We witnessed a masterclass from Sebastian Vettel today. There wasn’t a single car or driver able to get even within striking distance of the three-time world champion as he drove to his 33rd career win at a canter. For those in his wake, it was a day of playing second best.
We also witnessed some phenomenal comebacks today, with Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen making up for poor starting positions to fill the podium behind Vettel. For the latter, fighting a painful injury only added to the enormity of the task at hand.
Those off of the podium will have to live with thoughts of what could have been. Those thought to be the only real challengers to Vettel, Nico Rosberg, Romain Grosjean, Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton, were all strangely absent from the podium. For Rosberg and Hamilton, ultimate pace in the race was ultimately thwarted by higher tire wear, something that has plagued the team this whole season. The team must ask themselves how many points have been lost to their inability to preserve tires. It will be the key to a successful campaign next year.
When all looked lost in the fight for the win, the safety car came to spice things up. Daniel Ricciardo of Toro Rosso locked up on the entry to turn 18, eventually sliding, rather ungracefully, into the barrier. At this point, Vettel’s lead margin of 10 seconds was wiped out. Gone. He won’t be all too pleased to hear that it was his future teammate that lost him his margin.
Nevertheless, Vettel proved his skill on the restart by effortlessly pulling away from the desperate Rosberg to fly off into the distance once again. With his immense pace proven once again, it was only a fight for the rest of the podium that could save the day.
It was important to Paul di Resta, for after a miserable qualifying on Saturday, the Scotsman managed to eke out his first stint on the SuperSoft tires to more than 20 laps. Mere laps after he pitted, the safety car came out for the Ricciardo crash. It wasn’t perfectly timed, but it wasn’t the end of the world. This left di Resta in a great position to go the rest of the race on his new tires; had he switched to Mediums.
Under the safety car, a number of leading drivers pitted for a second time, hoping to go to the end. Raikkonen, Grosjean, Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Felipe Massa all made their second stops, allowing the two Red Bulls and Mercedes to fill the top four spots. On lap 33, Grosjean’s luck ran out. An air pressure problem finally took its toll on the Lotus and, after a lengthy stop in the pits, it took only a few laps for the Frenchman’s day to be over. Thus ended his very good chances of finishing on the podium.
The action really heated up in the dying laps of the race. Those who had pitted for Medium tires during the safety car were now susceptible to those who waited to pit for SuperSofts later in the race. The likes of Hamilton, Rosberg and Webber were the fastest cars on track at the end of the race. There were four cars in particular who will possibly regret pitting under the safety car. The two Mclarens and Saubers were well in the top 10 when the final stops were made, and they knew they had a tough job to keep them behind in the closing laps.
It was only a matter of time before the two groups clashed on track, and what a fight we saw. These closing laps were the most frenetic of the race, with more than 10 drivers all fighting for the last points-paying positions. The Mercedes duo came away from the scrap unscathed and with good points for fourth and fifth. The Mclarens did well to hang on to seventh and eighth in the end, and Nico Hulkenberg took ninth place ahead of Adrian Sutil.
If you’re wondering where Webber ended up, it would be at the side of the road; a gearbox problem cropped up with five laps to go. His engimeer told him to short-shift whenever he could, but it was not enough. Painfully, on the very last lap of the race, Webber’s gearbox finally failed in a fiery display, thus ruining his chances for the podium.
This was a race of immense elation for some and desperation for others. However you look at it now, Vettel has all but sealed his fourth consecutive world championship. It would take a miracle for the now 60 point advantage he holds to be eradicated, but crazy things happen all the time in Formula One.