Sebastian Vettel moved within sight of becoming the youngest triple world champion in Formula One history on Sunday when he cruised to his fourth consecutive victory with an outstanding, dominant triumph in the Indian Grand Prix.
The 25-year-old German, winner of the title in 2010 and 2011, delivered the 26th win of his career in utterly convincing fashion, leading the 60-laps race from start to finish in his Red Bull car.
His triumph enlarged his lead in the drivers championship from six points to 13 with three races remaining in Abu Dhabi next week, then the United States and the season-finale in Brazil next month.
On a day of heat and dust at the shimmering, state-of-the-art Buddh International Circuit, Vettel overcame not only the determination of nearest rival Fernando Alonso of Ferrari, but also a threatening technical issue in the closing stages when parts of the floor of his car scraped along the circuit.
This contact, in parts of the track, raised sparks both literally and metaphorically as rival teams considered the condition of the Red Bull car and any possible contravention of strict technical rules.
Alonso, with superior straight line speed in his Ferrari, was unable to do better than climb from fifth on the grid to second and finished 9.4 seconds behind Vettel.
It was Vettel’s 26th win and he revelled in his familiar trick of standing atop his car to milk the applause from a rapturous crowd.
After an exultant celebration on the victory podium, in front of many of the 65,000 spectators, he added: “It has been incredible. To come here both years, get the pole and win the race is fantastic. It is a very special Grand Prix and I really like this circuit.”
Vettel may have had every reason to celebrate, but he was wary of looking ahead and taking anything for granted.
“Yes, maybe I have one hand on the trophy, if you say so, but on the other side, I think Fernando has one hand on it too!” he said.
Alonso said: “It is not easy to fight Red Bull but we will never give up. Well done Red Bull and Sebastian but we want to be happy in Brazil, not only here. I am sure we will do it.”
He added: “We lost points, but this is what we expected this weekend as we are not fast enough, but we lost minimum points and there will be better races to come.
”We were fast in a straight line, but still missing grip in the corners. Hopefully that will come in the next few races.“
Vettel’s Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber finished third, the Australian fending off a strong late challenge from Lewis Hamilton of McLaren who finished fourth ahead of Jenson Button.
Felipe Massa came home sixth in the second Ferrari ahead of his Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus, Nico Hulkenberg of Force India, Romain Grosjean in the second Lotus and 10th placed Bruno Senna of Williams.
Hamilton and Button’s efforts, in finishing fourth and fifth respectively, not only won their team valuable points in their battle for second place in the constructors’ championship, but also meant that McLaren equalled Ferrari’s record of 55 consecutive races in the points, set in 1999-2003.
In the teams’ title race, Red Bull now lead with 407 ahead of Ferrari on 316 and McLaren on 316. In the drivers’ championship, Vettel has 240 ahead of Alonso on 227 and Raikkonen on 173.
On a day of close racing, without great incident, Vettel may also have remembered that it was in Abu Dhabi last year that he suffered a first lap puncture and was forced to retire - a plight that was handed to three drivers in India.
All three retirements were caused initially by punctures and they led to the exits of Michael Schumacher of Mercedes, Sergio Perez of Sauber and Pastor Maldonado of Williams.
For Schumacher, it was his eighth enforced retirement of 2012 as he heads into final retirement.
Three races from the end of the most successful career in Formula One history, the celebrated German was later relieved to escape a sanction from the race stewards after ignoring blue flags and impeding Grosjean.