Vettel cruises to victory in India
Monday, 31 October 2011
(Reuters) - Red Bull's unstoppable double world champion Sebastian Vettel ran away with the inaugural Indian Formula One Grand Prix Sunday for his 11th victory in 17 races this season.
On a hot, dusty and bittersweet afternoon at the new Buddh International Circuit, the 24-year-old German led every lap of the race after starting from pole position. He also set the fastest lap right at the finish.
As if those landmarks were not enough, Vettel also set a record for the most laps led in a single season by any driver, leapfrogging Britain's 1992 champion Nigel Mansell in the statisticians' lists.
Both championships have already been won by Vettel and his team for the second year in a row.
Britain's Jenson Button, the 2009 world champion, consolidated his grip on second place overall by finishing 8.4 seconds behind the German, while Ferrari's Fernando Alonso took third place a further 15.8 seconds adrift.
"Yes boys, we did it," shouted Vettel after cricket great Sachin Tendulkar brought down the chequered flag in front of a race day crowd put at 95,000 people.
"First Indian Grand Prix, great job."
Vettel now boasts 374 points with two races left, McLaren's Button has 240, Alonso 227 and Red Bull's Australian Mark Webber -- who finished fourth after starting on the front row -- 221.
The champion celebrated on the podium by drinking champagne from the gleaming silver trophy after being joined in celebration by Red Bull technical head Adrian Newey, but he struck a more sombre mood afterwards.
The afternoon may not have been a thriller but, coming at the end of a grim month for motorsport with two high-profile race fatalities on successive weekends, that was almost a relief.
Before the race teams and drivers held a minute's silence, standing stock still on the grid with just the hum of generators, in memory of double Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon and MotoGP showman Marco Simoncelli.
Button, a friend and rival of Wheldon's early in their careers in Britain, dedicated the race to them while Vettel paid his own tribute.
"I have mixed feelings," the German added. "I am very, very happy. The first GP in India and I'm very proud to be the first winner. But looking back at the last weekends, we lost two of our mates."
Vettel's win was the 21st of his career and he can equal Michael Schumacher's 2004 record of 13 in a season if he continues in the same vein in Abu Dhabi and Brazil.
McLaren's 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari's Felipe Massa again collided, their sixth on-track clash of the season. The Brazilian was handed a drive through penalty for causing the collision and later retired with a broken front suspension.
British comedy actor Rowan Atkinson, best known as 'Mr Bean', grimaced in disbelief and shook his fists theatrically at the screen in the McLaren garage.
"Felipe just turned in on me, he didn't give me any space," Hamilton, who had to pit for a new front wing while Massa continued, shouted over the team radio.
Massa blamed the Briton and said he did not understand why he had been penalised.
Hamilton, who had qualified second but had a three-place grid penalty after ignoring warning flags in practice, finished seventh behind the Mercedes pairing of Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg.
Spaniard Jaime Alguersuari was eighth for Toro Rosso while Germany's Adrian Sutil ensured Force India scored points in their home race in ninth place.
Mexican Sergio Perez was 10th for Sauber, who stayed seventh and ahead of Toro Rosso on race placings after being tied on 41 points.
Towards the back, Narain Karthikeyan savoured his own moment as the first Indian to take part in a grand prix on home soil, finishing 17th on a famous day for Indian motorsport.