The Indian Grand Prix will set the stage this weekend for Sebastian Vettel to become the first driver in the history of the sport to clinch his first four titles in succession, the race potentially laying claim to a bit of Formula One history at what could be its last running.
Vettel heads into the race, held on the outskirts of India’s capital New Delhi, with a 90 point advantage over Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, the man closest to him in the overall title standings, thanks to a winning streak that has seen the German win all five races since Formula One returned from its summer break in August.
With just three races to go after the Indian Grand Prix, all Vettel needs to do is finish fifth to win the title, no matter what Alonso does, while if the Spaniard finishes third or lower, Vettel can clinch the title even if he fails to finish.
However, despite his advantage and the numbers stacked heavily in his favour, the 26-year-old has made it clear that he is racing to win.
“Why is it that people always underestimate races? Nothing is easy – not even P5 – and nothing comes for free,” Vettel, the only man to have won on Indian soil so far in the two years that the race has been run, told the official Formula One website in an interview.
“I will race there with winning on my mind.”
Victory in India will also keep Vettel on course to match another record, one that has stood since the very early days of Formula One.
The German, known to take a keen interest in the history of the sport, has won the last five races and if he wins the remaining four, he will end the season having won nine races in succession, a feat last achieved by Ferrari legend Alberto Ascari in the fifties.
With the drivers’ title now nothing more than a mere formality, the focus in the closing stages of the season will be on the tasty battle brewing for second in the constructors’ championship.
Ferrari, Mercedes and Lotus are all in the mix, with just 33 points covering the three teams. Mercedes have been unable to build on their Hungarian Grand Prix form when they seemed like they would be able to take the fight to Red Bull in the second half of the year, while Ferrari has fallen behind the reigning world champions, the team having given up on this year.
Alonso, for his part, has already conceded the drivers’ title to Vettel and is fully focused on helping Ferrari stay second in the standings ahead of their two rivals.
“Even if Vettel doesn’t finish all of the races I need to win nearly all, so it’s a matter of time,” Alonso told reporters following the Japanese Grand Prix.
“We continue to try to do our best on Sundays. When it is mathematically settled, we congratulate him,” the double world champion added.
Unlike Ferrari and Mercedes, however, which has also fallen away from Red Bull a bit, Lotus seem to have found some performance and were the reigning world champion team’s closest challengers in Korea and Japan.
Romain Grosjean, in particular, has been driving like a man staking a claim to the position of team leader. He drove a flawless race in Japan and at one point looked on course to be heading for his first win, something he will certainly be aiming for this weekend, even if the Red Bull and Vettel combination is the clear favourite.
“Our car is really performing well at the moment so I think we could be strong again,” Grosjean said in a preview issued by Lotus ahead of the race.
“It’s fair to say we struggled there a little last year with finding grip and getting the right setup for the cars, so hopefully we can perform better this time. The tyre allocation was quite hard for the track in 2012, but this year it’s softer which should help us and make for better racing.”
With Vettel almost certain to win the title, there is likely to be an end of term, celebratory air, to post-race proceedings, particularly at Red Bull, even if there are still three races to run following India. But the atmosphere will also be tinged with a bit of sadness given the future of the race is up in the air.
The Grand Prix has been left off the calendar next season, the reasoning being that with negotiations going on to reschedule the race for early 2015 instead of its traditional late October slot, it makes no sense for the country to host two races in the space of six months.
And while organizers insist that the race will return to the calendar in 2015, larger issues involving taxation policies and the high cost of hosting the event have fed speculation that the third running of the race could be its last.
Perhaps it is fitting then that the track – if indeed this is the last race in India — which has won praise from drivers who have compared its layout and elevation changes to Spa or Suzuka, plays host to this year’s title decider and, like its Japanese peer, crowns a world champion.
Images courtesy Sahara Force India, Pirelli Media and Vodafone McLaren Mercedes