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Rencken: 2013 Indian GP wrap

2013-10-28 07:56

TITLE NO.4: Sebastian Vettel dominated the Indian GP to claim his sixth win in a row in 2013 as well as his fourth consecutive F1 title. Image: AFP


On October 25 2013, Noida, the under-construction city within whose boundary India’s Buddh International Circuit is situated, Red Bull Racing’s engineers and drivers held their customary strategy meeting after studying the day’s data.

It had become apparent during both free practice sessions that Pirelli’s (courageous) choice of Soft and Medium tyres – the latter effectively two grades softer than last year’s Hard - did not suit the high-downforce RB9 which chewed Softs in three laps. Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari’s F138 on the same compound eked out three times that …

However, the Soft proved better than a second quicker than the Medium, with simulations showing Soft, Medium, Medium strategies to be marginally quicker than the alternative of Medium, Medium, Soft. The former fed drivers back into the mid-field after three laps, making it a bold choice; the latter featured drivers on low fuel and a fully-rubbered track during the closing laps.

By the end of the two-hour session Red Bull drivers Sebastian Vettel, on course to take a fourth straight win, and Mark Webber agreed to disagree, much to the relief of team boss Christian Horner: Vettel felt confident of annexing pole on Softs, then putting in sufficiently strong laps to minimise the damage caused by an early stop; the latter driver, invariably the slower, did not. The bonus: Horner would not stand accused of favouring Vettel.

Vettel claimed pole from Soft-shod Mercedes twins Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton with Webber (Medium) fourth. Felipe Massa, also on the Soft option, was fifth. Alonso, Vettel’s only remaining title challenger needing to finish second or better to delay Vettel’s coronation? Eighth, on Mediums. His decision was to cost Ferrari both 2013 Drivers’ and Constructors’ titles...

At the ‘off’ Vettel made like Flash Gordon and disappeared as Massa muscled into second ahead of the two silver cars, in the process handing Vettel the gap he needed, for Webber’s only hope was to stay in touch with Vettel during the opening laps but the slower Massa blocked that.

The Mercs and Ferrari on Softs could run three or four laps longer than the Red Bull despite 30C heat, possibly even the 10 laps Pirelli decreed as being the absolute safe maximum on the compound, and would feed back in later when the field was more spread, thus scoring position.


At the end of the second lap the lead Red Bull dived into the pits for its arranged switch to Mediums, Vettel having opened up a four-second gap before stopping. He slotted back 16th and prepared himself for a lot of overhauling even if his car advantage and two DRS zones made life easier.

On paper Webber was the danger man, for his times were soon purple – signifying fastest laps – and he would be out there for around 25 laps, but it was clear Alonso’s challenge was over: on the opening lap he variously made contact, tapping Webber and bouncing off Jenson Button’s McLaren with such force that the Briton suffered a damaged rim, in turn causing a puncture just when he needed to stay out on his Mediums.

Alonso pitted for a replacement front wing on Lap 3, dropping him behind Vettel. On Mediums and with at least two more stops to go to the championship leader’s one it was plainly over bar the Champagne if Vettel kept it together and when does he not?

By the mid-point he was 10 seconds behind Webber, who assumed the lead when Massa pitted, and when Webber bizarrely pitted twice within three laps – once for Softs, the second time for Mediums, which was hardly the optimum strategy – Vettel was 10 seconds up on his team mate and on the same compound, albeit two laps older.


Then came the call: “Mark, pull over.” Webber had contracted Renault’s dreaded alternator disease that over the years has scuppered many a charge and gear selection was becoming difficult due to low battery power.

Scratch the in-house challenger.

Vettel’s own system was suspect, as Horner explained post-race: “After the failure on Mark's car, which was sudden, there was no reason to expect that it would not happen on the other car. Immediately we tried to reduce the amount of draw on the alternator as much as possible even turning off the kers in the end.

"There was then a problem with the sensor on the alternator which gave us even more heart-in-mouth moments.”

As so often happens Vettel was fortunate, and it all held together through to the end, the (now) quadruple World champion winning by 30 seconds from Rosberg, who yo-yoed up and down the order as varying strategies played out, firmly putting one over team mate Hamilton, who simply was not in Vettel's league.


However, Man of the Race was arguably Romain Grosjean, who started 17th after Lotus plain screwed up his qualifying by misjudging how much slower the Mediums were as the Frenchman ventured out on his final Q1 run on them in order to save a set of Softs. Having rehabilitated himself after a string of hairy incidents that resulted in a one-race ban, Grosjean has established himself as genuine podium contender – but could he do it again from 17th?

The answer was yes,  although he admitted not having been prepared to wager a single cent on the feat. By dint of smooth, opportunistic driving he crept up the order until five laps from the end he encountered team mate Raikkonen, who stayed out too long on his Mediums as he aimed for a single stop, in the process breaching Pirelli’s safety recommendations.

It was nip-’n-tuck as the two black cars circulated side by side, Raikkonen hanging Grosjean out to dry on occasion but eventually sanity prevailed after expletives were screamed at Kimi, whose relationship with the team he leaves at season’s end to (re)join Ferrari is clearly dead. He said there was no need to shout... Grosjean, too, suffered scares as his air system gradually lost pressure but his valves kept operating to the end to deliver a third consecutive podium.

Fourth went to Massa, on the hunt for a 2014 cockpit after being dumped by Ferrari. Massa did a fine job of impressing prospective employers, with Sergio Perez driving a spirited race to take fifth for McLaren just when his future is up for discussion. Hamilton placed sixth almost a minute adrift of the winner after he and the Mexican plus Raikkonen scrapped every which way in the closing stages until the Finn made his much-needed second stop ahead of finishing seventh.


Force India twins Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil finished eighth and ninth respectively in their team’s home race, with Daniel Ricciardo, the Toro Rosso driver who moves to Red Bull’s senior team as replacement for the hapless Webber (heading for sports-car racing with Porsche in 2014) completing the top 10.

The day, though, was Vettel’s from start to finish and his elation was clear to see from the doughnut he pulled in breach of regulations and his walkabout with the fans. The rubber circles attracted a reprimand and R250 000 fine; a small price to pay in celebration of joining the legendary Juan-Manuel Fangio and compatriot Michael Schumacher as F1’s only consecutive quadruple champions.

Argentine Fangio did, though, score five championships (1951, 1954-7) while Schumacher managed seven (1994/5, 2000-4); however, Fangio was 46 when he set the benchmark; Schumacher 36 when he equalled it.

Vettel is 26-years-old and on that basis there is little doubt he deserves his place among the greats and seems destined to overshadow them statistically. However, making such comparisons is futile given the vastly different eras; instead we should enjoy Vettel’s mastery of his chosen craft for what it is – genius.
Read more on:    red bull  |  sebastian vettel  |  india  |  racing  |  f1  |  motorsport

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