In the preceeding half hour before race time it was installation lap city for many drivers trying to get a handle on the changing ambient temperature and wind direction over the last few days.
As the rear of the field was slow to form, Vettel’s front left brake began to overheat but was granted a reprieve from the green lights. Webber managed to beat his team-mate off the line, but was trounced conprehensively by Romain Grosjean’s Lotus, who lead into turn one. Hamilton picked up a puncture after minor contact with Vettel’s front wing while Giedo van der Garde and Bianchi did their best Senna/Prost impersonation into turn one; both retiring on the spot.
Behind Vettel in third were Rosberg, Massa and Alonso, who appeared ragged in his pursuit of his team-mate. Perez and Gutirrez both benefitted at the start ahead of Button in tenth. With DRS yet to be engaged, Grosjean held a one secoond advantage over Webber who was closing.
Returning from his pit, Hamilton was now a second off the pace and all over the place. The set-up issues that plagued Vettel of course wouldn’t magically change overnight either and the German was quickly losing touch with the leading pair of Grosjean and Webber. Webber had now lost another second to Grosjean and had to start thinking of his rears. His best chance of victory now being in the pitstops – 2009/10 style.
A bizarre call from the Ferrari pit wall, “Multifunction strategy A” hinted of a possible team-order scenario between Alonso and Massa. A ridiculous scenario given Fernando was all but mmathematically out of the championship fight. His other ‘contender’ Hamilton however, had now retired in the pits while team-mate Rosberg was busy just trying to keep his Mercedes on the road. Raikkonen now got the job done on Button, who immediately pitted fornew rubber as Ricciardo made a move on Bottas at turn one for 13th.
Lap 12 and Webber pitted for the medium rubber, emerging in 6th behind Raikkonen. Remarkably however, Button was setting fastest laps. A lap later, Grosjean made his first stop while the understeering Vettel stayed out. Webber failed to make the undercut and Grosjean headed the Australian again by two seconds.
Down the field a large battle was looking between Bottas, Maldonado, Sutil and Jean-Eric Vergne. As Perez emerged from the pits, he found himself cut off by the Mercedes of Rosberg. Now with the red mist down, Perez wasted no time in disposing of team-mate Button the next lap heading into turn one. Meanwhile, Vettel had well and truly grained his fronts and was forced to pit, emerging four seconds behind Webber in second place. Webber had now taken two-tenths out of of Grosjean’s lead but would clearly need to find something more to beat the Frenchman.
Vettel had now began to set fastest laps, taking not only a second out of Webber’s advatage but also afair amount of meat from his Pirellis – he was duly insstructed to hold station for the time being. Daniel Ricciardo was however now on the hards in fourth and now doing his best Jarno Trulli impersonation in holding up the field, with Hulkenberg, Massa and Alonso becoming increasingly frustrated in his mirrors.
Lap 16 and Rosberg was asked to serve his drive-through for his pit-lane altercation with Sergio Perez.
As the Ferrari’s sorted themselves out behind, Alonso surged up behind Massa coming out of the chicane and scythed past Massa into turn one. By now Hulkenberg had disposed of Ricciardo and becoming easy prey for the Ferrari talisman. Alonso made the move under DRS and Ricciardo finally pitted. Nevertheless the damage had been done in banking up the field, with Gutierrez now putting massive pressure on Felipe. But now all eyes were on the Hulkenberg/Alonso battle. Whether the ‘point and squirt’ characteristics of the Sauber would be good enough to hold off the 2005/06 champ would remain to be seen.
Webber was now closing in on Grosjean in the third sector and just 7-tenths in arrears of the Frenchman. Mark’s pit-wall now doing everything to instruct their driver in how to maximize his KERS situation. Webber instead chose to pit to try yet another undercut. He emerged in third and crucially in clean air. The nest few crucial laps were now up to Mark alone while team-mate Vettel locked up heavily into the chicane, losing even more time, but still lapping faster than Grosjean. If Webber likened the new F1 era to WWF, he now had it in tag-team form, with both Red Bull drivers attempting to soften up the Lotus driver. Mark was probably brought in prematurely while Vettel was now asked to put pressure on Romain.
Ricciardo was having no luck on the new rubber, running wide at 130R after passing Adrian Sutil. As a result, the West-Australian now had his hands full with the Williams of Bottas. He would later get a drive-through penalty for leaving the track limits. Massa too was under investigation for speeding in pit lane and was duly given a drive-through.
Romain now pitted on lap 29 for new tyres, but seemed premature if he hoped to run to the end. A superb in lap from Hulkenberg netted him afifth and crucially ahead of Fernando. Vettel now led Webber by 11seconds, but would need to stop in the next five laps as Grosjean began to eek time out of Sebastian’s advantage.
Raikkonen was now all over Alonso and sizing up the Spaniard for a shot at fifth placewhile Gutierrez slotted past Jean-Eric Vergne for 9th.
Lap 39 and Grosjean pitted again, leaving Webber in the lead, but with no further indication if he would need to pit again despite being encouraged by his side of the garage. The answer came from Seb’s side, being asked by Rocky to protect his tyres should he come under pressure from Webber at the end. Vettel however wasn’t listening and made a decisive move around Grosjean on the main straight. Webber had clearly taken a bullet to allow give Seb a chance to get a run on Romain. Whether the favour would be returned to Mark probably wasn’t worth asking.
Webber pitted. Before then Mark was losing 6 tenths to Vettel and would need to much as much of that up and then some. Down the order, Perezmoved heavily onto Rosberg in the braking zone coming out of 130R and only seemed to do himself a disservice by running over the kerbs.
A mistake frm Grosjean at the second Degner put Webber right on his tail, but the Lotus driver was defending vigorously. If Mark couldn’t make the move now it could be all over and with five laps to go it probably was.
Coming up on the backmarkers, Webber finally seized his opportunity; taking Grisjean through turn one despite being squeezed for room. But it was the final lap and nothing could be done about his team mate who was now 8 seconds up the road. Alonso and Raikkonen continued their scrap for 5th and 6th respectively with Hulkenberg a superb 6th and 7th for Sauber.