There was no mistaking who was the Champion on the Buddh circuit. Sebastian Vettel returned to India to repeat the win from last year – and he didn’t even allow a sniff of victory to anyone else.
It seemed to be decided as early as Friday: both Red Bulls were fastest in the practice sessions; then they sealed the deal in Saturday qualifying, claiming the front row, leaving the competitors behind – quite literally: two McLarens, followed by two Ferraris.
Fernand0 Alonso had said before the race that he was no longer competing with Vettel, but rather with Adrien Newey, the team’s chief engineer. It is indeed intriguing how suddenly Red Bull bounced back to form, to claim a fourth-in-a-row one-two qualifying, and – as it turned out – a second double-podium finish.
Following this line of thinking one should not be surprised that Vettel, who in the first part of the season only managed one single win in Bahrain, thanks his team inexhaustibly after every successful session. It is a valid argument to assume that it is thanks to that team of engineers that he has claimed his fourth win in a row and is nearing ever more to claiming his third consecutive title.
Despite the German’s 13 point lead in the standings, Alonso cannot complain. Although Ferrari also struggled with their car set-up at the start of the season, it seems that the Spaniard is now handling a winning machine – if not the fastest, at least suited to the Renault Champion’s aggressive personality. Despite unsatisfactory third-line qualifying (and further) he fought his way through to the podium in all of the last 5 races – minus Japan where he retired, not of his own fault. The brilliant overtaking of both McLarens and then Webber – although benefiting from the Australian’s KERS failure, which however seemed an unachievable task to Hamilton – was a proof that Alonso was not throwing empty words to the wind, when saying he has not given up on this season.
“It’s not easy at the moment to fight with Red Bull but we will never give up,” he said in the post-race conference. “I think we are happy today, we have to congratulate them, they were fantastic this weekend so well done Red Bull, well done Sebastian – but yeah, we want to be happy and we want to enjoy Brazil, not only here so I’m sure we will do it.”
Despite finishing outside the podium, Lewis Hamilton seemed quite content with how the afternoon unfolded – which included his first-ever-on-the-race-steering-wheel-change: as always with McLaren, a record 3sec operation.
“I loved it out there today – I can’t remember the last time I’ve pushed so far, so hard, for so long, right on the limit – it felt great,” he told the F1 website after the race. “It felt fantastic, in fact, to be in the middle of such a battle.
“I’m so proud of all the guys in the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team, too – it was a really great race,” he added.
Clearly, he must have now fully accepted that his chances of winning the 2012 title are over, as Mark Webber’s second podium finish in New Delhi has thrown him off his fourth place in the standings. On the other hand, he might have finally convinced himself that moving to Mercedes was the right decision to make, seeing that Vodafone McLaren Mercedes are not doing any better, and some problems – such as worrying issues with his team-mate’s gearbox – still seem to persist.
Despite alarming calls over the gearbox, his tyre woes and finishing fifth, Jenson Button also left the Buddh circuit with a smile on his face, having lapped the fastest time of this year’s race.
With so many happy faces, it would seem like an afternoon to remember; not for all, of course. Michael Schumacher was probably the most disadvantaged driver on the grid, having caught a puncture on the first lap which led to a gearbox failure later in the race and sent him to the garage for an early finish. This means that, despite being classified (with a +5 lap finish time), he added to his tally of 2012 retirements, bringing it up to eight this season alone. Thanks to his even less fortunate predecessors in the 80s, however, he won’t be claiming a World title in that area.
Hamilton is surely hoping the Mercedes seat will bring him more luck next year, whilst his successor, Sergio Perez might be thinking the same of his future with McLaren. In India he seemed cursed by the same puncture-adversity as Schumacher after his contact with Daniel Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso on lap 19. The damage to the suspension of his Sauber saw him out of the competition two laps later.
The little achievements of other drivers: Massa crossing the line 6. proving his comeback to form or Bruno Senna’s 10. finish earning Williams an extra point, were welcomed but overshadowed by the main news of the day. The unpredictable 2012 season seems to have picked its Champion; but with three races to go, who knows what spanner might be thrown in the works – after all, engineers have already proved they can do magic.