Few could have seen it coming: The team that was started by a multiple world champion, then taken over by a British automaker only to be bought out by a beverage company would win the world championship. And win it in spectacular style, too. But surely it was a fluke when Red Bull rose to the top of the heap last season. A fluke like when Brawn GP seized the championship the year before. A fluke the likes of which we hadn't seen – amid decades of Ferrari, McLaren, Williams and Benetton/ Renault alternating for the trophy – since Matra and Tyrrell scored the titles in '69 and '71 respectively – at the hands of the same Jackie Stewart who, in 1997, started the team now known as Red Bull. That kind of fluke, right? They couldn't possibly keep it up...could they?
Well, if Red Bull was to fall off the podium this season like Brawn did after its title and acquisition by Mercedes-Benz, we certainly wouldn't know it from the first three rounds so far. Defending world champion Sebastian Vettel took pole position at all three opening rounds, turning them into two wins upset only by fellow champion Lewis Hamilton taking the top step in Shanghai. Would Vettel and Red Bull take their place at the top again this weekend in Istanbul? Would Hamilton be poised to upset his Germanic rivals once again? Or would it be someone else's chance this time? Follow the jump to read on and find out.
Friday's practice sessions looked ominous for the young defending champion, as Vettel skidded off track in the rain on a triple-apex left-hander. Fortunately his team was able to repair his car and Vettel his form to come back on pole position the following day – making it four for four in qualifying for Sebastian. Beside him, his trusty wingman Mark Webber. Third position went surprisingly to Mercedes GP's Nico Rosberg, who outpaced McLaren's Lewis Hamilton in fourth. Ferrari's Fernando Alonso qualified fifth ahead of McLaren's Jenson Button (6), Renault's Vitaly Petrov (7), Mercedes' Michael Schumacher (8), Renault's Nick Heidfeld (9) and Ferrari's Felipe Massa (10). Rubens Barrichello (Williams), Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta (Force India), Pastor Maldonado (Williams), Sergio Perez ( Sauber), Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari (Toro Rosso), Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli ( Lotus), Jerome d'Ambrosio (Virgin), Tonio Liuzzi (HRT), Timo Glock (Virgin) and Narain Karthikeyan (HRT) rounded out the order, as Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi failed to set a time but was allowed to race nonetheless.
If Rosberg's qualifying position came as a surprise, his move off the line on Webber for second position at the race's start was even more so. Vettel got a clean start and lead the pack, but a few positions back Hamilton ran wide as both Alonso and Button squeezed by. All the way at the back Kobayashi was already surging from dead last up three positions to 20th, while Timo Glock had to climb out of his Virgin-Cosworth in the team's garage with technical difficulties.
The fifth lap saw Webber regain second place from Rosberg with the aid of the rear-wing Drag Reduction System, as Hamilton locked in on Button's tail in a heated battle with Massa closing in. Up ahead his team-mate Alonso deployed his DRS wing to pass Rosberg as well.
With eight laps down out of 58 total, Vettel was running in the lead, his team-mate Webber drifting behind in second. Alonso followed in third just ahead of Rosberg in fourth, with Button and Hamilton following in fifth and sixth and Massa close behind in seventh. Petrov was among the first to pit from eighth, his wingman Heidfeld close behind in ninth and Barrichello in tenth. Sutil, Buemi, Di Resta, Kobayashi (now up to fourteenth), Maldonado, Alguersuari, Kovalainen, Trulli, Schumacher, Liuzzi, d'Ambrosio, Karthikeyan and Perez followed.
It wasn't long before the rest of the field began to make their way into pit lane to complete the first round of tire swaps. Shortly after Massa passed Hamilton, both headed in, and almost collided on the way out, but Hamilton emerged ahead of Massa – a reenactment of the battle for the title in 2008 that saw Hamilton take the prize on the last corner of the last lap of the last race of the season to finish just one point ahead.
It would take until lap 20 before that first round of pit stops was completed, after which Vettel remained in the lead ahead of Webber ( 2), Alonso (3), Hamilton (4), Rosberg (5), Massa (6), Button (7), Heidfeld (8), Buemi (9) and Kobayashi (now up to 10th place after starting in 23rd). Frontrunners Petrov and Schumacher, both forced to pit twice when others only stopped once, were relegated to 14th and 16th places, respectively.
By then it was about time for the second round of pit stops to commence, Webber leading the pack in for fresh rubber. Vettel managed to retain his considerable lead when his time came. By lap 28, when nearly all had completed their second stops (save a few back-marking stragglers), Webber was still in second and Alonso in third. Hamilton followed in fourth, Petrov now back up to fifth, Massa in sixth, Button seventh, Rosberg eighth, Heidfeld ninth and Schumacher tenth. With only Glock retired, Buemi, Alguersuari, Barrichello, Sutil, Kobayashi, di Resta, Perez, Kovalainen, Maldonado, Trulli, d'Ambrosio, Karthikeyan and Liuzzi rounded out the field.
Alonso made a smooth pass on Webber for second position on lap 29, and the leapfrogging commenced again on lap 34 when Rosberg, Massa, Hamilton and Petrov made their third stops. Hamilton's visit to pit lane was extended by a jammed gun on the front-right wheel. Once the dust had settled from this round of stops, Vettel was still in an uninterrupted and unchallenged lead, Alonso holding on to second ahead of Webber while Hamilton lingered far behind in fourth. Rosberg, Button, Petrov, Heidfeld, Massa and Schumacher rounded out the top ten.
The fourth and final round of pit stops started only a few laps later, with little change to the running order. Vettel kept the lead, Alonso remained second and Webber third, with Hamilton, Rosberg, Button, Petrov, Heidfeld, Massa and Schumacher following suite.
Paul di Resta was the only retirement of the day when his Force India car failed on lap 44, joining Glock who didn't even start. Meanwhile the hotly contested battle between Webber and Alonso drew blood once again on lap 51 with only seven left to go, as the Australian driver passed his Spanish rival for second place. Further adrift former team-mates Massa and Schumacher duked it out for tenth place as Rosberg squeezed past Button for fifth.
Across the line after 58 laps of domination, Vettel took an unrivaled win from pole to further cement his lead this early in the season and prove, once more, that he and Red Bull were on top to stay. Webber further entrenched the team's standing in second place, while Alonso scored Ferrari's first podium finish of the season so far.
The remaining points were awarded to Hamilton, Rosberg, Button, Heidfeld, Petrov, Buemi and Kobayashi. Massa and Schumacher finally finished outside the points, leading Sutil, Perez, Barrichello, Alguersuari, Madlonado, Trulli, Kovalainen, d'Ambrosio, Karthikeyan and Liuzzi.
The results drive Vettel even further into the lead, now held at 93 points to second-place Hamilton's 59 and Webber's 55. Button trails in fourth with 46, Alonso fifth with 41 as the others linger behind. Combined in the teams' standings, Red Bull leads with 148, followed by Mclaren with 105, Ferrari at 65, Renault at 42 and Mercedes at 26 as the others stay in single digits. The championship resumes in two weeks with the Spanish Grand Prix from Catalunya and the Monaco Grand Prix the week after.