GREATER NOIDA, INDIA // In a country full of surprises, there was to be no surprise.
Sebastian Vettel, starting on pole position, made light work of the Indian Grand Prix on Sunday to secure a fourth consecutive race win and extend his lead at the top of the world championship standings to 13 points.
The feat equals the three-time world champion Ayrton Senna's record of having led for three consecutive races in 1989 and there is no indication the 25 year old will struggle to eclipse it next weekend at the Etihad Airlines Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi.
Yas Marina Circuit is where this gruelling but gripping championship season heads next and if there was anybody in any doubt regarding who arrives in the Emirates as favourite, such uncertainty has surely been extinguished.
Vettel led all three free practice sessions, was fastest in qualifying and showed ominous, unassailable race pace over 60 laps.
Equally as concerning for those hoping an unpredictable season does not fizzle out like a stale energy drink is the fact even last season, when Vettel claimed 15 poles and 11 race wins, he never collected four victories in succession.
Such supremacy has not been seen since the dominant days of Brawn-GP and Jenson Button in 2009.
"The secret, if there is any, is that we didn't approach the first of those four races thinking we can win four," Vettel said.
"We focused on the first one, then on the second, then the third, then fourth. Step by step and really trying to focus on the moment, which I think is the best thing we can do to maximise the results.
"I'm very happy. I enjoyed the race a lot."
That is not to say if preparation remains unchanged that three further processions await. So long as Fernando Alonso is in this title fight, it will remain worth watching.
The Spaniard once again showed all the strength of a lobster's claw as his Ferrari shot past two world champions and Vettel's teammate Mark Webber to turn a fifth place start into a second-place finish in what was an exemplary display of damage limitation.
"Yes, we lost points, but this was more or less the plan this weekend: we were not fast enough to compete against them, so we lost the minimum points, which is finishing second," Alonso said.
The two-time world champion has cut a confident figure this weekend, asserting 100 per cent belief that the drivers' title will be in his hands come the end of the season-climaxing Brazilian Grand Prix.
He maintained such self-assuredness after the race.
"We knew there were still 100 points [available] and now there are 75 points," he said.
"We are 13 behind. We know we need to improve; we are not fast enough, especially on Saturdays, but hopefully we can improve the situation in Abu Dhabi or in the USA.
"There are still many points on the table and I'm still very optimistic."
Alonso has been constantly urging his Maranello-based marque to continue improving the car as the development war with Red Bull approaches its culmination.
Stefano Domenicali, the Ferrari team principal, said new parts and upgrades will be brought to Abu Dhabi, but stressed self-belief is equally as important.
During the race, Andrea Stella, Alonso's race engineer, was heard on the team radio urging his driver on - "You're an extraordinarily talented fighter" - while Domenicali has told his staff to channel the belief of his country's 1982 World Cup-winning football team in their bid to beat out stronger opposition and bring back a first drivers' championship since 2007 when Kimi Raikkonen was the victor.
"This second place is all down to [Alonso's] talent, to his aggressive approach and the fact that he never wants to give up, backed by a team that is doing the maximum to give him a car that is worthy of him," Domenicali said.
"Sure we leave India with a bigger gap to the leader of the drivers' championship than when we got here, but this race should not leave those who are ahead in a calm and relaxed mood."
Certainly, Vettel is under no illusions that his quest is close to being complete.
When it was suggested he already had one hand on the trophy, the quick-witted reigning champion replied: "And the other is probably Fernando's. There is a long way to go. Today was today; now we are focusing on Abu Dhabi."
Vettel's teammate Webber overcame problems with his kinetic energy recovery system (Kers) which left him defenceless to Alonso's charge in the second half of the race.
The Australian though had enough to hold off Hamilton in the final laps.
Both men, along with Raikkonen, who was seventh in his Lotus, still have a mathematical chance of the championship, but their hopes will likely be expunged at Yas Marina Circuit.
The teams will start arriving in the UAE capital on Monday, ahead of Friday's opening practice.
Sunday's second place for Fernando Alonso was the Spaniard's 10th podium finish of the season as he kept his title hopes alive.
1 Vettel, Red Bull 1h31m10.744s
2 Alonso, Ferrari +9.437
3 Webber, Red Bull +13.217
4 Hamilton, McLaren +13.909
5 Button, McLaren +26.266
6 Massa, Ferrari +44.674
7 Raikkonen, Lotus +45.227
8 Hulkenberg, Force India +54.998
9 Grosjean, Lotus +56.103
10 Senna, Williams +1.14.975
11 Rosberg, Mercedes +1.21.694
12 Di Resta, Force India +1.22.815
13 Ricciardo, Toro Rosso +1.26.064
14 Kobayashi, Sauber +1.26.495
15 Vergne, Toro Rosso + 1 lap
16 Maldonado, Williams + 1 lap
17 Petrov, Caterham +1 lap
18 Kovalainen, Caterham + 1 lap
19 Pic, Marussia + 1 lap
20 Glock, Marussia +2 laps
21 Karthikeyan, Hispania +2 laps
22 Schumacher, Mercedes +5 laps
23 De la Rosa, Hispania 42 laps
24 Perez, Sauber 20 laps
Sebastian Vettel, Germany 240 pts
Fernando Alonso, Spain 227
Kimi Raikkonen, Finland 173
Mark Webber, Australia 167
Lewis Hamilton, Great Britain 165
Jenson Button, Great Britain 141
Nico Rosberg, Germany 93
Romain Grosjean, France 90
Felipe Massa, Brazil 89
Sergio Perez, Mexico 66
Kamui Kobayashi, Japan 50
Nico Hulkenberg, Germany 49
Paul di Resta, Great Britain 44
Michael Schumacher, Germany 43
Pastor Maldonado, Venezuela 33
Bruno Senna, Brazil 26
Jean-Eric Vergne, France 12
Daniel Ricciardo, Australia 9
Timo Glock, Germany 0
Charles Pic, France 0
Vitaly Petrov, Russia 0
Heikki Kovalainen, Finland 0
Pedro de la Rosa, Spain 0
Narain Karthikeyan, India 0
Red Bull Racing-Renault 407
Force India-Mercedes 93
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