And then there were two. The World Championship has narrowed to an increasingly tense fight between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso as, appropriately, they finished first and second in the Indian Grand Prix.
It was Vettel’s fourth win in succession (his fifth this season). With the Red Bull driver having led every lap from pole position to extend his lead in the championship to 13 points, you’d be forgiven for thinking the German is about to retain his title.
But Vettel doesn’t think that way. And neither he should when Alonso is capable of producing the sort of relentless performance that flattered his Ferrari and kept the Spaniard very much in the hunt with three races to go. It was a reminder that Alonso cannot be discounted until the mathematics say it’s no longer possible to stop Vettel.
Which is what this championship amounts to now. On paper, Red Bull remain dominant now that the RB8 is sorted and seems to work on every kind of track. Witness a second successive lock-out of the front of the grid as Mark Webber joined Vettel, both drivers getting there despite each making a mistake at some stage during the final few minutes of qualifying. But you could tell from the body language of Team Principal Christian Horner and ace designer Adrian Newey that this is by no means a done deal.
They talked about the race pace and threat from the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button on the second row. But, more than once, Newey and Horner would make reference to Alonso, lurking on the fifth row. He may have been half a second away from Vettel during the single lap of qualifying but everyone at Red Bull and McLaren knew the race would be a different matter. Particularly the first lap.
Button and Hamilton had talked about the first minute of action being their only chance to get among the Red Bulls; they said that knowing Alonso would entertain similar thoughts. Even so, it’s a fair bet neither McLaren driver expected the amazing strength of the red attack when it came.
The key place would be the entry and exit of Turn 3 and the long straight that followed. The Red Bulls arrived in front but Hamilton, having lost out to Button into Turn 1, saw space down the inside of his team mate going into Turn 3. It was to be Hamilton’s undoing.
Having compromised his exit, Hamilton found himself being swallowed by Button on the left – and a Ferrari on the right about to take them both. Alonso!
Hamilton then used the tow from the Ferrari to get alongside and make it three-abreast going into Turn 4. It was a sign of the quality and experience of this champion trio that contact was somehow avoided, Alonso slotting into fourth place behind Button and ahead of Hamilton. The next few laps would make it clear that Alonso not only intended to stay there but he was also quite capable of getting ahead of both McLarens. He took third place from Button on lap four.
“To be honest, it wasn’t really a surprise,” said Pat Fry, Ferrari’s technical director. “We knew if Fernando could get close, then we could use the fact that we would be 10 km/h faster than the Red Bulls on the straight.” Fry was referring to the decision to go for gear ratios and rear wing settings that would allow for superior speed in the race rather than qualifying.
Saying that, however, it was inadequate to actually get ahead of Vettel should the chance arise. But enough to keep Webber looking in his mirrors – particularly when the Australian, not for the first time this season, began to have trouble with his KERS. Gradually, Alonso hunted him down and took second with 13 laps to go.
The gap to Vettel was 12 seconds. It seemed safe enough until the Red Bull began to spark at the front as a skid block came adrift. Alonso reduced the lead to nine seconds but Vettel’s response showed he had this race under control. But not, he admitted, the championship. Not yet anyway. Not when Fernando Alonso drives every lap as if it’s a qualifying lap. A truly awesome performance.
More of the same, hopefully, next weekend in Abu Dhabi.
Pos Driver Team Time 1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1h31:10.744 2. Alonso Ferrari + 9.437 3. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 13.217 4. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes + 13.909 5. Button McLaren-Mercedes + 26.266 6. Massa Ferrari + 44.674 7. Raikkonen Lotus-Renault + 45.227 8. Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes + 54.998 9. Grosjean Lotus-Renault + 56.103 10. Senna Williams-Renault + 1:14.975 11. Rosberg Mercedes + 1:21.694 12. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes + 1:22.815 13. Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1:26.064 14. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari + 1:26.495 15. Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1 lap 16. Maldonado Williams-Renault + 1 lap 17. Petrov Caterham-Renault + 1 lap 18. Kovalainen Caterham-Renault + 1 lap 19. Pic Marussia-Cosworth + 1 lap 20. Glock Marussia-Cosworth + 2 laps 21. Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth + 2 laps 22. Schumacher Mercedes + 5 laps Fastest lap: Button, 1:28.203 World Championship standings, round 17: Drivers: Constructors: 1. Vettel 240 1. Red Bull-Renault 407 2. Alonso 227 2. Ferrari 316 3. Raikkonen 173 3. McLaren-Mercedes 306 4. Webber 167 4. Lotus-Renault 263 5. Hamilton 165 5. Mercedes 136 6. Button 141 6. Sauber-Ferrari 116 7. Rosberg 93 7. Force India-Mercedes 93 8. Grosjean 90 8. Williams-Renault 59 9. Massa 89 9. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 21 10. Perez 66 11. Kobayashi 50 12. Hulkenberg 49 13. Di Resta 44 14. Schumacher 43 15. Maldonado 33 16. Senna 26 17. Vergne 12 18. Ricciardo 9 Results Source: Autosport