The smog around the Buddh International Circuit got so bad over the weekend that the FIA had to change the practice sessions. Then the soft tires that Pirelli brought to be the options were found to degrade so quickly that teams had to change their qualifying and race strategies. The only man it didn't seem to affect was – guess who? – Sebastian Vettel, who put his Infiniti Red Bull Racing on pole position.
Behind him came Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes-AMG Petronas, Mark Webber in the second Infiniti Red Bull and on medium tires, Felipe Massa in the first Ferrari, Kimi Räikkönen in the first Lotus, Nico Hülkenberg in the first Sauber, Fernando Alonso in the second Ferrari, and the McLaren duo of Sergio Perez and Jenson Button. The tire strategizing didn't work out for Romain Grosjean in the second Lotus, who didn't get out of Q1 after only running the medium compound tire and lined up 17th.
The Indian Grand Prix has been held twice and Vettel has led every single lap of both races. If nothing else, we knew there would be at least one new thing about this Indian Grand Prix: there'd be a lap not led by Vettel since he qualified on softs and would have to pit before Webber and Alonso who were both on mediums.
We'd have to wait a little longer to find out if a driver other than Vettel would be leading at the end of the race.
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Just like in in Japan, Hamilton parked his car on the grid pointed at the gap between the front two. When the lights went out he got up in between Vettel and Rosberg, getting past his teammate into Turn 1 but falling in line behind Vettel. The next series of corners changed every position but the lead; at the end of the first lap Vettel lead by 2.4 seconds from Massa, Rosberg, Hamilton, Hülkenberg, Räikkönen, Webber, Perez, Ricciardo and Alonso.
Webber's race strategy relied on him not losing places to those behind him so that he could take the lead when the three cars in front had to stop to get rid of their soft tires. But this is Mark Webber we're talking about, so of course that didn't work out. He got off the line all right, but sideswiped Räikkönen through Turn 1 and then was hit from behind by Alonso coming out of Turn 1. At the end of the first lap he was down in sixth. Even though he led the race for a while when those in front pitted, he couldn't keep Vettel behind. His tire strategy still would have got him on the podium in second place, but his car would have none of it – again. On Lap 40, with 20 laps to go, his alternator failed and his engineer told him to park the car.
Vettel had come in on Lap 2 to change onto mediums and come out in 13th. Ten laps later he was in third, having managed to get around traffic swiftly; it appeared no one wanted to fight a guy who was obviously faster and on a different tire strategy. When Webber pitted on Lap 29, Vettel retook the lead and didn't give it up, all the way to the flag.
Behind them the order was being rearranged in the pits, not on track, except for Grosjean who was climbing up from 17th and Alonso who was trying to make his way back from 17th after that nasty first lap saw him hit Webber and Button and come in for a new front wing.
It wasn't until the last ten laps of the race that much happened, when everyone was trying to get their rather old medium compound tires to the finish. Räikkönen and Sutil were the biggest losers. On Lap 45 the Finn was running in second, the German in fourth, Rosberg sandwiched between them. Räikkönen's tires began to fall off in a big way but the team didn't want to pit him since he'd drop all the way back behind Hülkenberg in ninth place. Over the next 11 laps the drivers behind began to reel him in at more than a second a lap. On Lap 57 his teammate Grosjean came up to pass him and Räikkönen, defending an impossible situation, ran the Frenchman off the track at the penultimate corner, leading to a saucy radio exchange. At the next corner he gave up the position to Grosjean and to Massa. At the end of the next lap Räikkönen was in seventh.
A problem on the Sauber led to Hülkenberg's retirement on Lap 56, and Lotus decided to bring Räikkönen in on Lap 59 for a set of soft tires. He set the fastest lap of the race on the last lap of the race and would finish seventh. Sutil, who only pitted once on Lap 41, fell back to ninth by the end of the race.
The final order was Vettel, Rosberg (who took second without any fanfare), Grosjean (who came from 17th), Massa, Perez, Hamilton, Räikkönen, di Resta (coming off a run of bad races and DNFs), Sutil (meaning Force India got two cars in the points for the first time since Great Britain) and Daniel Ricciardo. Alonso finished just outside the points in 11th.
Vettel's won six races in a row and ten so far this year. With three races left to go, he's crowned the 2013 Driver's World Champion with 322 points. For more context, he's only competed in 117 races in his entire career and won 36 of them at the ripe old age of 26. Not that any of the drivers care once they're locked out of first position, but the next three places are taken by ex-World Champions, with Alonso probably safe for second place on 207 points if he can get another clean race weekend in, followed by Räikkönen with 183 and Hamilton with 169.
Red Bull also took its fourth Constructor's Championship with a total of 470 points. In case you're counting, that means ten Adrian Newey-designed cars have won the Constructor's cup since his first, the William FW-14B, did it in 1992. Speaking of cups, rumor is that Newey is turning his eye toward America's Cup yacht racing, once he's finished being a legend in Formula One for "the immediate future." Mercedes has overtaken second place with 313 points, Ferrari falling to third at with 309 and now Lotus gunning for it with 285.
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix runs next weekend, and we'll be back then to find out if Vettel can keep his campaign going to match Michael Schumacher's 16 wins in a single season.