A top-five finish was all Vettel needed to take his fourth world championship title. And as he’d won the last five races, it seemed odds-on he’d replicate the feat once again today, taking the drivers’ title as well as the race win.
There were split strategies up and down the field going into the race. Vettel was starting on the soft compound tyres, which would only last a few laps before they needed changing, while Webber was on the medium compound – which would be slower at the start, but would be able to go a lot further into the race.
And Red Bull wasn’t the only team hedging their bets. Ferrari also split their strategies with Massa on the softs and Alonso further back on the mediums. It was thought that the mediums would be around two seconds faster over the course of the entire race distance – but things didn’t quite pan out that way…
Vettel made a blistering start from his pole position, leading the Mercedes off the line with Rosberg and Hamilton squabbling over second place behind him.
Those starting on the medium tyre hadn’t expected to have a speedy getaway, but things were much worse for both Webber and Alonso than they had anticipated.
There was contact on the first corner as Webber was squeezed first by Raikkonen at the front, then by Alonso at the back, causing damage to Alonso’s front wing.
The Spaniard was forced to pit on lap two for a new front wing, completely ruining his strategy of staying out for a long stint on his medium tyres, and putting him out of contention at the back of the pack.
He’d spend the remainder of the afternoon desperately trying to make up places as he watched his final hope of keeping the championship battle alive slipping away from him.
Alonso wasn’t the only one to encounter first lap problems, though. Van der Garde’s Caterham had a coming together with the Marussia of Chilton, leaving him furious and blaming the Englishman for yet another first-lap retirement.
Not only was it another frustrating race for Van der Garde personally, but it certainly hurt Caterham in their battle with Marussia for 10th place in the constructors’ championship.
Having stretched out a three second gap already, Vettel pitted at the end of lap two to get rid of the soft compound tyres. His stop put Massa into a net first place – the first time that anyone other than Vettel had led a lap of the Indian Grand Prix.
Massa was soon flying out front, setting the fastest lap and proving that the softer tyres could last quite a bit longer than anyone had predicted.
They came back out behind Vettel, who was running around in sixth place at this point. But with the cars in front of him all of the mediums now, it would take a while before the field shook out properly and we got a true idea of where everyone was at in terms of net race position.
Webber was now in the lead, which was exactly what Red Bull had expected with his medium tyre strategy.
Vettel may have been further back and stuck behind those who were yet to pit, but he made quick work of overtaking the likes of Sutil and Grosjean – by lap 11 he’d moved up into fourth place and was quickly chasing down his team mate to try and reclaim his lead.
Vettel’s fortune couldn’t be more different from that of his nearest championship rival. Alonso was languishing down in 17th place and struggling to overtake the Toro Rosso of Vergne in front of him.
He needed to finish first or second to stand any chance of taking the championship battle into the next race in Abu Dhabi, but it was clear it would take a miracle for that to happen today.
Alonso wasn’t the only one having a dismal race. Button had pitted early on with damage to his car, which was sustained in the same first-corner coming together as Alonso’s. And he was forced to pit again on lap 13 to get rid of the soft tyres, which were graining badly, signalling yet another lacklustre afternoon for the McLaren driver.
By this point, another first-lap incident had been brought to the stewards’ attention – Gutierrez had made a jump start. It didn’t take long for it to be investigated, and the Sauber driver was duly given a drive-through penalty for his crime – which did nothing to help the team in their battle against McLaren and Force India for fifth place in the constructors’ championship.
The second round of pit stops kicked off around lap 28, with Rosberg pitting for a new set of boots. The plan was for him to undercut Massa and get in front of him off the track – and it was a plan that would work out well for him.
Webber pitted from the lead at the end of the same lap, for his first stop, changing on to the softer compound tyre. He came back out behind Vettel in second place, 12 seconds behind his team mate.
What would follow was a yo-yo of pit stops between the Red Bull pair before things properly shook out. Vettel pitted again at the end of lap 31, handing the lead to his team mate. But Webber came in just two laps later to get rid of those pesky soft tyres – which were going off after less than five laps – and Vettel led the race once again.
Webber came back out in third place, behind the man who’s set to replace him next year, fellow Aussie Ricciardo. The Toro Rosso hadn’t actually stopped yet – but once he did, releasing Webber into second, the Aussie was already 12 seconds behind Vettel with little hope of catching him before the end of the race.
With the pair seemingly set for a 1-2 finish, the real battle was going on behind them for the third step on the podium. Massa, Rosberg and Hamilton were still hanging in there, but had been joined by Perez, who was putting in a sterling performance in his McLaren thanks to a clever strategy by the team.
As the final round of pit stops began, Alonso came in on lap 36, rejoining the pack in 16th place. He was to spend the rest of the afternoon just desperately trying to haul himself up into the points – a mission that he would ultimately fail, helping to seal Vettel’s fourth title.
With most of the final stops out of the way, it was Raikkonen who was running in third place – appearing to do a great job on the medium compound tyres, which he’d been running around on for more than 30 laps.
Pirelli had issued safety instructions before the race, warning that teams shouldn’t try to do too long a stint on the medium compound. But it wasn’t only Raikkonen who’d managed to make them last.
His team mate Grosjean had also been running on the softs for well over 30 laps, while Sutil finally pitted his Force India on lap 41, having run on the same set of tyres since the start of the race.
Caterham’s race ended dismally when their second driver Pic retired on lap 38 with a mechanical issue, leaving them with a lot of work to do in the last three races of the season if they want to overtake Marussia in the championship.
But Pic wasn’t the only one whose race came to a premature end. On lap 40, disaster struck for Webber when he got a call from his team to pull his car off the track due to an alternator problem – leaving him deflated that yet another race had ended in disappointment for him.
Vettel himself had been having problems with his gearbox, and the team had applied for permission to change the dog rings before the start of the race to avoid running into any problems out on track. But although the team warned Vettel to be cautious in the closing laps, he would ultimately escape any serious issues, with Webber once again being the unluckiest man ever to drive for Red Bull.
With Webber out, the race was on for second and third places on the podium. Raikkonen was running second, but his tyres were slipping away from him – and the team also radioed to tell him that he had fuel and overheating problems.
Clearly he’d been left out on his current set of tyres for way too long, but the window for pitting him had closed now. If he came in now, he’d end up coming out behind Hulkenberg, way down in eighth place. So Lotus left him out on track – which proved to be a costly mistake.
His team mate Grosjean was flying behind him, and was already up to fourth place, having started a disappointing 17th on the grid. He’d stopped on lap 13 to get rid of his soft tyres, and if he wanted to go to the end of the race it would mean him doing a whopping 47 laps on the medium compound.
But given how easy the Lotus in on its tyres, if anyone could make it that far on one set it would surely be Grosjean.
With Raikkonen’s tyres going off, Rosberg easily breezed past him for second place. But when Grosjean finally came up against his team mate on track on lap 56, the resulting over take wasn’t pretty at all.
As Grosjean went to make his move, Raikkonen forced him off the track, meaning that Grosjean had to conceded the place back to him. It was clear Kimi’s tyres wouldn’t hold on, so battling his stable mate was a futile exercise. Not only that, but it opened Grosjean up to being overtaken by Massa, who’d quickly closed in on the duelling pair.
Raikkonen was eventually forced to let his team mate by, and the furious Finn let Massa by at the same time too. Luckily for Grosjean he had the pace to stay out in front of the Ferrari, but it was clear that the team weren’t at all happy with Kimi’s seemingly petulant behaviour.
With his car now looking undriveable, the Finn was overtaken by both Hamilton and Perez, making it clear that he desperately needed to pit for a new set of tyres.
He eventually pitted on the final lap to ensure that he’d make it to the end of the race. But with Hulkenberg having retired a few laps beforehand with suspected brake issues, Raikkonen had a guaranteed gap to come back into, and would finish the race in seventh place.
Despite the drama from second place downwards, there was nothing anybody could do to catch the flying Red Bull of Vettel. He crossed the line almost 30 seconds ahead of second placed Rosberg to win his third consecutive Indian Grand Prix, and his fourth consecutive world championship title. By Sarah Ellis
1. Sebastian Vettel Germany Red Bull-Renault
2. Nico Rosberg Germany Mercedes-Mercedes
3. Romain Grosjean France Lotus-Renault
4. Felipe Massa Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari
5. Sergio Perez Mexico McLaren-Mercedes
6. Lewis Hamilton Britain Mercedes-Mercedes
7. Kimi Räikkönen Finland Lotus-Renault
8. Paul di Resta Britain Force India-Mercedes
9. Adrian Sutil Germany Force India-Mercedes
10. Daniel Ricciardo Australia STR-Ferrari
11. Fernando Alonso Spain Ferrari-Ferrari
12. Pastor Maldonado Venezuela Williams-Renault
13. Jean-Eric Vergne France STR-Ferrari
14. Jenson Button Britain McLaren-Mercedes
15. Esteban Gutierrez Mexico Sauber-Ferrari
16. Valtteri Bottas Finland Williams-Renault
17. Max Chilton Britain Marussia-Cosworth
18. Jules Bianchi France Marussia-Cosworth
19. Nico Hulkenberg Germany Sauber-Ferrari
20. Mark Webber Australia Red Bull-Renault Retired
21. Charles Pic France Caterham-Renault Retired
22. Giedo van der Garde Netherlands Caterham-Renault Retired