton set about chasing down the KERS-hobbled Webber|
Webber’s troubles gave fourth-placed Hamilton the impetus to stage a bid for the final podium slot. After rapidly closing down the gap to Webber, a mistake on the penultimate lap gave the Aussie enough breathing space to secure third place, while Hamilton crossed the finish line in his wheeltracks to salvage fourth.
Button finished fifth after battling with vibrations brought on by flat-spotting a front tyre, while Felipe Massa claimed another points finish with a solid drive to sixth place.
After managing to leapfrog Massa in the round of pit stops, he was immediately overtaken by the Brazilian on his outlap when Massa had the benefit of DRS.
Nico Hülkenberg salvaged plenty of Force India pride with an excellent drive to eighth place, a welcome recovery after the team’s poor qualifying performance on Saturday and equally important given the enormous number of VIP guests in attendance for the team’s ‘home’ race.
Ninth place went to Romain Grosjean – who bucked the trend of much of the field by starting on the harder-compound Pirellis and running a long opening stint – while Bruno Senna drove a sensible, error-free race to snatch the final point with tenth place, with the highlight being a great overtaking move on Nico Rosberg around the outside of Turn 4.
|Bruno Senna recovered from his qualifying woes to deliver Williams another points’ finish, while Nico Hülkenberg auditioned for a Sauber seat with another fine race for Force India|
Rosberg finished outside the points to continue Mercedes’ miserable run over the last three races, which have not seen either of the team’s cars finish in the points. How his win at China must seem like an eternity ago, but at least the team has some consolation in the fact that their main rivals, Sauber, also had a point-less weekend.
After Pérez’s retirement, it was all on the shoulder of Kamui Kobayashi to deliver something of a result. But the Japanese has struggled all weekend long here, and he never looked like challenging for points. Such was the performance between he and Pérez, that it certainly won’t help his chances being retained by the team for 2013, particularly with the rumours linking Hülkenberg to a seat with the Swiss team…
The celebrations were raucous but brief in the Red Bull garages, with the teams having to rapidly get their packing gear together in order to ship their entire freight over to the United Arab Emirates for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix next weekend.
Despite the Indian Grand Prix organisers again putting on a good show – the decision to put Martin Brundle in charge of the post-race podium interviews was a masterstroke, and one that should be considered a full-time appointment – fans and the media alike were almost unanimous in their criticism of the race itself, which was rather processional by 2012 standards.
At least we all know that next weekend’s race at Yas Marina will be a snoozefest, although one will hope for something other than a Vettel win in order to breath life back into the 2012 championship race.
2012 Indian Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (60 laps):
|1.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing Renault RB8||60||1:31:10.744|
|2.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari F2012||60||+ 9.437|
|3.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing Renault RB8||60||+ 13.217|
|4.||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren Mercedes MP4-27||60||+ 13.909|
|5.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-27||60||+ 26.266|
|6.||Felipe Massa||Scuderia Ferrari F2012||60||+ 44.674|
|7.||Kimi Räikkönen||Lotus F1 Renault E20||60||+ 45.227|
|8.||Nico Hülkenberg||Force India Mercedes VJM05||60||+ 54.998|
|9.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Renault E20||60||+ 56.103|
|10.||Bruno Senna||Williams Renault FW34||60||+ 1:14.975|
|11.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG F1 W03||60||+ 1:21.694|
|12.||Paul di Resta||Force India Mercedes VJM05||60||+ 1:22.815|
|13.||Daniel Ricciardo||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7||60||+ 1:26.064|
|14.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber Ferrari C31||60||+ 1:26.495|
|15.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7||59||1 lap behind|
|16.||Pastor Maldonado||Williams Renault FW34||59||1 lap behind|
|17.||Vitaly Petrov||Caterham Renault CT01||59||1 lap behind|
|18.||Heikki Kovalainen||Caterham Renault CT01||59||1 lap behind|
|19.||Charles Pic||Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01||59||1 lap behind|
|20.||Timo Glock||Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01||59||1 lap behind|
|21.||Narain Karthikeyan||HRTF1 Cosworth F112||58||2 laps behind|
|22.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes AMG F1 W03||55||Gearbox|
|DNF.||Pedro de la Rosa||HRTF1 Cosworth F112||44||Brakes|
|DNF.||Sergio Pérez||Sauber Ferrari C31||20||Puncture|
|Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-27||60||1:28.203|