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Vettel keeps his date with destiny

G. Raghunath
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FORMULA ONE / Wins Indian GP to become youngest-ever four-time world champion

HAIL THE KING!Sebastian Vettel is chaired by fellow drivers Nico Rosberg (left) and Romain Grosjean after his historic win.— PHOTO: RAJEEV BHATT
HAIL THE KING!Sebastian Vettel is chaired by fellow drivers Nico Rosberg (left) and Romain Grosjean after his historic win.— PHOTO: RAJEEV BHATT

Never before has Sebastian Vettel displayed such emotion on a Formula One track as he did on Sunday after winning the Indian Grand Prix at the Buddh International Circuit here and making history.

After taking the chequered flag, half a minute ahead of his countryman Nico Rosberg of Mercedes, the Red Bull driver knelt down in front of his RB9 and bowed.

He then darted across to the sidewall, climbed over the metal fence and hurled his gloves into the grandstand, packed to the limit, before joining team principal Christian Horner and chief design engineer Adrian Newey to celebrate his momentous victory.

After Vettel crossed the finish line, Horner hollered into his radio, “You have done it in style. Brilliant drive; you have joined the greats.”

His 10th victory of the season — the last six coming in succession — and 36th overall put Vettel in the company of great Formula One drivers, Michael Schumacher (seven world titles), Juan Manuel Fangio (5) and Alain Prost (4), who have won four or more world titles.

He also became the third driver in history after Fangio and Schumacher (he won five in succession) to win four world titles on the trot.

Vettel is the youngest to do so, and that added to the significance of his achievement.

Unexpected pit stop

Vettel’s clean start, always an envy of his rivals, was quite expected. However, what was unexpected was his pit stop as early as in the second lap, which dropped the defending champion to 17th spot. This fired Ferrari’s Felipe Massa into the lead, though only for a few laps as Mark Webber began to make his move to the front.

After the Brazilian pitted for the first time in the eighth lap, Webber made his way to the top and stayed there for nearly 21 laps until he was called in by his team.

Meanwhile Vettel, riding on medium tyres, began his surge up the field, hacking down one driver after another ruthlessly. Reeling in fabulous times, nearly a second a lap faster than the cars ahead of him, he moved into second place, just 11.6 seconds behind teammate Webber.

By now, the Red Bull strategy came through as clear as the afternoon sunshine here: the urgency to shed his ‘softs’, after all, proved a masterstroke in the end.

Webber’s first pit stop (29th lap) put Vettel in the vanguard. And much to everyone’s bewilderment, Webber had to pit once again four laps later to change to medium tyres (the softs were not working well in his car) and this gave Vettel complete control of the race.

By the 39th, Vettel opened a tremendous 13.3 seconds lead over Webber, whose alternator suddenly struck work. He was forced to pack up a lap later.

Webber’s retirement simply took the excitement out of the race, for he was the only driver on Sunday who could have taken the fight to Vettel’s camp.

Dreadful start

Fernando Alonso, Vettel’s nearest challenger, had a dreadful start to the race — he came in contact with Jenson Button’s McLaren and had to steer his Ferrari into the pits to replace its damaged nose, and also bolt on the softs.

However, his car was far from competitive and he could be heard complaining over the radio that his steering wheel felt heavy on the right-handers.

Stuck in the traffic of back-markers in 20th place, the Spaniard just about managed to finish 11th.

A long way behind Vettel, there were interesting skirmishes between Rosberg, Romain Grosjean, Massa, Sergio Perez and Kimi Raikkonen. Grosjean finished third — his second successive podium finish — nearly 10 seconds behind Rosberg, while Massa, Perez, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Paul di Resta, Adrian Sutil and Daniel Ricciardo finished in that order to mop up the remaining points.

Correction

The article has been edited to incorporate the following correction:

In the third paragraph of Vettel wins Indian GP (front page, Oct. 28, 2013) and in the fifth paragraph of the Sports page report, Vettel keeps his date with destiny (Oct. 28, 2013), Michael Schumacher has been mentioned as having won six world titles. It should have been seven world titles.

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