I hardly thought I would be writing about a dominant driver this season, but Sebastian Vettel is making it look easy as he romps to a third world title. Four wins on the bounce, more than 200 laps uninterrupted in the lead - that’s more dominant than last year and in all honesty, would you bet on anyone else to win the last three races of the year?
Pride of India
It was another sumptuous drive from the German; it appears to be a track that he loves to drive. No one is able to beat him around the Buddh circuit, no matter what is at stake. In fact, in two race weekends in India he has topped four of the six practice sessions (including all three this year), four of the six qualifying segments, had a fastest lap once (only because both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button made a genuine effort to steal the fastest lap simply to annoy him) and led all 120 laps. Those stats are simply mind blowing. I doubt even Michael Schumacher could match that in his prime.
The closest Sebastian came to be being beaten was down into turn one by his teammate. After that brief glimpse of mortality he was off and out of sight, leaving Mark Webber to squabble with Fernando Alonso and the McLarens. I said the same thing about his drive in Korea but it was a ‘same-old Vettel win’ where he broke the DRS on lap one and then controlled the gap for the rest of the race.
I have to say that it would be a dire shame if we have three performances like this from Vettel because it would ruin what looked like it would be one of the best championship fights in years.
Second prize for me goes to second placed Fernando Alonso. He kept Vettel in sight, though largely because of the mammoth long back straight on the Buddh circuit and fought off the ailing Mark Webber for second place to claim three more precious points in the championship hunt. Now, if Vettel continues in this form, it’s unlikely to matter but you never know.
They both appear to have stepped several levels ahead of the competition this year
Alonso should get a lot of credit for his wheel to wheel combat on lap one as he fought with the McLarens and then had the composure to relax as they both came back past, one either side. Had he ended up behind Lewis Hamilton in the first stint, he would probably have finished fourth and left Asia frustrated at what might have been. But, as it was, he fought back past as Hamilton locked up at turn four and finished 10 seconds behind the dominant Vettel, which is an achievement in itself at this track.
If Alonso is to partner Vettel at Ferrari in 2014, they will be one tough team to stop as they both appear to have stepped several levels ahead of the competition this year.
Alternate route home
Romain Grosjean is another man who shone in the Indian sunshine. Having not made Q3 for only the second time in his first full season, he dealt with it maturely and decided to go an alternate route with strategy which ultimately paid off.
Grosjean started on the prime tyre and went long in the first stint and benefitted from the extra grip of the option tyres later on in the race. By the looks of it, he could have ran either set of tyres as long as he wanted as there was more risk of punctures than tyres hitting the cliff.
He was the only man to make the strategy work, as Kamui Kobayashi and Daniel Ricciardo lacked the pace in the car for it to pay off, while Schumacher was forced to ditch his hard tyres after one lap when he was rear ended by Jean-Éric Vergne. Grosjean moved up from 11th on the grid to ninth, and held off Jenson Button on fresher tyres just before his pit stop in a quiet but effective race for the Frenchman.
Finally, I think I need a separate award for Lewis Hamilton and the two mechanics who aided him in removing and replacing steering wheel - all in 3.3 seconds. It was in the middle of one of Hamilton’s best races of the year and allowed him to stay in the fight for the podium until the very end.
Hamilton, who himself said he really enjoyed the race, was flat out from start to finish and, despite his traditional complaint, put his car in position to fight with Mark Webber for the step on podium. He may have been the man who lost out in the dramatic opening lap, but he fought back and passed teammate Button before pulling away with relative ease. Although he could never catch Fernando Alonso, it was a drive that showed McLaren exactly what they’ll be missing in terms of raw pace next year, especially when they saw the shenanigans that his replacement Sergio Pérez was getting up to in India.
It has been said that Sebastian Vettel gets a renewed energy in coming to Asia at the end of the year and this is why he is so hot towards season's end. That theory was certainly proven correct this year as Vettel went 4 for 4, leading three from start to finish in the Far East. Now we leave Asia, is anything likely to change? If it does, it’s unlikely to be immediate as we head to Abu Dhabi, another one of his favourites where he has won twice and locked out the front row with Lewis Hamilton at each of the three previous events. It certainly looks like a steep uphill battle for Fernando Alonso to get back into the title hunt but you’d be a fool to go against the cunning Spaniard.