NEW DELHI: Defending world champion Sebastian Vettel cruised to his fourth consecutive win and extended his lead in this year’s title race to 13 points when he steered his Red Bull car to victory in Sunday’s Indian Grand Prix.
The 25-year-old German led from pole to the chequered flag to come home ahead of nearest championship rival Fernando Alonso of Ferrari.
Vettel’s Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber finished third, the Australian fending off a strong late challenge from Lewis Hamilton of McLaren who finished fourth ahead of his team-mate and fellow Briton Jenson Button.
Felipe Massa came home sixth in the second Ferrari ahead of Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus, Nico Hulkenberg of Force India, Romain Grosjean in the second Lotus and 10th placed Bruno Senna of Williams.
It was Vettel’s 26th win and he revelled in his familiar trick of adding the fastest lap of the race in the final lap and then standing atop of his car to milk the applause from the crowd.
After an exultant celebration on the victory podium, in front of many of the 65,000 crowd, he added: “It has been incredible. To come here both years, get the pole and win the race is fantastic. It is a very special Grand Prix and I really like this circuit.”
Alonso said: “It is not easy to fight Red Bull but we will never give up. Well done Red Bull and Sebastian but we want to be happy in Brazil, not only here. I am sure we will do it.”
On another dry, hot day, accompanied by heavy smog, at the Buddh International Circuit, with the air temperature touching 30 degrees Celsius and the track temperature nudging 39 degrees, Vettel looked the coolest man on the grid at the start and, when the lights went out, he demonstrated his total concentration with a perfect getaway from his 35th pole position.
Webber followed him and as the two Red Bulls took an immediate grip on the race at the front of the field there was a fierce battle for third behind them on the opening lap.
The two McLaren men scrapped from the start and were passed on the straight by Alonso, but re-passed him in a dramatic scrap.
Alonso’s Ferrari clearly had a superior top speed performance, thanks to a long top gear and an effective Drag Reduction System (DRS), and it was no surprise when he surged into third in his bid to tail the Red Bulls on lap four.
By then, however, the two leaders were pulling clear of the rest and building up a lead which was close to four seconds by lap ten.
Having recovered from his unspectacular start in which he fell to fourth and then fifth, Hamilton passed team-mate Button on lap six to regain fourth.
Michael Schumacher, approaching the end of his career, suffered the misfortune of collecting a right rear puncture at the start and then the ignominy of being lapped by compatriot Vettel on lap eight.
To make matters worse, as he struggled among the tail-enders, the seven-time champion was reprimanded by the stewards for failing to obey blue flags, when waved to indicate a driver is about to be passed by the leaders.
Button was the first driver into the pits, on lap 26. His move triggered the usual flurry of pit-lane activity which included a remarkable stop by Hamilton six laps later when the McLaren crew changed all of his tyres and his steering wheel in 3.3 seconds.
Grosjean, running like Hamilton on a one-stop strategy, rose through the field and was the last of the leading group to come in and rejoined in ninth place as Vettel stretched his lead to 12.5 seconds.
By lap 40, he was cruising ahead of Webber who was fending off the close attention of Alonso, attacking from third, with Hamilton closing fast in fourth ahead of Button and Massa.
Alonso, with superior straight line speed, finally passed Webber on lap 48 to move into second and set up a late chase after the leader.
Vettel appeared to have a problem with his car with six laps remaining when the floor of his Red Bull scraped along the surface of the circuit at times, producing sparks and fears that he may face an investigation for a technical infringement.
But he was able to stay in front to the finish as behind him Hamilton attacked to within two seconds of Webber without avail, producing just the drama that the passionate Indian crowd anticipated and enjoyed.