Sebastian Vettel continued to extend his lead in the 2012 driver’s standings with his fourth consecutive race victory at last year’s Indian Grand Prix.
The German driver had snatched the championship lead from rival Fernando Alonso two weeks earlier in Korea and with the Ferrari driver finishing in second place; he stretched his advantage even further.
The 17th round of the 2012 season took place at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida. The modern venue – which first hosted a race in 2011 – is a driver favourite with its high-speed corners, undulations and big braking zones which boost overtaking.
The track was rather dusty for first and second practice on Friday, with Vettel topping both sessions. The inaugural Indian Grand Prix race winner maintained his advantage in final practice to make it a clean sweep.
Qualifying arrived on Saturday afternoon and it was another Red Bull front-row lock-out. Jean-Eric Vergne joined the usual suspects in the Q1 drop-zone with Michael Schumacher making a surprise exit in Q2, behind Grosjean, Hulkenberg and Senna. Ricciardo, di Resta and Kobayashi joined the seven time world champion.
Vettel finished the top 10 shoot-out on pole position but it was close. Webber finishing just a tenth further back. The McLaren and Ferrari duos followed close behind. Raikkonen, Perez, Maldonado and Rosberg completed the grid order.
Sunday arrived and under overcast and hazy skies, the 2012 Indian Grand Prix got underway. It was a clean start for the front runners when the lights went out. The field funnelled in to turn one with a handful of drivers taking to the run-off area.
Turn three was a similar story but there were two slow cars dropping through the field. Jean-Eric Vergne had made contact with Michael Schumacher at turn one. The Frenchman broke his front wing and punctured Schumacher’s right-rear tyre.
Alonso made the most of his long gear ratios and better straight-line speed to take on the McLaren’s on the long run to turn four. Hamilton and Button went side-by-side down the long straight and Alonso took to the inside line. Button went around the outside to maintain his position but Hamilton lost out to the Ferrari driver.
It was a frantic first few laps with plenty of position changes up and down the field. The race began to settle down but Alonso was on a charge. He closed in on Button and passed the McLaren on lap four – with a little help from DRS.
The Brit dropped behind team-mate Hamilton two laps later before coming under pressure from Felipe Massa. Vettel had eked out a 2.5 second lead over Webber by the sixth lap of the 60 lap race as both Red Bulls moved away from Alonso.
Meanwhile in the midfield, Perez and Hulkenberg had a strong scrap before the Force India driver moved ahead on the back straight. The first stops arrived on lap 15 but the leaders didn’t pit until lap 26 as they were on a one-stop strategy.
Perez – who was the first driver to stop – suffered a right-rear puncture on lap 20 after contact with Daniel Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso. He eventually retired two laps later due to damage caused by the shredded tyre.
Maldonado also suffered a high-speed puncture at turn five after contact with the sister Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi. However he managed to continue after returning to the pits for a fresh set of Pirelli tyres.
Webber came under increased pressure from the Alonso prior to his first pit stop. Hamilton was catching the pair of them after radioing the team to report that the cars handling had improved. Despite this, the Brits first stop on lap 33 was an unusual one with his mechanics changing five wheels: four tyres and a steering wheel. Vettel was one of the last drivers to stop and emerged in clear air.
The final stint started off in rather quiet fashion as drivers settled in to the run to the flag. With the laps counting down, Webber suffered a KERS failure on his Red Bull RB8. Alonso had initially fallen back from the Aussie during the early stages of the second stint but managed to close in and pass him on lap 48.
He started to pull away from the Red Bull driver and finished five seconds clear by the chequered flag. However, up ahead it was Sebastian Vettel who took his fourth consecutive race win and his fifth victory of the season.
Alonso charged from fifth to second, limiting Vettel’s gain in the championship, and Webber just held off the challenges of Hamilton to finish in third. Button was a distant fifth with Felipe Massa in sixth, just ahead of Raikkonen and Hulkenberg. Grosjean and Senna rounded out the top 10.
The race was a one-stopper with only those suffering tyre or front-wing damage completing a two-stop strategy. There were only two retirements: Perez on lap 21 and de la Rosa on lap 43 after brake failure on his HRT.
Vettel continued to extend his advantage in the driver’s standings as the 2012 season moved on to Abu Dhabi and the Yas Marina circuit.