GREATER NOIDA, India, October 30 – World champion Sebastian Vettel made history by winning India’s first ever Formula One with ease on Sunday as McLaren’s Jenson Button tightened his grip on the championship’s second place.
Red Bull’s Vettel led throughout for his 11th victory of the season, finishing some 8.4 seconds ahead of Button with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso third and Australian Mark Webber fourth.
Seven-time champion Michael Schumacher battled to fifth but McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton came in seventh after yet another collision with his Ferrari bete noire, Felipe Massa.
“My pace was good up until the crash. After the crash, we struggled,” said the 2008 champion.
But wire-to-wire Vettel was in a class of his own at the all-new Buddh International Circuit near New Delhi as he closed on Michael Schumacher’s 2004 record of 13 wins in one year, with two races left this season.
“Yes boys! Yes, we did it,” Vettel shouted over the team radio as he finished. “The first Indian Grand Prix. Fantastic challenge, we did it!”
In dry, 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) heat, India’s debut grand prix got off to a furious start when Rubens Barrichello was hit on the first turn and three cars ended up off-track, before Jarno Trulli found himself on grass.
Vettel made no mistake from pole position but Button nipped past Webber and Alonso to go from fourth on the grid to second, cueing up an early dogfight with the Australian Red Bull driver.
As they duelled, Vettel opened up a lead of nearly five seconds and after the first set of stops, the young German emerged from the pit lane still at the head of the field.
Williams’ Pastor Maldonado was the first retirement with a gearbox problem and Sebastian Buemi had to stop his Toro Rosso when it started pouring smoke.
And there were fireworks on lap 24 when Hamilton, trapped on the inside by Massa as they hared towards a left-hand turn, shunted the Ferrari driver across the track in the latest of a series of collisions between the two.
Massa was given a drive-through penalty and Hamilton pitted for a new front wing, but the Brazilian’s race soon ended in farce as a kerb shattered his front suspension — a replay of the mishap he suffered in qualifying.
Button threatened to close the gap on Vettel in the final laps but there was no catching Formula One’s youngest ever back-to-back champion and he punched the air as he took the chequered flag in front of the giant grandstand.
The race’s build-up has been overshadowed by two deaths in motorsports this month and the controversial spectacle of glamorous Formula One appearing in one of India’s poorest regions.
But its private-sector organisers are already celebrating a smooth and successful event which has helped bury memories of last year’s Commonwealth Games, which are remembered for their poor organisation and corruption.