Sebastian Vettel wouldn’t reveal what rev-up music he listens to before a grand prix, but something by Status Quo would be a suitable nomination. For he is the only man to lead a Formula One lap at India’s Buddh International Circuit after dominating the previous two races here, and he has also won the past five races this season.
For a man who just needs to win here to cement a fourth consecutive world championship, he is sitting in the pound seats after taking his 43rd pole position. Yes, the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton ganged up on his Red Bull team-mate, Mark Webber, but Vettel’s margin of 0.7sec over the silver arrows was all the proof you needed of the superiority of his Adrian Newey-designed machine.
He lost no time in redefining the ante yet again in the final qualifying session, and his lap of 1min 24.119sec was so far ahead of everyone else it wasn’t funny. But Webber, like Fernando Alonso for Ferrari and the McLaren drivers, opted to run Pirelli’s medium-compound tyre rather than the softs his main rivals favoured, and that left him prey to the Mercedes. First Rosberg beat him with 1:24.871, then Hamilton with 1:24.941. But Webber improved to 1:25.047 to take fourth, and could reap the benefits in a race which will be decided on strategy. The soft tyres are faster but the mediums are lasting much longer.
“It’s been a brilliant weekend, and the car basically has been fantastic since yesterday morning and has stayed that way as the track conditions ramped up,” Vettel said. “This is a great circuit and I really like its flow, with all the high-speed corners in the middle sector. Of course, if your car works well there, you really enjoy that.”
Hamilton, listening in during the post-race press conference, smiled ruefully, saying: “Incredible congratulations to Seb. That’s some serious pace that they have.”
Despite this, Vettel refuses to be complacent about his chances of wrapping up the title with three races to run. “I’m trying not to think about it,” he said, before adding with a chuckle, “but it’s difficult when every second person in the paddock asks you the same question. But we will just focus on every single step. I don’t know which strategy will prove to be the right one, but it’s a long race and it’s always tricky to do the right thing. There are a lot of laps and we have a quick package, so we should be in good shape. The strategy surely is not easy to decide but if everybody does his bit it shouldn’t matter too much. We’ll see how well each one works out in the race.”
Both Mercedes drivers agreed they had driven the wheels off their cars. “To be honest, I was completely on a knife edge and really pushed the limits to try and find that extra tenth of a second, trying new things,” Rosberg said. “I’m very pleased with second because it’s better than I hoped for with Mark being on another strategy. We’ve taken a step forward from recent races.”
As for Hamilton, he added: “It’s been a tough weekend for us, and we have been pushing as hard as we can. I’ve struggled a little bit with something different on the car, which Nico has had experience of in the past, and I have to say I was a little bit surprised to be where we are. But we just kept adjusting the set-up bit by bit and the car was reasonable.
“In turns eight and nine I had somebody ahead of me – it may have been you!” he said, turning to Vettel with a smile. “But it didn’t lose me too much time. Strategy will play a huge part in the race, and we’ll try and push Red Bull as hard as we can, even if they are in a different world.”
Off the track, it is understood that F1’s supremo, Bernie Ecclestone, will face bribery charges in a Munich court on 6 November, after next weekend’s Abu Dhabi GP. It was originally thought that the hearing would be delayed until 2014.