Sebastian Vettel Romps to Fourth Straight Win
At the start, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Romain Grosjean and Nico Rosberg all made similar starts. Fernando Alonso made an uncharacteristically average start, and actually ended up losing a place by the end of the first lap. Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierrez made fantastic starts and were jostling for fifth place on the run down to turn three. This is where the action happened. Alonso, Felipe Massa, Hulkenberg, Esteban Gutierrez, Jenson Button, Sergio Perez were all vying for the same bit of road, and eventually the fight went belly-up. Massa spun at the apex of turn three to avoid hitting the back of Rosberg, sending the Saubers off the track in avoidance. Once they returned, Hulkenberg got on the gas and swept by Alonso to run fifth. Gutierrez, on the other hand, did not come out of this scrap well. He lost momentum trying to get back on track, and eventually ended the first lap in 14th.
At the front, Vettel stormed off into the distance, boasting a 2.1 second lead by the end of lap one. By this time, Grosjean had gotten past Hamilton to run second, and set his sights on reducing, or at least maintaining, the gap to Vettel. Back in the lower reaches of the points, Button had sustained some front wing damage on his Mclaren and pitted on the fifth lap. Ahead, Hulkenberg was showing surprising straight-line speed and gutsy commitment in the faster corners to run well in the top-five.
The first round of stops began around the ninth lap, with Pastor Maldonado the first to take the plunge onto new tires. Button had already begun to set fastest laps on his new medium tires at this point, and by the 11th lap it was glaringly obvious that the medium tire was the one to be on. Hamilton was the first of the top three to pit. His Mercedes was not conserving its front right tire well at all, and the Briton was falling back from Grosjean too quickly for his liking. Vettel and Grosjean pitted a lap later, but by this time Hamilton had already regained his speed. As Grosjean exited the pits, Hamilton was approaching fast. The Frenchman has just enough speed in hand to keep his advantage over the Mercedes and quickly set about catching Vettel again.
Into the second stint, Kimi Raikkonen was steadily making his way up the field. He was lucky to get away from the turn three melee on the first lap well, and he set about closing up to the front from there.
As the second stint wore on, tire management became increasingly vital to the race results. Sergio Perez, however, was the main attraction at just past the halfway point in the race. While fighting with Kimi Raikkonen, the Mexican locked up heavily into the first corner. As he recovered, he slid wide, allowing Raikkonen to pass. This was the tipping point for Perez’s tire, though. On the long straight heading into turn three, Sergio’s front right tire blew up in spectacular fashion, sending chunks of rubber and carbon fiber all along the surface of the track. The safety car was immediately deployed.
It was now lap 32, and Vettel and Grosjean pitted under the safety car but remained first and second. Raikkonen was now in third with Hamilton and Hulkenberg completing the top five.
Once racing was underway again, chaos ensued once more. Sutil locked up his rear tires heading down to turn three. Spinning out of control, the German hit the side of Mark Webber‘s car, puncturing his engine hydraulics. The Red Bull immediately burst into flames in spectacular fashion. The safety car was brought out once more, but racing had been underway just long enough for Raikkonen to pass his teammate for second, and for Hulkenberg to get by Hamilton for fourth.
Hulkenberg had fantastic traction coming out of the first corner. This allowed Hulkenberg to build up enough of a gap on the back straight to stay ahead of Hamilton even when he was using DRS. The one time Hamilton did get ahead on the main straight, Hulkenberg breezed past with his own DRS right after.
Hulkenberg was able to hang onto fourth place, and Sebastian Vettel came home the victor. This was his fourth consecutive win of the season, and it firmly secures what will most likely be his fourth consecutive world championship. He only needs two more wins to do it.