Hannah Taylor, F1 Correspondent
Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel delivered an unbeatable show stopping performance, as he took the chequered flag at the end of the Formula One 2011 inaugural Indian Grand Prix. Consequently, the newly crowned back to back World Champion has now added to his growing statistics this season. After 79 race starts in his F1 career to date the German has notched up 21 wins and sealed his 11th victory so far this year following today’s result.
The 24 year old has also over taken former F1 driver Nigel Mansell’s record, and is now the man of the moment after leading the most laps in a season. Vettel explained how he felt the first Indian Grand Prix went, and expressed his feelings on being the first to take pole position and win the race there.
“It was a very good race for us and I enjoyed it… The car was very well balanced and it was a fantastic race today. Thanks to the whole team and to Renault, who have done an exceptional job so far this season. But I have mixed emotions today. I’m very proud to be the first winner of the Indian Grand Prix, but on the other hand we lost two of our mates recently. I didn’t know Dan Wheldon, but obviously he was a big name in motorsport.
I got to know Marco Simoncelli this year and our thoughts are with their families at this time. We are ready to take certain risks, but obviously we pray that nothing happens; sometimes you get reminded and that’s the last thing we want to see… It’s a very impressive country here, very different to what we know in Europe, but very inspiring,” commented Vettel.
As race leader and winner Vettel was out of reach on the whole, second placeman Jenson Button did his best to get as close as possible. The Englishman still drove a cracking race in the end and picked up some valuable points for McLaren, and for his current hold on second place in the Drivers’ Championship. Meanwhile, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso completed the podium of Champions as he secured third place today.
As the lights went out to mark the race debut at the Buddh International Circuit, the action on the track that the drivers put on certainly did not disappoint. Inevitably, as Vettel and Webber maintained their positions when they set off on the first lap, the pair were oblivious to events unfolding further down the field. A select few of the drivers were victims in the contact, which included a couple of midfield runners with back markers. Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi, Williams’ driver Rubens Barrichello, Marussia Virgin Racing’s Timo Glock and Jarno Trulli for Team Lotus were the unlucky four before their race had barely begun. Sadly, Kobayashi became the first driver to bow out of the Grand Prix. The Japanese driver was seen abandoning his car out on the back straight, which signaled the end of his appearance in the rest of the race. Although Kobayashi’s Mexican team mate Sergio Perez was not involved in the early action, he was the first driver in the field to pit for a tyre change.
Unfortunately Barrichello and Glock had to pit unexpectedly unlike Perez. Both drivers made an unscheduled stop to repair the damage to their cars which required them to have a replacement front wing fitted. Reports from the Williams team soon emerged that Barrichello had contact with his Venezuelan team mate Pastor Maldonado which led to some other drivers being collected in the process. At the time of the coming together between the pair, Trulli spun which caused a right rear tyre puncture but the Italian driver continued on in the race after a pit stop. As well as Kobayashi being an early retirement from the race, Glock soon accompanied him by lap two. The German driver went back to the garage and was not able to take any further part in the proceedings.
While the activity was going on towards the back of the back, there was some excitement where the front runners were concerned. Button spotted a window of opportunity early on to pass Red Bull’s Mark Webber. The Australian did not appear to be able to put up much of a fight which allowed the 2009 World Champion to take second place with ease. Alonso was then running closely behind Webber, but the Spaniard was followed by his Brazilian team mate Felipe Massa. Following Hamilton’s three place grid drop which took effect after qualifying yesterday, the Englishman also suffered in the first few laps of the race. The 2008 World Champion fell from fifth place to sixth position after the start.
However, the Mercedes boys seemed to have a better stroke of luck as they made their way through the field. First of all Nico Rosberg had the upper hand over his veteran team mate Michael Schumacher. Initially the pair were running well in seventh and eighth place respectively. Although the Toro Rosso drivers had impressed in qualifying yesterday, their efforts which got them through to Q3 were short lived as they started the race. Both Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi found themselves drop out of the top 10 for a while. Instead, Force India’s Adrian Sutil was flying the flag for his team’s home Grand Prix, and got into ninth place in the first couple of laps, while Lotus Renault’s Bruno Senna closely followed the German driver and was running in 10th place at the time.
Towards the front of the field the competition was close in the initial stages of the race. Top Championship rivals Button and Webber were scrapping over second place. After Webber had lost the place earlier on to Button, the pair soon resumed their battle from lap four onwards. On lap five it looked like Webber got the opportunity to pass by when Button locked up his tyres temporarily. Fortunately, Button did not yield second place and defended his position well against Webber. First of all it looked like Button had run out of track when he went to take the racing line, and Webber nearly got a little too close for comfort. Sadly, Webber was not able to find a big enough gap to snatch back the place then.
As Button and Webber’s scrap continued over several laps, a midfield battle emerged over 12th place on lap seven. Senna was leading the trio concerned and holding onto 10th place. The Brazilian driver was potentially under fire from Alguersuari and Buemi though, who were climbing their way back towards the front of the field.
Meanwhile, the leading pair were getting down to business on lap eight. Vettel extended the gap between himself and second placeman Button by 4.7secs. On the other hand, Button was also on a mission to catch the pole sitter in the distance. When the pair completed the following lap, Vettel proved the margin between them was growing as he topped the timesheets. His speedy lap time at this early stage of the race was a 1:31.308secs.
The battle previously at the forefront of the racing action reappeared a few laps later when Buemi was able to slip past Senna and made his move stick. As a result of this scrap for position, Buemi was promoted to 11th place, and Senna dropped to 12th position. This meant that a possible in-team battle would emerge between Buemi and his Spanish team mate Alguersuari. The duo found themselves together again, but Alguersuari was ahead of the Swiss driver and running in 10th place on lap 10.
During the very same lap as the midfield runners battling for position, the stewards announced their decision following an investigation into the lap one incidents. They decided that no further action would be taken on the events that had unfolded early on.
Around lap 11 of the 60 lap duration Force India’s Paul Di Resta was the first to blink at this point for a tyre change. The F1 rookie re-joined the race to form an interesting scrap in the field. The Scotsman led the trio of drivers in 16th place from Perez in 17th position. Lotus Renault’s Vitaly Petrov made up the three-way battle in 18th place. The scrap between the drivers did not take long to get competitive. Initially Perez spotted the chance and past Di Resta to take 16th place on lap 12. However, the change in positions between the pair did not last for too many laps, Di Resta soon came back at Perez to get ahead of him again.
While the drivers in the midfield fought for position, the battle at the front was also heating up between the leading runners. Fortunately, Button picked up the pace and actually topped the timesheets over Vettel on lap 11. Although he was still maintaining second place, Button crossed the line with a lap time of 1:31.070secs. As a result of this extra speed that Button had acquired, it acted as a warning to Vettel that he was in close company. In fact, the lap times were not too far apart between the drivers at this point. On lap 13 only six seconds separated the top three runners, and 10 seconds between the top five drivers overall.
As the outsider drivers had found themselves at the heart of the action early on in the Grand Prix, this trend seemed to continue as the laps progressed. The next battle for position was seen between Sutil and Alguersuari from lap 14 onwards. At that point in the proceedings, Sutil had the upper hand in ninth place, and Alguersuari was trailing him in 10th position. On the other hand, Alguersuari saw an opportunity to sneak past Sutil. The pair soon changed positions for a short while, until a few other drivers decided to muscle in on the action. When Alguersuari was running well in ninth place, Sutil was suddenly under pressure from Buemi. Sadly, Sutil was not able to match Buemi’s pace at this point. Nevertheless, Buemi ended up in 10th place accompanying his team mate Alguersuari. The pair had finally got back to the positions they started the race from, whereas Sutil then slipped down to 11th place. At this point in time Sutil did not appear to be in the best place, and this may have prompted his pit stop shortly after.
As a result of visiting the pits for a tyre change, Sutil re-joined the race in 13th place. His decision to make a stop on lap 16, had an unexpected benefit for Team Lotus’ Heikki Kovalainen. The Finnish driver was promoted into 12th place when Sutil was out of the way temporarily. However, Sutil found himself in close company with his team mate Di Resta who was holding onto 14th place. This made way not only for a potential in-team battle, but also with the drivers that followed behind them. Perez was on Di Resta’s tail in 15th place and Petrov was maintaining 16th position then.
Despite the scraps for position occurring in the field, Maldonado’s incident came into the limelight on lap 14. He was driving down the back straight of the circuit, and on the run down to Turn four he rapidly left the track. Maldonado was running in 13th place when the rear axle locked up on his car, and it was soon reported that a gearbox failure had spelt the end of the F1 rookie’s race.
With another driver retirement from the race the rest of the field continued to battle on with their rivals. When the pit stop window appeared for the front runners, Webber, Massa and Hamilton were the first three to have their tyre change. Following Alonso’s scrap for position with Schumacher on lap 17, Alonso was running in seventh place and chasing Schumacher. However, there was a close encounter between Alonso and team mate Massa shortly after this. Massa re-joined the race in sixth place after his pit stop, and as Alonso was passing the pit exit the pair missed each other by a whisker. Consequently, Alonso had the momentum to pass by and then took fourth place from Schumacher as well.
Similarly another scrap that formed at this point was between Button and Webber. Before Button made the decision make his pit stop, Webber was only five seconds away from him. Despite the small margin between the drivers, Button re-joined the race in second place and Webber was still running in third position.
The popularity of the pit stop phase continued at this stage as Vettel, Schumacher and Buemi were among those to do the same. Meanwhile, Massa was picking up the pace in fifth place. He was running so well at this point that he topped the timesheets with a lap of 1:30.243secs.
When Schumacher had got back into the swing of things after his pit stop, he managed to catch up with Senna who was yet to have a tyre change. Schumacher’s persistence soon paid off when he had the chance and took eighth place from the Brazilian driver.
At this stage in the race proceedings, Vettel was still leading and topping the board with his laps. On lap 22 he was inevitably the fastest man on the track with a 1:30.058secs. It was a few laps later when Button had closed the gap on Vettel, and the pair were only 3.7 seconds adrift on lap 23.
While the competition between the top two drivers was in progress, Button’s team mate Hamilton was having a heated scrap with Massa. Hamilton attempted to overtake Massa and went down the inside of the Brazilian driver. Massa took the racing line at this point, and the pair made contact with each other. Hamilton had to make an unexpected visit to the pits as a result of the damage caused from the coming together. As Hamilton ended up in ninth place after the incident, Massa also appeared to have suffered damage, consequently, he ran wide at Turn seven on lap 25 but managed to hold it together in sixth place. On the following lap the incident between the two drivers came to the attention of the stewards. It was then reported that the FIA Stewards would investigate Hamilton and Massa’s incident.
The collision between Massa and Hamilton at this time seemed to have a knock effect with action elsewhere on the track. Buemi was soon added to the list of retirements already out of the race. The Swiss driver abandoned his car off the track and reportedly had a blown engine on lap 26.
The period of car reliability issues seemed to continue for a few laps. Massa reported via the team radio that he had a gearbox problem, which at that point caused concern if it was as a result of his contact with Hamilton. Massa’s race situation worsened on lap 30 when he was issued with a drive through penalty for causing a collision. Nevertheless, he served the penalty on the following lap, and had to pit soon after this stop for a tyre change and new nose cone. Initially after the penalty stop he re-joined the race in seventh place, but after his second visit to the pits he was running in 11th place.
Meanwhile, the drivers near the front of the field which included Massa’s team mate Alonso, were competing against each other with lap times. Alonso was the first to blink and topped the timesheets with a lap time of 1:29.568secs and Vettel went on to beat this with a 1:29.510secs.
After Massa and Hamilton’s coming together both drivers were climbing their way back up the field. Hamilton’s first target was Alguersuari on lap 31. Inevitably, Hamilton made an easy pass and took eighth place from Alguersuari. When Massa had made his two consecutive visits to the pits for different reasons, he came into contact with the midfield pack. One of these drivers included Petrov on lap 32. Consequently, Petrov seemed to falter under the pressure, as Massa was bearing down on the Russian driver. After having a slight wobble and hitting the end of the kerb, Petrov ran wide temporarily and allowed Massa to pass. The line-up then saw Massa ahead in 11th place, and Petrov trailing behind in 12th position.
Towards the front of the field the scraps for position continued. Webber had the upper hand and was holding onto third place, but Alonso was on his tail in fourth position on lap 34. The two drivers chased each other for several laps, and worked in sync with each other when the next pit stops arrived. Webber appeared to suffer from a lack of tyre grip, which prompted him to have a tyre change on lap 38. Alonso responded to this decision by Webber and also pitted, but managed to maintain his third place though. As a result of this Webber was still following behind Alonso and maintaining fourth place.
Whilst Alonso and Webber were disputing track position, Alonso’s team mate Massa could not join in with such things for much longer. On lap 34 he appeared to suffer damage to the front left suspension on his car. After hitting a kerb which sent him off the track, Massa was forced to abandon his car and retired from the race.
At the time of Vettel extending his lead and pipping his previous lap times, Petrov had another detour and took the scenic route temporarily before getting back on track. He then found himself scrapping for position with Kovalainen on lap 37. Initially, Kovalainen was running ahead in 12th place, but he soon dropped to 13th position. Petrov took advantage of an opportunity to pass by, which led Kovalainen to drop down the field. While Kovalainen was ahead of his team mate, Trulli was making the back of the pack in 19th position.
After a previous battle for position in the midfield had gone on earlier in the race, Sutil was holding onto 10th place ahead of Perez who trailed behind in 11th position on lap 43. There was a similar situation just a few places down the pack as well. As the only Indian driver representing his country in the race today, Hispania Racing’s Narain Karthikeyan was struggling to hold off Barrichello on lap 43. As a result of this, Karthikeyan dropped down to 16th place, as Barrichello took 15th position from him.
Where the outside of the top 10 scrap for position was concerned, Sutil and Perez continued to fight over 10th place as the final spot to pick up a point. On lap 45 of the race Sutil was running in 10th place ahead of Perez who was just behind him in 11th position. On the other hand, Petrov was not too far away from the pair and trailing them in 12th place at the time. As well as this battle heating up between the trio, there was the prospect of an in-team battle between Rosberg and his team mate and fellow German Schumacher. Before Rosberg made a pit stop for a tyre change on lap 46, he was holding onto fifth place, and Schumacher was just behind him in sixth position. However, Schumacher was handed fifth place when Rosberg was out of the picture temporarily when he pitted.
While Schumacher and Rosberg were scrapping over fifth place, the McLaren boys also worked in sync with each other in a similar way to Mercedes. Hamilton was the first of the two drivers to pit, and re-joined the race in eighth place. Subsequently, Button nodded to Hamilton’s pit stop and made his as well. The Briton re-joined the action on the track in second place again. Although on his way to doing so, Button was nearly collected by the traffic that he met as he emerged from the pits.
The likelihood of Schumacher and Rosberg to have a close scrap began to unfold on lap 51. Schumacher made his pit stop for a tyre change and was running in fifth place, while Rosberg was still following his team mate and maintaining sixth position. Following Schumacher’s visit to the pits the seven time World Champion appeared to have a slight wobble. He temporarily locked up his tyres as he went through the first corner. As a result of this minor mishap, Schumacher led the way for Rosberg to close the gap on him, as he was running behind the veteran driver in sixth place. For the remaining laps in the race the pair continued to fight over fifth place, but Schumacher kept it all the way to the chequered flag. Consequently, Schumacher landed himself the higher position over Rosberg. This meant that Rosbserg had to settle for second best and finished behind Schumacher in sixth place.
With the closing stages of the race fast approaching, Vettel made the most of the opportunity to improve on his lap times. On lap 56 he went on to top the timesheets once again with a lap time of 1:27.782secs. Despite Vettel being the man to achieve the most with the race win, midfield runner Senna had also done well in the race for another reason. Remarkably, he had managed to drive a long distance with just one pit stop, but was forced to make a late one towards the end on lap 58. He had been running in ninth place, but dropped to 12th position as a result of this. When Senna was out of the way making his necessary pit stop, his team mate Petrov was able to nip ahead in the line-up. Before Petrov was able to do this, he had been scrapping for position with Perez. The pair had been fighting over 11th place at the time, and Petrov was running behind in 12th place. Their scrap continued right until the final lap and Perez finished better off in 10th place, and Petrov followed behind him just out of the points in 11th place.
As the race was coming to an end, Vettel proved that he was untouchable. He went on to set another fastest lap as he approached the final lap. He topped the timesheets with a 1:27.457secs. The speedy lap times that Vettel put in as the race came to a close meant that he had built up an 8.2 second lead ahead of second place man Button. Although Alonso crossed the line to take third place, he came under pressure from Webber once again, but managed to finish that one place better off than Webber. Hamilton was also among the group of top title contenders to finish in the points and ended the race in seventh position overall.
As the sole Toro Rosso to complete the Grand Prix, Alguersuari picked up an impressive eighth place for himself, while Sutil had the better result for his team on home soil to take ninth place, as Di Resta missed out on a point scoring position in 13th place. Kovalainen achieved a higher finish over his team mate Trulli. The Team Lotus duo landed 14th and 19th place respectively. As a result of Maldonado retiring from the race, Barrichello was the remaining Williams in the final classification and could only manage 15th place in the end. Marussia Virgin Racing’s Jerome D’Ambrosio shared a similar situation to Barrichello, and completed the race next in 16th position. Sadly, Karthikeyan had a disappointing end to his home race and could only do enough to secure 17th place for himself. However, Karthikeyan did manage to pip his Hispania Racing team mate though. Daniel Ricciardo trailed him by one place and finished in 18th position as a result of this.
Due to Vettel putting another race victory under his belt, and scoring several personal achievements along with more points to his name, he was notably the best man on the track today. On the other hand, as Vettel has wrapped up the Drivers’ Championship, his closest rivals are still battling it out to take second and the following places below him. As Button picked up a solid second place in the race today, he has extended his hold on second in the Championship battle. He currently has 240 points to his name and Alonso is trailing him by 13 points at present. The margin separating Alonso from Webber is even closer, as there are just six points between the pair. Hamilton is still in contention for second place as well, but is a further 19 points behind Webber. Where the Constructors’ title is concerned, it has inevitably already gone to Red Bull. McLaren have now secured second place with the results they picked up today. Red Bull are still adding to their victory though and have 595 points, with McLaren quite a distance behind and have 442 points to their name. Ferrari are currently in third place in the standings and have 325 points.
Following today’s debut race in New Delhi, it has certainly proved to be a success. While it initially may have been a challenge for the drivers as they raced in unfamiliar surroundings, as well as race winner Vettel, the rest of the field also proved that they were not daunted by the experience. However, the battles they had with each other for position, and the impact of tyre wear did appear to make them face testing times to keep the entire field on their toes.
The Formula One fraternity now have two weeks until they head to Abu Dhabi, which they can settle back into, having raced there on several occasions with the exception of the F1 rookie drivers this season. Consequently, there are just two races remaining until the season is over for another year. It is certain that in two week’s time and for the final race, the last efforts that the drivers put in will be just as important, as they aim to beat their rivals and teams in the Championship Standings.