Since they say it's not the destination, it's the journey that matters, join us below while we examine what happened when red, scarlet, silver and black did battle at the Buddh International Circuit.
Four races ago, before the start of the Singapore Grand Prix, Ferrari's Fernando Alonso had a 39-point lead in the driver's championship over Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel. Three more races and the script was flipped: Vettel won in Singapore, Japan and Korea and Alonso's lead had been vaporized in Red Bull-Renault exhaust and champagne raining down from the top step of the podium.
Alonso said, "I think it's more challenging for us now [but] I remain 100-percent confident we will fight for the championship and we will win it."
Before qualifying for the Indian Grand Prix, Alonso was six points behind Vettel in the standings. After qualifying, Alonso was not only lagging by six points but also by four grid positions as Vettel took pole position and the number one Ferrari could only manage fifth on the grid, just ahead of the number two Ferrari driven by Felipe Massa in sixth. Still, Alonso said, "I think it's more challenging for us now [but] I remain 100-percent confident we will fight for the championship and we will win it."
Every other driver on the grid has admitted championship defeat. Nevertheless, while they all fought for every thousandth-of-a-second they could get, qualifying seemed a case of missteps and missed opportunities for most. Red Bull's Mark Webber had to abort his final qualifying lap due to insufficient tire temperatures after a slow out-lap, but still took second on the grid. McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, as usual, whipped his MP4-27 into third position almost three-tenths adrift of Vettel, admitting he couldn't touch the Red Bulls. His teammate took fourth spot another tenth of a second back, but practically started the weekend with tales of low grip levels and concerns about the speed of the Red Bulls. Alonso and Massa made a pair just after the McLaren duo – Massa's renewed confidence showing on the track and in his braggadocio, the Brazilian eight-tenths behind his teammate but of the opinion he could have bettered Alonso if not for a single mistake in Turn Six. Lotus-Renault's Kimi Räikkönen admitted making the wrong choice with his setup in the final qualifying session and instead of the second-row spot he believed possible, took the seventh spot. Sauber's Sergio Perez was thrilled with a "magic" lap to grab eighth and Pastor Maldonado would have been chuffed to get his Williams into ninth. Behind them, in spite of Ross Brawn's weekly rose-colored updates about the rising fortunes of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team, Nico Rosberg didn't bother setting a time to take tenth place, preferring to save his allotment of new tires since his car is notoriously hard on them.
Every other driver on the grid has admitted championship defeat.
When the red lights went out in the Delhi haze, the rush to Turn One established the groups of protagonists who would contest the day. Webber made a great start but couldn't out-drag his teammate, Vettel cutting across and taking the lead through the first corner. Hamilton, Button and Alonso scrapped through the first three corners and the long back straight turned into a drag race. Alonso played his trump immediately, a terrifically long seventh gear that allowed him to outpace both McLarens by the time they got to Turn Four, ahead of Button and then Hamilton.
By the end of the first lap, Vettel was 1.2 seconds ahead of Weber. Alonso was chasing in third, Hamilton was trying to get past his teammate and Massa and Räikkönen began a race-long pas de deux.
The only incident on the first lap was Mercedes' Michael Schumacher using his right rear tire to clip Jean-Eric Vergne's front wing on the Toro Rosso, getting a puncture and limping back to the pits, his chances of doing anything in the race effectively over. It would get worse, getting lapped by race leader Vettel on Lap Ten, then called to the steward's office after the race for ignoring blue flags – which means he wasn't getting out of the way quickly enough while others were trying to pass him, after having already been reprimanded for blocking the HRTs (!) during a practice session – and retiring before the end when telemetry showed a potential gearbox issue. The seven-time world champion has gone home early eight times this year out of 17 races, delivering one of the saddest swan-song quotes when asked about his chances of improving his race fortunes: "It would be nice, very clearly. But I'm not expecting it and I'm not very sentimental about it. As long as I can fight for top positions then I do my job as much as I can and I try to help the team and get things ready for them for next year as much as possible. But other than that, it's kind of a normal job."
On Lap Six, Hamilton got past his teammate Button. On Lap 12, Vettel was 3.6 seconds ahead of Webber, and by Lap 15, the commentator remarked that Vettel had now led 160 consecutive grand prix laps.
That was the same lap that Perez pitted in the Sauber, on the very early side of a two-stop strategy and unusual for a team and driver who have been known all year for doing long stints. Another unusual event was when, replicating Schumacher's turn one incident, Perez used his right rear tire to clip the front wing on Daniel Ricciardo's Toro Rosso going into Turn One, got a puncture and limped back to the pits. Perez would retire five laps later with rear suspension damage.
Vettel has led the greatest number of consecutive laps since Nigel Mansell knocked off 235 in a row back in 1992.
One lap later, Vettel had led the greatest number of consecutive laps since Nigel Mansell knocked off 235 in a row back in 1992 on his way to winning the championship in a Williams Renault. Vettel was also 7.1 seconds ahead of his teammate.
With Perez out, a lengthy battle for the final points positions began between Maldonado in the Williams, Rosberg in the Mercedes, Romain Grosjean in the second Lotus, Nico Hülkenberg in the Force India and Bruno Senna in the second Williams. Grosjean took Rosberg for ninth position as Rosberg would work his way backwards to an eventual 11th place finish, a little later Hülkenberg would later pass Grosjean, after that Maldonado would cut across on Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi, get a puncture and limp back to the pits, while Bruno Senna would keep out of trouble and redeem his up-and-down results with a 10th-place finish.
The front-runners went with a one-stop strategy, the biggest action coming when Räikkönen tried to leapfrog Massa by coming in a lap before the Ferrari. As Massa exited the pits Räikkönen got past him into the first corner, but the Ferrari again used its long seventh gear and the DRS zone to clobber the Lotus down the back straight.
On Lap 45 the ghoul of "You were so close!" that haunts Mark Webber returned, his KERS unit going kaput.
On Lap 45 the ghoul of "You were so close!" that haunts Mark Webber returned, his KERS unit going kaput. Alonso, three-tenths of a second behind, reeled him in and passed on Lap 48, again on the back straight, taking second place not long after Pedro de la Rosa's HRT suffered another terminal brake failure that locked up his rear wheels and planted him in the wall butt-first at Turn Four.
When the black-and-white flag waved at the end of Lap 60, the order was: Vettel, Alonso, Webber, Hamilton, Button, Massa, Räikkönen, Hülkenberg, Grosjean, Senna.
Vettel has now won four consecutive races and led more than 200 consecutive laps, these last ones increasing his gap to Alonso to 13 points with just three races left in the championship. Before the grand prix, Ferrari had said it is going to go all out and be aggressive with the development of the car, and Alonso said he was 100-percent certain of winning the title... but Alonso's comments at the conclusion were a much more succinct summation of the situation: "We lost points but I think this was more or less the plan this weekend because we knew we were not fast enough to compete against them," "Better races will come," and "Now we are fighting against Newey and at the moment we cannot match him."
Vettel has now won four consecutive races and led more than 200 consecutive laps, these last ones increasing his gap to Alonso to 13 points.
Vettel leads the way with 240 points to Alonso's 227, but even better, has the momentum of four victories, demoralizing rivals and racing with the lead. The consistent yet winless Räikkönen is a distant third at 173. Red Bull practically owns the constructor's championship, but Ferrari in second place remains threatened by McLaren just ten points behind. Lotus-Renault is safe in third with daylight on both sides, while Mercedes and Sauber's lack of any points at all has maintained the 20-point separationg between the pair for two races now.
It certainly isn't over, but if Alonso says "We will win it" again before the running of the Abu Dhabi grand prix in six days time, he better mean "We will win it today." Stay tuned.