Print and Go Back ESPN.com: McKean [Print without images]

Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Sebastian Vettel untouchable in India


While the on-track battles were certainly lacking, India's Formula One debut left a lasting impression on both drivers and fans.

Many had very trying weekends -- including Felipe Massa, Pastor Maldonado and Lewis Hamilton -- but overall, many drivers deemed the debut a success, including Nico Rosberg. The 26-year-old German told reporters midway through the weekend, "The new track here in India is awesome. It has some very interesting corners, and that's why it takes a bit longer to get used to the layout than at some of the other new circuits."

Mercedes-Benz Motorsport vice president Norbert Haug shared similar sentiments: "Congratulations and compliments to the Indian Grand Prix organizers for building this state-of-the-art racetrack, which certainly does not need to hide behind the best ones in Europe. It is a pleasure for Formula One to be here in India."

Despite the new locale, it was business as usual for Sebastian Vettel, who secured the 31st pole for Red Bull in the past two years. Remarkably, no other constructor has more than two in that same span, and it's a testament to Red Bull's consistently quick pace at just about every track.

Vettel's 13th pole of the year means he now has 28 in his career, and he's only six shy of moving into sole possession of third on F1's all-time list. It's staggering to imagine that Vettel could realistically be third on that list before his 25th birthday. He still has a long way to go to match Michael Schumacher's record of 68, but at his current pace, that record certainly cannot be considered safe.

A two-time champion, Vettel cruised to victory Sunday, again setting the fastest lap of the race on the final trip around. It meant he earned his first career grand slam (won from pole, led every lap and ran fastest lap), becoming just the third driver since 2000 to do so (Schumacher, Fernando Alonso). He also became the first driver to ever pace the field for 700 laps or more in a single year.

Hamilton was thought to be a serious contender to Vettel's title pursuit this year, but that simply has not been the case. While another collision with Massa was not Hamilton's fault, he was also tagged with a three-place grid penalty for disregarding yellow flags in practice. India continued his nightmare season, as he ended up seventh overall, and his career has taken a different turn since his first two seasons in 2007 and 2008. In those years, Hamilton won nine times in 35 starts (25.7 winning percentage) and had 22 podium finishes. He also claimed a championship after losing out by the narrowest of margins the year prior.

In three seasons since, Hamilton has not finished better than fourth in the standings and has seven wins in 53 starts (13.2 winning percentage) along with 19 podiums. While Hamilton is certainly one of the top drivers in the sport, he's not immune to significant slumps -- and while it was hard to imagine at the start of the season, he's looking like the No. 2 driver in the McLaren stable right now.

Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi is also mired in a slump. India continued his streak of seven races without a point earned, and he has just two points in his past 10 events. Even Nick Heidfeld, who hasn't competed since July, has more points in that span. That's also a stark contrast to the beginning of this season, when Kobayashi had 25 points through seven races and failed to score points only once (finished in points but disqualified in Australia). The lack of production has not stemmed from Sauber as a team, however, as Sergio Perez has 12 points in his past nine grands prix.