Sebastian Vettel took his place among the sport’s greats, joining the likes of Juan Manuel Fangio, Alain Prost and Michael Schumacher, as the German finally wrapped up that inevitable fourth world title with a typically dominant win around the Buddh International Circuit.
Vettel crossed the line nearly half a minute ahead of the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg, his third successive victory in as many races on Indian soil, also helping Red Bull clinch their fourth consecutive constructors’ title.
“You’re a four time world champion! Brilliant, brilliant drive, you’ve joined the greats,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said over the team radio as an emotional Vettel crossed the line.
“I crossed the line and I was empty. I took ages to think about something to say. It’s one of those moments you wish to say so many things but you can’t,” Vettel said on the podium after the race.
Behind the top two, Romain Grosjean brought home a fine third, after having started seventeenth on the grid, with a late race pass on team-mate Kimi Raikkonen nearly ending in tears, the two Lotus cars banging wheels as the Finn, struggling with grip on his well-worn tyres and running short of fuel, attempted to defend the place.
Felipe Massa followed the Grosjean home in a strong fourth place, the Brazilian making a lightening start that saw him jump to second from fifth on the grid, and leading the race in the early stages as the pitstops played out.
Sergio Perez, another driver to make an unusual strategy work for him, finished fifth after running among the front runners for much of the race, ahead of Lewis Hamilton who finished sixth in the Mercedes.
Paul Di Resta and Adrian Sutil gave Force India a double points finish in their home race with an eighth and ninth place finish while Daniel Ricciardo scored a solitary point for Toro Rosso in tenth.
Winning the world title may have been a mere formality for Vettel heading to India but the race on the outskirts of the country’s capital New Delhi was far from straight-forward for the German, mainly because of the different strategies at work.
While some cars, including Vettel, Hamilton and Rosberg, had opted to start the race on the fragile soft tyres, others like Vettel’s team-mate Mark Webber, Fernando Alonso, the two McLarens and several cars in the midfield had opted to start on the harder tyre in the hope of running longer until having to make their first stops so they could leapfrog their soft-shod rivals.
Vettel pitted as early as lap 2, having built up a gap of over two seconds to Felipe Massa to get the soft tyres out of the way, but that early stop meant he dropped to the back of the field and into traffic.
From there, Vettel made his strategy work by putting in a champion’s drive to scythe through the field, though he was helped by other drivers making their pitstops, and was soon up to second behind team-mate Webber, who many had expected would emerge as a dark horse contender in the race.
Webber, however, had another poor getaway, dropping to seventh at the start after contact with Raikkonen and Alonso, and by the time the pitstops had shaken down, Vettel led his team-mate by a long way.
In the end, Red Bull were denied a dominant one-two when Webber was forced to grind to a halt with an alternator failure with just twenty laps to go, the Australian’s retirement the only blip for Red Bull on what was otherwise a perfect day for them.
Following his title success, 26-year-old Vettel goes down in history as not only the youngest ever four-time world champion but also the only driver in the history of the sport to claim his first four titles in succession.
His victory at the 5.1 kilometer track on the outskirts of New Delhi also extends his winning streak to six races, keeping him firmly on course to match Ferrari legend Alberto Ascari’s record of nine successive race wins going back all the way to the fifties.
“For sure it was not an easy season, even if people from the outside get the idea that we had it in our hands for quite a while, the last couple of races,” Vettel said.
“But I think it was a difficult one all in all, very difficult one for me personally. To receive boos, even though you haven’t done anything wrong, to overcome that and give the right answer on the track and finally get the acceptance that I think we’re all looking for as racing drivers… it makes me very proud to join people like Prost, Fangio, and Michael is unbelievable.”
Images courtesy Buddh International Circuit and Pirelli Motorsport