Indian GP - Sunday - Race Report
Sebastian Vettel won his fourth consecutive world championship in style as he started from the pole and then fought his way from 17th back to first to win the Indian Grand Prix.
"First of all I would love to say thank you to the crowd," he said after celebrating on the podium with Nico Rosberg who finished second and Romain Grosjean who took third. "Unbelievable reception today. It's a shame we are not racing here next year.
"I crossed the line; I was empty. I took ages thinking about something to say. It's one of these moments you wish to say so many things but you can't. Phenomenal season.
"The spirit inside the team is so strong that... I said it on the radio, it gives me so much power that, it's a pleasure to jump in the car and go out for the guys and just try to give it all I have. The car was phenomenal today. It was phenomenal all season to be honest. I couldn't ask for more."
The Red Bulls had been untouchable in practice, and Vettel duly put his car on pole. Teammate Mark Webber would also have been on the front row of the grid for the 60-lap race but he and the team decided to go for a different strategy and start the race on the medium compound Pirelli slicks. He qualified fourth.
Vettel, on pole, and Mercedes teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, who qualified second and third, were all on the soft tires. The question was, how long would the softs last?
Red Bull didn't bother to find out. The team planned all along to have Vettel pit at the end of lap two, dump the softs, and get on the mediums tires. He blasted away at the start and pulled out a 2.4 second gap after just one lap. After his early stop he was back in 17th.
Webber's strategy took a hit at the start when made a slow launch and then banged against Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus. Webber was seventh at the end of lap one.
Felipe Massa took the lead on lap three and held it for six laps until he brought his Ferrari into the pits for the medium tires. That put Webber out front on lap 9.
Vettel had led every single lap of the first two editions of the Indian Grand Prix, and the first two of the 2013 version. So Massa became the first driver other than Vettel to lead the race. He would eventually finish fourth.
"I managed to always run at a good pace, even with the soft tires," Massa said. "Here, I could have fought for the podium, but as the track evolved, some cars, such as Grosjean in the Lotus, managed to make just one stop, which was impossible for us. I lost a position to Rosberg, who came in early for his second stop, but I have to be happy with this day when we made no mistakes."
Meanwhile, the Mercedes duo had also made their stops, and that dropped them back into the pack. They would spend the rest of the race fighting back towards the front.
Webber led laps 9 to 28 and then made his first stop. Vettel, who had worked his way up to second by lap 21, took the lead on lap 29 and then made his second and final stop on lap 31. After a short stint on the soft tires, Webber led lap 32 and then pitted for another set of mediums.
Vettel retook first place on lap 33 and led the rest of the way to win his 10th race of the season.
"We work so hard all year to try and make that car faster," Vettel said. "The guys are pushing. You could argue that it's the fifth season with this generation of cars. Next year it will be a new generation, but you still see issues that we have. Unfortunately Mark (Webber) had a problem with the alternator, similar to last year. Out of precaution, I wasn't allowed to use the drinks bottle in the race, we switched the KERS off, we did everything to try and save energy at the end."
Webber was heading for second when the team told him to stop. The alternator had failed on his car.
"I felt some problems with the gearbox and I told the guys but they thought it would clear but it seemed to come back almost immediately," he said.
Lotus teammates Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean tried to do the entire 60 laps with just one pit stop each. It almost worked for Raikkonen who was second with nine laps to go. But his tires were so worn out that he started to fade back. He pitted with three laps to go so that he could hold on to seventh place.
"We ran maybe the first twenty laps with no brakes as they had overheated massively," Raikkonen said, "so every time I got close to somebody I lost braking. At the end of the race I ran out of tire performance too so it's been a pretty disappointing day. I knew the tires would drop off quite quickly, but there wasn't much to lose between trying to get to the end and making an extra pit stop in terms of time lost. In the end it didn't work."
Grosjean qualified way back in 17th and crossed the line in third place.
"If you had told me yesterday that I'd be on the podium here I would have said you were crazy!" he said. "Straight from the beginning of the race I felt very comfortable on the option tires and we looked in pretty good shape, then we fitted the mediums and the car was really quick. I lost quite a lot of time behind (Esteban) Gutierrez which maybe cost us the fight for second, but we managed to come back from that well.
"When I saw that I was fourth in front of (Felipe) Massa with 27 laps to go I knew it was going to be close with him as we had to take care of the tires, plus we had an engine issue at the end of the race which made things quite tricky. In the final laps Kimi was really struggling with his tires so I managed to pass him and luckily had enough pace to keep Felipe behind. Before the race our best prediction was fourth if we had a strong start and a perfect race, so it was an amazing result and a great performance from the team."
Rosberg, 12th after his first pit stop, took over second place on lap 52.
"A great job from Sebastian today and his fourth title is well deserved," he said. "For our team, it was a very important race today. We scored a lot of points and climbed back up to second place in the constructors' championship. I'm quite confident that we can keep that position until the end of the season as the team is doing a great job and our car looks good but it will be a fight.
"I had good pace today and we really nailed the set-up here. The team did a fantastic job on the strategy and thanks to the boys for that. The only thing which didn't work out perfectly was when I dropped behind Felipe (Massa) at the start as it was not easy to overtake him on the track, but then we managed to clear him in the pits. Our target was to be the best of rest this weekend and it worked out perfectly."
Sergio Perez did a long 28 lap stint on his first set of tires, which moved him up from ninth to second. He finished fifth in his McLaren.
"Unlike the past two or three weekends, I was finally able to enjoy a clean race without any bad luck!" Perez said. "Fifth place is a great result for me. Without question, I have a lot of pressure on my shoulders, but it's always sweeter when you perform well while under pressure. I'm extremely satisfied.
"In the closing laps, it was a fantastic feeling to get past Kimi (Raikkonen) and Lewis (Hamilton) in a single move. I just braked as late as I could for Turn Four to try and keep Lewis behind - and I managed to do it."
Hamilton had to settle for sixth.
"The car has been pretty good this weekend but the race was frustrating for me," he said. "I tried so hard to get past Felipe (Massa) but it just wasn't possible and unfortunately I destroyed my tires in doing so. Finishing in sixth place is never satisfying but we've got three more races and we'll keep pushing. I'm confident that we can get some more good results to keep the team in second place and we'll keep fighting to achieve just that."
Force India teammates Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil finished eighth and ninth. Sutil and Grosjean were the only two drivers to pit only once.
"My one-stop strategy was the riskier approach and it was only during the race that we decided to go ahead with it," Sutil said. "The medium tires, which I started on, were performing really well and I realized that doing a one-stop race was possible. We thought that the soft tires would only last around five laps, so I made sure I really looked after them, and in the end I managed just under twenty laps."
Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo rounded out the top 10 and fended off Fernando Alonso in the wounded Ferrari.
"Today," Alonso said, "the problem I had on the first lap compromised my entire race, because we had to immediately change the nose and with one extra stop, without any opportunity to overtake, it was all an uphill struggle. In front of me, Webber touched someone and then me, and then at Turn 4 I also touched with Button.
The steering felt very heavy in right hand turns and the only thing to do was pit. If you look at Webber's race or Perez's then I'd say our strategy was good, because when the others began to pit, those two were leading, but it's also true that it went well for those who started on the softs.
"I must congratulate Vettel, because in this, as in other sports, it's the best that win."
Vettel is the youngest consecutive four-time champion in F1 history.
"To join people like Prost, Fangio and Michael is unbelievable," said Vettel. "I think this is one of the best days in my life so far!"