With just four races left of the current F1 Championship, there was still a mathematical chance for the title race between Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel to stay alive.
It would be the last visit to the Buddh International Circuit on the F1 calendar for now, due to political and financial implications behind the scenes involving many different parties, but the racing was the main focus of what the drivers and teams were there for.
The big news heading into the weekend was that Scuderia Toro Rosso had announced their second driver that would pair with Jean-Eric Vergne in 2014. Russia’s 19-year-old racing sensation, Daniil Kvyat, who is currently racing in GP3 and the FIA F3 European Championship, got the nod by the Faenza-based squad to step up to the top flight of single-seater racing via the Red Bull Junior program.
There was a lot of talk via Twitter about the youngster being given the seat ahead of the other Red Bull Junior driver that was in pole position for it, Portugal’s Antonio Felix de Costa, who was very humble in the way he conducted himself in light of the circumstances, but said that he would still be hunting the elusive F1 seat down.
The practice sessions would try and see the drivers make the best of every minute they could, especially with the fact that Pirelli brought along the soft and medium P-Zero compounds to spice up the strategies and action on a track that is customarily abrasive on the tyres.
Vettel himself was the man to watch as always, topping the times during all three sessions as the track evolved throughout the weekend, a clear half-second ahead of teammate Mark Webber, who is still looking to win before his season ends at Interlagos. The Aussie racer, who moves to the WEC with Porsche, is showing that he still has a competitive spirit, finishing up a Red Bull 1-2 dominance of the practice sessions.
The Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were running consistently in the top six all three sessions, with Vodafone McLaren Mercedes’ Jenson Button and Sergio Perez hitting the top ten. Smog provided a visibility issue in the second practice session, which gave the teams a twenty-minute breather due to the enforced delay.
Ferrari’s duo of Felipe Massa and Alonso also were consistently in the top ten in all three sessions, as the track caught out only two drivers throughout the running, Williams F1’s Pastor Maldonado and Force India’s test driver, Britain’s James Calado, who both spun in the dusty conditions early in the weekend.
As the sessions reached their inevitable conclusion, drivers were running a variety of tests to ensure race and qualifying pace were at their potential optimum for the business weekend. Williams’ Pastor Maldonado was the only driver that suffered another drama, as FP2 saw the Venezualen loose another wheel for the second race in a row, with the Grove squad being fined 60,000 Euros for their second successive infraction.
Vettel’s dominance was really showcased through his form heading into the final part of qualifying, where he put his car on pole for the 43rd time in his short career in the sport so far by nearly a second ahead of both Mercedes drivers, with his teammate Webber switching to the medium tyres for the start. It was clear to see that Red Bull were running two completely different strategies for the race, but Webber was clearly showing some pace on the compound that seemed to be the best all-rounder.
Massa and Raikkonen compiled the third row, with Grosjean being the main scalp to be taken in Q1, as Lotus apologized to the French driver for dropping the ball on a tactical error that was too late to rectify, as several drivers from the top tier teams felt it was worth the risk to gamble a new set of soft tyres early in proceedings.
Nico Hulkenberg’s location in F1 for 2014 may not be decided as of late, but the German driver put himself in 7th place ahead of Alonso, with Button and Perez completing the top ten. So it was a case that if Vettel was to secure a top-five finish in India, his name would once again be on the trophy and history would be assured for the young Heppenheimer, who has only been in F1 for the last five years
Race day saw a mist of smog surround the Buddh International Circuit, as the drivers made their way on the grid for what could be a title-deciding moment for both championships. The lights went out, and Hamilton attempted to get ahead into Turn 1 like he did in Suzuka, but Rosberg was also good to get away, impeding the progress of his teammate.
Webber made a good start and sensibly tried to steer clear of trouble, but there was slight contact between the Australian and Raikkonen, but it all went wrong for Alonso, who lost part of the left side of his front wing against Webber’s right rear tyre.
Track position was further compromised for the Spaniard, as he collided with Button around Turn 5, pushing him down to around 20th place, with Button having to change his strategy due to a right rear puncture on Lap 7. Massa, however, was the man that was quite literally on fire from the onset, as he got around both Mercedes and was leading the race when Vettel pitted on Lap 2.
Van der Garde was the first driver to retire, after a second successive first-lap incident with a Marussia driver, this time being Max Chilton. The Dutch driver was quickly on the radio, calling the Brit “an idiot,” as a result of the damage sustained that would leave Charles Pic as the sole standing Caterham, until he also retired on lap 38 due to a major technical issue forcing the team to pit the car.
Raikkonen and Rosberg pitted on Lap 8, with both drivers struggling with the soft tyres that were degrading rather quickly over the weekend. Gutierrez was as high as 6th place, before a jump-start at the beginning gave the Mexican a drive-through penalty, pushing him back down to around 14th ahead of Alonso, who was slowly fighting his way back up the field.
The pair were fighting for several laps, but the 2-time world champion put in an aggressive overtake on the Sauber driver going into Turn 5, as the Mexican gave him just enough room to complete it. Alonso made sure that he kept the place but slamming the door firmly as the rookie tried to return the favour.
Webber was still leading at the halfway point, having stayed on the medium tyres until Lap 29, putting onto the soft tyres, which would see a short second stint. Perez also swapped over to the Pirelli Soft tyres, as Ricciardo still hadn’t pitted. Gutierrez was under investigation again for an incident involving Grosjean, who was complaining about the Mexican’s driving standards, which was then investigated by the stewards.
Perez was trying to get past Hamilton, as the advantage the soft tyres give would amount to 8 tenths of a second, and got past the 2008 world champion, as the fight for the final podium place was still very much on.
Vettel pitted on Lap 31 for potentially the last time, putting on a set of new prime tyres, putting himself behind new leader Webber, who was pushing hard to open up a gap before his eventual final pit stop on Lap 33, exiting the pits behind Ricciardo who made his stop one lap later.
Track limits were being pushed by many of the drivers, with both Hulkenberg and Bottas being under investigation, but there was no further action taken on a topic that been the major talking point throughout the weekend. Vettel was told by his engineer, “Rocky,” that he needed the tyres until the end of the race.
Sutil was up into P3, before Raikkonen passed the Sahara Force India driver in the first DRS zone, having still not pitted from the hard tyres until Lap 42, but it would mean that Lotus would be keeping an eye on his times for Grosjean’s strategy.
Webber’s race was firstly compromised with a “gearbox-sync” issue, before being urged to stop the car, as his car had an alternator issue, which was confirmed by the WEC-bound driver’s race engineer. He parked the RB9 on a ‘safe” place on the track, meaning it was another successive retirement for the man who could have won the 2010 title if the final race had gone to plan.
Raikkonen and Grosjean were still holding onto the medium tyres, as both drivers were in excess of the tolerances that had been advised by Pirelli on the hard tyres, with the French driver catching quickly. Vettel was told to keep going, as he was informed that there were enough problems and was told to stop using his drinks bottle.
Perez was fighting again with Hamilton, and almost found his way past. Hulkenberg was the third retiree of the Grand Prix, due to a floor issue after his pit stop. Raikkonen and Grosjean came close to bumping wheels as Massa was close on their heels, as the Iceman was instructed to move aside for his team mate, before being surprised by Massa on the start/finish straight.
Hamilton was trying to use the DRS to his advantage, but Perez was set for an aggressive attack into the first DRS zone, and passed both Hamilton and Raikkonen, as the Brit slotted in behind the Mexican but could not get past.
But it was a mere formality for Vettel as he won his sixth race in a row, and with it, secured the fourth successive drivers’ title for himself, as well as Infiniti Red Bull Racing taking their fourth constructors’ title in a row. The 26-year-old celebrated with laying down some donuts on the Indian tarmac as well as climbing the fence having achieved a new record in Formula One history.
Nico Rosberg and Romain Grosjean completed the podium as Vettel’s nearest challenger, Fernando Alonso, finished just outside the points in 11th. Massa finished in 4th, ahead of Perez, Hamilton, Raikkonen, di Resta, Sutil and Ricciardo. Grosjean was clearly the driver of the day, having played out a great strategy from 17th on the grid to secure his successive third place finish in the last three races.
This historic moment, which sees Vettel join both Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher as the only drivers to have won four in a row, he also becomes the youngest to do so. So in just seven days, it will be every man for himself, as the twilight setting of the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi will be the back drop for the final stretch, as there are just three races to go before another new era of F1 begins.
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