Another race, another annihilation. Red Bull staged one final crushing demonstration in Sao Paulo yesterday as Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel blew away the opposition.
Webber finally won as he pleased after overtaking Vettel on the 40th lap, the double world champion's car suffering an overheating gearbox. His belated triumph put him one point ahead of Fernando Alonso in the overall standings, the Australian moving up to third place behind Vettel and Jenson Button. Webber celebrated with a string of fastest times in the final three laps of the Interlagos circuit, where he last won the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2009.
The fact Vettel was able to set the fastest lap soon after his gearbox overheating had obliged him to cede the lead to his team-mate, thus-far winless this season, raised momentary suspicions that Red Bull were indulging in a little helpful subterfuge, even though some weeks back Webber had trenchantly declared that he wanted no such thing. But the extent of Vettel's problem became clearer as he said it reminded him of Ayrton Senna's victory here in 1991 when the great Brazilian also had to use the higher gears only.
"I had a good start and was able to pull a gap," he said. "But then I had a radio call to manage a gearbox problem so I had to turn down the engine and short shift the gears, and use higher gears everywhere. That's where the comparison with Ayrton came into my head, except that he won!"
On the 61st lap, Vettel lost nearly three seconds to Webber after sliding momentarily off track. But even so, an injured Red Bull was more than fast enough to keep Button's McLaren at bay. The Abu Dhabi-winning team just lacked pace in the crucial early stages of the race as the Red Bulls took control. Such was Button's loss of performance that Alonso was able to overtake him and pull away easily on the 11th lap.
"It was a difficult race on the softer tyres," Button said. "Fernando was very close in Turn 5 and I was ready to block him into Turn 6 but then I saw debris on the track ahead of me and was obliged to back off and let him pass. That was a bit disappointing and unlucky, but to be honest we just didn't have the pace on the softer tyre."
Alonso seemed on track for a podium finish but when he made the mandatory switch on the 54th lap to the harder-compound Pirelli tyres, which Button had opted for on the 31st lap, he found his Ferrari suffering from its season-long lack of grip. Button was charging in the latter stages, "doing qualifying laps every lap," and his relentless pursuit paid off as he was able to get by on the 62nd. That was the move that made sure of his runner-up position, and that Alonso would drop that crucial point behind Webber.
"We decided to take the harder tyre for the last two stints and they worked pretty well for me and I was able to hunt down Fernando and make the pass," Button added. "But third was as far as we could get."
It was a disappointing afternoon for Lewis Hamilton. He could only trail Alonso and Button in fifth place in a McLaren that eventually pulled off the track on the 47th with gearbox trouble.
"It would have been nice to have had a race with Seb all through," Webber said. "But this is a win I'll take. I've had some bad luck before, that's how motorsport goes."