Greater Noida, 27 October – While Fernando Alonso had to contend with a damaged F138 for all 60 laps of today’s race, ending it just out of the points in eleventh place, Felipe Massa put in a great performance to finish fourth, built on a blistering opening lap and a determined passing move right at the end. However, the Brazilian’s performance will have attracted scant attention, as today was all about Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing taking their fourth consecutive Drivers’ and Constructors’ titles – a great sporting achievement. The German won the race, joined on the podium by Nico Rosberg, second for Mercedes and Romain Grosjean, who took his Lotus from 17th on the grid to third at the flag.
In slightly cooler conditions that in previous days, which would help tyre life, the field got away cleanly with Vettel keeping the lead from pole but Felipe made a fantastic start to go from fifth to second, wrestling his way past the Mercedes, while Alonso tangled with Webber, as the Australian braked to avoid Raikkonen, dropped to eleventh and had to come in for new nose on lap 2, rejoining at the back of the pack. However, there was damage to the F138 that would hamper the rest of his race. Having to pit so early, after opting to start on the Mediums also wiped out any strategic advantage of starting on the harder rubber.
When Vettel also had to pit for tyres very early on lap 3, Felipe found himself leading from Rosberg,Hamilton, Webber, Raikkonen, Perez, Ricciardo,Sutil, Grosjean, with Button tenth until the McLaren man pitted on lap 6, but Fernando was way down in 19th place. Rosberg brought the Mercedes in on lap 7 to fit the Medium tyres, followed by Raikkonen. Felipe came in to fit the Medium tyre on lap 8, as did Hamilton. The Brazilian rejoined in ninth place but moved up one, passing Bottas in the Williams.
On lap 9, it was all those who had yet to pit who topped the order, with Webber leading, from Perez in the McLaren, Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso, Grosjean who was up from 17th on the grid for Lotus, Sutil in the Force India, with Vettel back up to sixth after his tyre change. Meanwhile in 17th place, Fernando was tailing Vergne’s Toro Rosso, until he found a way past on lap 11. Vettel was charging up the order, passing his next year’s team-mate to go third on lap 13.By lap 14, Felipe was seventh behind Gutierrez but the Sauber driver would have to come in, given a drive through penalty for jumping the start. When the Mexican came in, it promoted Felipe to sixth, 3.2 seconds behind Sutil and 0.9 ahead of Rosberg, while Alonso had fought his way up to fourteenth.
Round lap 20, Fernando was involved in an exciting tussle for thirteenth, behind Gutierrez and ahead of Grosjean, the Ferrari man passing the Sauber on lap 21. Still sixth, Felipe’s gaps to Sutil in front and Rosberg behind were fairly stable. It was also on this lap, that Red Bull took command of the race, with Vettel moving into second behind Webber, the two men separated by 11.6 seconds, the Australian on slightly older tyres. On lap 24, Rosberg got close enough to look down the side of Felipe’s car at Turn 4, but the Brazilian held position. On lap 26, Felipe had both Mercedes on his tail, Rosberg ahead of Hamilton, but the German pitted on the next lap, leaving Hamilton to pursue the Ferrari.
Webber and Perez came in from first and third respectively on lap 28, to fit the Soft tyre, so that Vettel now led from Webber, with Ricciardo third ahead of Sutil, while Felipe was fifth, now with Perez behind him in the McLaren. Felipe and Hamilton then came in at half-distance, lap 30, the Ferrari man again fitting Mediums, and Fernando and Di Resta followed them in. One lap later, it was Vettel who came in for another set of Mediums which he would run to the flag. Webber also took on more Mediums on lap 32, while Ricciardo who was up to second pitted on lap 33, as did Perez and Hulkenberg.
Felipe was seventh on lap 36, in between Grosjean and Ricciardo, and Fernando came in at this point for another set of Mediums. But the Brazilian was coming under threat from Ricciardo, who was on newer, faster Softs, although the short life of this tyre meant the Australian was back in the pits for Mediums on lap 38. Drama two laps later, as Webber parked the car at the side of the track with an alternator issue on the Red Bull. It meant Felipe was now sixth, but the struggling Fernando was down in fourteenth. Lap 42 and Felipe was now fifth, with Hamilton right on his gearbox.
With Vettel leading Raikkonen by 25 seconds on lap 46, Rosberg third and Grosjean fourth ahead of Felipe, the question at this point was whether or not the two Lotus men, who had only stopped once, could really go all the way to the finish in 14 laps time. Fernando made up a couple of places to lie twelfth on lap 49 and he had Ricciardo doing similar lap times ahead of him. But the Spaniard stepped up the pace to get within half a second of the Australian with ten laps remaining, as they both closed on Sutil who was slow on old Options. Further ahead, Raikkonen’s tyres were fading which meant Rosberg managed to pass him for second on lap 51. The Ricciardo-Alonso duel was hotting up with the Spaniard looking down the inside of the Toro Rosso on lap 54, but unable to get ahead as the two men were now right up with Sutil’s Force India. And that’s how Fernando would finish eleventh, having fought with heavy steering from the first lap incident.
However, the drama was not over for Felipe. With the two Lotuses battling for third it allowed Felipe to close up and, at the start of lap 56 Felipe took fourth off Raikkonen, to take the chequered flag one place higher than he started. A strong showing from Mercedes here, means they move ahead of Ferrari to go second in the Constructors’ classification, but the Prancing Horse is still in the fight for what has been its main objective for a while, as the gap is just 4 points. Next stop, the “twilight” race in Abu Dhabi in just seven days time.