After all the build-up, it was finally time for the real thing. Race day had arrived at the Buddh International Circuit and despite some issues in qualifying, I was looking forward to a good finish, knowing well that matching last year's 17th place would be a tall order given our potential at the moment.
It was a busy lead-up to the race start; apart from the regular team meetings and debriefs, there were obviously lots of guests and so on, but it is something you experience only at home. I even managed to have a quick chat with Andy Green --- the World Land Speed record holder.
As the lights went out, I had an average start but decided to stay a little conservative in case something happened at Turn One. But it happened anyway, as I had some contact at the first corner and lost a chunk of my front wing. However, I decided to stay out for a lap to see if it had a significant dent on performance, and it turned out be a good decision. It was a lucky escape, just like the one I had last year after the incident at Turn Three, but I had already lost quite a bit of ground by then. The damage had affected the balance a little, but I decided to press on, but there was some more bad news in store on the radio.
The team informed me that the brakes were overheating and I had to coast (lift off the throttle) way before than I normally would before entering a corner, to cool them down. So, it was costing us a bunch of lap time. Shortly after, I saw my teammate go off at Turn Four and hit the barriers, which further confirmed the issues we were facing.
At the front, the result was pretty much what everyone had expected --- but in a slightly different order apart from Vettel. Everyone had expected the McLarens to challenge the Red Bull, but once again they couldn't take the fight when it mattered. Instead, it was Alonso who rose to the challenge and emerged the fastest of the rest.
Yes, the scrap between the McLarens and Ferraris at the start allowed Webber and Vettel to make a clean getaway from the front row, but there was no denying that they were genuinely quick. As predicted, there was some action at Turn Four on the opening lap and several times thereafter --- as Alonso tried to pass both McLarens down the straight before they passed him back again as off-line was still far from ideal for braking, especially with full tanks of fuel.
Once the race settled down, Vettel sprinted away --- so much so that he dropped Webber into the Ferrari's range and Alonso, being the relentless chaser he is, grabbed the chance.
Then to make matters worse, Webber had an untimely KERS failure and that was all Alonso needed to complete his move, despite the fact that he was already trying to save fuel at the same time, which meant he might not have been running at the most optimal performance.
Vettel is now 13 points ahead of Alonso, and even though it looks unlikely that Ferrari can fight back from here on with three races remaining, the fact is that you can never discount Alonso. A DNF (Did Not Finish) for Vettel or a major update for Ferrari that gives them a significant lap-time boost is all that would be needed to change the complexion of the championship.