Sebastian Vettel surprised friend and enemy by winning the Indian Grand Prix that way he did. Contrary to the predictions, he virtually won the race by lap 10. But how exactly did he do that?
Many teams had predicted that a start on softs would be nearly identical in total race time as starting on the medium tyre. As such, many, including Red Bull Racing, Ferrari and Williams split their strategies, hoping to get at least one car in a good position in case something unexpected would happen throughout the race.
Vettel therefore started on the softs after carefully nursing the tyres through his qualifying lap. That in itself wasn't a big problem, as Red Bull knew their performance was great and their closest rivals would have to do the same in an attempt to at least do a few laps on the options. Mark Webber was widely predicted as the main challenger for the win, being the best placed man starting on the prime Pirelli tyres. And indeed he was, starting ahead of Felipe Massa's Ferrari who qualified on tyres that were approximately a full second a lap quicker.
As the lights went out, the German Red Bull driver kept hold of his pole position and quickly started pulling a gap, racing to the pits where he would immediately change to the medium tyre. The team could have opted to do a longer first stint, but the strategy worked out perfectly as it allowed Vettel to push to the limit in the first lap while others were trying to make the options last. By the time lap one was done, Vettel was nearly 3 seconds ahead of the competition, led by Felipe Massa who managed to get ahead of both Mercedes cars on the long straight.
At the same time, Mark Webber had another troubled start, but found himself lucky not to have a punctured tyre after he clashed with Alonso following an move to avoid hitting Raikkonen on the exit of turn 1. The first lap caused Webber to get stuck behind the Lotus which in the early phase was clearly slower than the Red Bull. It took Webber until lap 6 to get ahead of the Finn who started on options, until then averaging a laptime of 1:33.684. Once past, Webber immediately went a second a lap quicker and came to lead the race on lap 9 after all soft runners pitted.
Vettel already did so at the end of lap 2, dropping from first to 17th. He soon climbed back up the ranking order, helped with a large number of cars stopping in the next few laps. At the end of lap 9, the German was already 6th, two positions ahead of Felipe Massa, the next fastest runner who started on the option tyres. Another two laps later, Vettel was 4th after passing Adrian Sutil and Romain Grosjean. Both drivers had not stopped yet and were running 1.5 to 2 seconds slower than the Red Bull.
At lap 14, the race was essentially won, as both Red Bull drivers were in clear air, and Vettel was only 14 seconds behind his leading teammate. That difference is identical to that between the two on lap 3.
What follows was a fight on almost equal terms, where Vettel's run in free air was only interrupted by Sergio Perez in lap 19 and 20. This short drop in performance was evened out by two strange off-the-pace laps by Webber on lap 13 and 14. Including these, Vettel was on average little more than two tenths a lap quicker than Webber while also being more consistent.
In Vettel's advantage we can argue that he did pass one car during this stint while Mark Webber was easily running without any cars ahead of him. Webber did however run on slightly older medium tyres, having used these during qualifying and for two more laps during the race.
Lap 27 obviously saw Webber stop for 4 laps on the soft tyres, a strategy mirrored by Sergio Pérez in the McLaren. After those stops and Vettel's stop on lap 31, Vettel had the race in the bag with an advantage of 12 seconds over his teammate, and both on tyres of virtually the same age. That Webber dropped out in lap 40 with an alternator failure on his Red Bull RB9 was of no importance for either Vettel or Red Bull, as both Championships were still comfortably secured.
The only remaining challenger for the title before the race, Fernando Alonso had no chance and fought in the margin for a few points which he eventually failed to materialize.
The fact that the short first stint on the soft tyres worked out perfectly for Vettel whereas others appeared to have trouble to get it working is really only down to the raw pace of Vettel and Red Bull, rather than anything else. The package was so dominant that passes were extremely easy, making it look like a walk in the park once out of traffic.
Proof of this is Vettel's fastest lap, 1:28.116, set on lap 54. Many drivers set their personal best laps at the final stage of the race, but only Raikkonen managed to improve it after changing tyres on the penultimate lap. Of the drivers who were on similarly old tyres, Alonso's fastest lap was only good for 1:28.709 on lap 58 but Sergio Pérez came closest on lap 59 with a 1:28.503.
After 60 laps, Vettel crossed the finish line 29.823 seconds ahead of second placed finished Nico Rosberg, underlining a dominant second half of the season that looks all but done.