x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Sebastian Vettel to the fore in the race to Formula One title

The Red Bull driver led from the front at the Indian Grand Prix to claim his fourth successive victory and extend his lead over championship rival Fernando Alonso to 13 points. Gary Meenaghan does the math

Sebastian Vettel atop the Indian Grand Prix podium, flanked by runner up Fernando Alonson and third placed Mark Webber.
Sebastian Vettel atop the Indian Grand Prix podium, flanked by runner up Fernando Alonson and third placed Mark Webber.

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.

Red Bull Racing's German driver triumphed untroubled at Buddh International Circuit and has now led every lap since Lewis Hamilton retired from the Singapore Grand Prix more than a month ago.

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.

 

FINAL RESULTS

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

Retired

23 De la Rosa, Hispania 42 laps

24 Perez, Sauber 20 laps

 

Drivers' championship

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

 

Constructors' championship

Red Bull Racing-Renault 407

Ferrari 316

McLaren-Mercedes 306

Lotus-Renault 263

Mercedes 136

Sauber-Ferrari 116

Force India-Mercedes 93

Williams-Renault 59

STR-Ferrari 21

Marussia-Cosworth 0

Caterham-Renault 0

HRT-Cosworth 0

 

 

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE