Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel are poised to pull away from the pack as the 2012 Formula 1 season nears its climax. The Grand Prix of India marks the third straight race in which Vettel and his teammate Mark Webber start 1-2 on the grid, with Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) holding down third. Vettel won the inaugural Indian Grand Prix last year, leading start-to-finish and setting fastest lap. To win again in 2012 would mark a fourth consecutive victory for the first time in the young German’s already spectacular career. Jenson Button joined teammate Hamilton in Row 2, with the Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa holding down P5 and P6 respectively.
Alonso flew past both McClarens on the second straightaway, with Button taking his spot back on Turn 5 but Hamilton falling to P5. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes) lost his right rear tire during Lap 1. Vettel established a 2.1-sec lead between himself and Webber on the first two laps. Alonso used his DRS to take P3 from Button during Lap 4.Two laps later Hamilton took P4 from his teammate.
During Lap 7 teams started to voice concerns regarding brake temperatures. Vettel continued to set fastest laps on his first set of tires as far in as Lap 15. Sergio Perez (Sauber) lost his right rear during Lap 20, courtesy of Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso), while Vettel was setting yet another fastest lap. Perez retired one lap later, as Button started to complain of shuddering through his tires.
Button pitted on Lap 26, with Vettel still setting fast laps. Alonso pitted on Lap 30, returning to the track in P4 after a 2.8-sec stop. Webber came in one lap later, turning a 3.3-sec stop. Hamilton came in on Lap 33 and also made a 3.3-sec stop despite including a steering wheel change as part of it. Vettel pitted from the lead one lap later, turning in a 2.6-sec stop and maintaining the lead he’d held since Singapore(!).
Ferrari began telling both Alonso and Massa on Lap 36 that fuel levels were becoming critical. Following Lap 42 (of 60), meanwhile, Vettel had passed Jim Clark for fifth in all-time consecutive laps led. Teammate Webber, meanwhile, radioed to his team “No KERS, No KERS!” Alonso took P2 from him on Lap 48 and set fastest lap a few circuits later. Hamilton took fast lap for himself on Lap 51, only to have Alonso reclaim one lap later.
Vettel’s car started emitting sparks from its underside on Lap 54, allowing Alonso to make up ground and raising concerns the car might be ejected at the end of the race due to excessive wear on its bottom plate. Schumacher retired, his eighth DNF of the season. Vettel earned the victory, with Alonso finishing second and Webber third. Button took fast lap on the final lap of the race.
Webber’s P3 was enough to move him past Hamilton for fourth in the driver standings. Vettel’s flag-to-flag victory was his third straight, the first time this had been done since Ayrton Senna in 1989. Nico Hulkenberg drove his Force India from P12 to finish eigth.
Driver standings - Top 10
240 - Sebastian Vettel (Germany) - RBR-Renault
227 - Fernando Alonso (Spain) – Ferrari
173 – Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) – Lotus-Renault
167 - Mark Webber (Australia) - RBR-Renault
165 - Lewis Hamilton (Great Britain) - McLaren-Mercedes
141 - Jenson Button (Great Britain) - McLaren-Mercedes
93 - Nico Rosberg (Germany) – Mercedes
90 – Romain Grosjean (France) – Lotus-Renault
89 – Felipe Massa (Brazil) - Ferrari
66 – Sergio Perez (Mexico) – Sauber-Ferrari
Constructor standings - Teams scoring points
407 - RBR-Renault - Vettel, Webber
316 - Ferrari - Alonso, Massa
306 - McLaren-Mercedes - Hamilton, Button
263 – Lotus-Renault – Raikkonen, Grosjean
136 - Mercedes – Rosberg ,Michael Schumacher
116 - Sauber-Ferrari – Perez, Kamui Kobayashi
93 – Force India-Mercedes – Paul di Resta, Nico Hulkenberg
59 - Williams-Renault – Pastor Maldonado, Bruno Senna
21 – STR-Ferrari – Daniel Ricciardo, Jean-Eric Vergne
Next event: 2012 FORMULA 1 ETHIHAD AIRWAYS ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX – Yas Marina, Nov. 2-4, 2012