Well, Red Bull Racing’s strategy could not have made it harder for their three-time champion to become a four-time champion this morning, but that’s exactly what he did. Maybe Red Bull just wanted to put on a bit of a show. Or maybe even Red Bull underestimated just how good their champion is.
By the start of lap two of this morning’s Indian Grand Prix, having pitted to remove the soft tyres that put him on pole, Sebastian Vettel was in seventeenth place, some 20 seconds behind the race leader, Felipe Massa. A lap earlier Vettel had been already put a two second lead on Massa in the manner he does, the manner that has allowed him to dominate this second decade of the 21st century in the way countryman Michael Schumacher did the first.
It took Vettel just 19 further laps to slot back in behind Red Bull number two Mark Webber, once the other soft-tyre starters had pitted and once Vettel had taken the opportunity to show the naysayers just how well he can race when he needs to. Gary Anderson pointed out on the BBC that Fernando Alonso had also stopped on lap two, dropping him to nineteenth. Yet 16 laps later, Alonso had managed to move his Ferrari to 14th place only. Vettel had managed fourteen places in the RB9 by then.
With so many stops so early, it wasn’t easy to tell how many places either driver made on the track and how many in the pits. Also worth pointing out, Alonso managed to hit no less than three cars in the first five corners. First Kimi Räikkonen, then Mark Webber (knocking of a chunk of the front wing) and then finally Sergio Perez. Ouch.
But — bridesmaid once again to Vettel — Alonso, always the racer, must be wondering what he has to do to beat Vettel or indeed whether he will ever be able to do it, in a Ferrari at least. The bumping didn’t do ‘Nando’s F138 any good, and his chances of gaining any advantage from starting on the medium tyres were quickly spent, but the difference in the two driver’s performances today speaks volumes about F1 at the end of the V8 era.
Does anyone out there doubt how good Alonso is (and please feel free to use the space below to do so)? After all, he has been/will be runner up to Vettel for three of the the last four years. Ever since he moved to Ferrari in fact. Ferrari have given him a car capable of winning in all of those seasons, yet he/they have not be able to muster anything serious to challenge Vettel. Vanquished once again by the ultimate garagistas, Ferrari is racing for second place now, against Mercedes in the constructor’s championship. There’s little pride in that, although there is a bunch of money.
After today, and after Mark Webber once again found himself on the wrong side of Red Bull’s luck, Mercedes lead Ferrari thanks to Nico Rosberg’s second place and Lewis Hamilton’s hard-to-explain sixth. Lotus, however, is closing the gap on the pair of them with superstar-in-the–making Romain Grosjean’s third place (from the ninth row of the grid), and Kimi Räikkonen’s fading seventh after a late stop. Kimi’s grip on third place in the driver’s championship is looking pretty firm.
Also worth noting was a good afternoon from Felipe Massa, who followed those opening lap heroics with a solid drive that looked to be threatening a podium at one stage. And also Sergio Perez in fifth, equalling McLaren’s best result in their annus horribilis… Worth noting, but kind of irrelevant. There is only one team in F1 right now.
Say what you want about the man — and we loved today’s donutting— Sebastian Vettel is in a class of his own on F1. Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, traditionally regarded to be the only two in the same league, feel somehow beaten right now. Unable to progress through the field like Vettel, Alonso finished 11th today. Hamilton who made a fantastic start, yet didn’t seem to know what to do with it, finished sixth. After lairy opening laps, neither driver really seemed remotely it in today. Maybe that says all you need to know about Vettel today, this year, these last four years.