Sebastian Vettel was overtaken by Fernando Alonso in the Indian Grand Prix, and it was a decisive move. The problem was it happened as the pair headed for the grid with the Spaniard indulging in a little one-upmanship as he shoved ahead and then made Vettel wait while his mechanics rushed to push his car to its position.
That, however, was the only way Alonso could pass the man who took his World Championship lead away in Korea, and widened the gap to 13 points as he dominated the field for a fourth straight win here in New Delhi.
The last driver to lead every lap for three successive races was Ayrton Senna in 1989. The way that Vettel ran away with this race, you wouldn't bet your house against him matching the Brazilian's tally of three world titles before the 2012 season is over.
For all that some sought to talk a dull race up, it's story was simple. Vettel was never remotely challenged and won even more easily than he did here a year ago. He shrugged off a challenge from his Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber in the run to the first corner, then won as he pleased. Not even a sparking floor late in the race could faze him.
"I noticed it when I opened up to lap Timo Glock's Marussia," Vettel said, "but it wasn't really a problem. I didn't feel anything with the balance. I saw Timo backing off in my mirror when he saw the sparks, but it didn't cost us anything or slow us down."
Nothing, it seemed, could do that. Alonso battled with the McLarens straight away, passing both, being re-passed, then managing to make a move on Lewis Hamilton stick as Jenson Button resolutely maintained third.
"They were fighting themselves and they forgot that I was there in turn four so I was lucky to exit that without any damage," he said, "but I was able to pass one of them."
He got the other one, Button, on the fourth lap, and then began his battle to catch Webber. With a faulty KERS unit, the Australian was really hurting down the kilometre-long main straight, where the Ferrari had a high top speed, but the Red Bull's superior grip kept it ahead until the 48th lap when a great lunge took the Spaniard into second place.
On the harder-compound Pirelli tyre, the Ferrari had similar pace to Vettel's Red Bull, but that was already 12 seconds up the road.
Alonso succeeded in whittling that down to 9.5sec, made a small mistake, lost a second, then clawed it back. But by the flag he was still behind his unstoppable nemesis.
"This second place is good news for us," said Alonso, putting a brave face on it even though Red Bull winning yet again was precisely what Ferrari didn't need.
"We were not close enough to fight for pole, but normally in the race we are strong enough to fight. I pushed 120 per cent every lap. That combined with perfect strategy from the team led to this second place."
The writing is on the wall, however, barring a miracle recovery by Ferrari.
Webber was philosophical after being left powerless to defend against Alonso and nearly losing out to Hamilton.
He said: "The KERS was on and off, then completely off. I was a moving target. We needed to screw around with brake balance, and just manage as best we could not to lose rhythm and tempo.
"It's so demoralising on that straight with no KERS, it's not really a battle. I managed to get away from Fernando, but then the Ferrari came past me – they have good top speed – and that was it.
"I pushed as strong as possible and was lucky Lewis made a mistake on lap 57, because he was starting to get a bit of momentum. I was keen to keep him out of DRS range as much as possible."
Hamilton and Button were both competitive late in the race, once they had switched to the harder tyre, but it was too late to do anything more than help McLaren to overtake Ferrari with a record 55 consecutive finishes in the points. That, and a fastest lap for Button, was not much consolation after they had expected to fight for victory.
Hamilton needed to change his car's steering wheel during his tyre stop because of a downshift failure. "I've never had that before, and it was so quick," he said.
"I just took it off before I even stopped, shoved the new one back on, stuck it in first gear, and, boom, I was gone. It was a very, very tough race. In the car it felt great, but it was just so difficult – the Red Bulls were so quick through the final sector but we were catching them around the rest. I pushed every lap, right to the flag, and it was fantastic to have that battle. It's just a shame I had a poor start which put us on the back foot."
Button said: "The first and the last laps of the race were great – it was those in the middle...
"I had a great start, a good fight with Fernando and Lewis but for me the problem was Pirelli's soft tyre. I just couldn't get it to work, which is why I had to pit so early."
For Vettel and Alonso the race was merely one more stage in the step by step game they are playing, and neither was willing to comment on what it really meant to them.
"We know how much this goes up and down," Vettel said, "so we take it race by race."
Alonso was similarly guarded, he said: "Nothing has changed in one race. There are 75 points and we are 13 behind and we know we need to improve. We are not fast enough, especially on Saturday, but we can improve the situation in Abu Dhabi or USA."
Indian Grand Prix: result and standings
FIA Formula One Indian Grand Prix, New Delhi
1 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 1hr 31mins 10.744secs
2 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 1:31:20.181
3 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:31:23.961
4 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 1:31:24.653
5 J Button (GB) McLaren 1:31:37.010
6 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:31:55.418
7 K Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus F1 Team 1:31:55.971
8 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Force India 1:32:05.742
9 R Grosjean (Fr) Lotus F1 Team 1:32:06.847
10 B Senna (Br) Williams 1:32:25.719
11 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:32:32.438
12 P di Resta (GB) Force India 1:32:33.559
13 D Ricciardo (Aus) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:32:36.808
14 K Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber-Ferrari 1:32:37.239
15 J-E Vergne (Fr) Scuderia Toro Rosso at 1 lap, 16 P Maldonado (Ven) Williams at 1 lap, 17 V Petrov (Rus) Caterham at 1 lap, 18 H Kovalainen (Fin) Caterham at 1 lap,19 C Pic (Fr) Marussia at 1 lap, 20 T Glock (Ger) Marussia at 2 laps, 21 N Karthikeyan (Ind) HRT-F1 at 2 laps, 22 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP at 5 laps, 23 P de la Rosa (Sp) HRT-F1 42 laps completed, 24 S Perez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari 20 laps completed.
Drivers' championship standings
1 Vettel 240pts, 2 Alonso 227, 3 Raikkonen 173, 4 Webber 167, 5 Hamilton 165, 6 Button 141, 7 Rosberg 93, 8 Grosjean 90, 9 Massa 89, 10 Perez 66, 11 Kobayashi 50, 12 Hulkenberg 49, 13 Di Resta 44, 14 Schumacher 43, 15 Maldonado 33, 16 Senna 26 , 17 Vergne 12, 18 Ricciardo 9, 19 Glock 0, 20 Kovalainen 0, 21 Petrov 0, 22 J d'Ambrosio (Bel) 0, 23 Pic 0, 24 Karthikeyan 0, 25 De la Rosa 0.
Manufacturers' championship standings
1 Red Bull 407pts, 2 Ferrari 316, 3 McLaren 306, 4 Lotus F1 Team 263, 5 Mercedes GP 136, 6 Sauber-Ferrari 116,
7 Force India 93, 8 Williams 59, 9 Scuderia Toro Rosso 21,
10Marussia 0, 11 Caterham 0, 12 HRT-F1 0.Reuse content