The greatest champions of sport are constantly seeking perfection, looking to learn all the time and keep making incremental improvements. Red Bull Racing’s German ace Sebastian Vettel, who has already secured this season’s world Formula One championship, showed that he has all such qualities by remaining motivated and hungry to win the inaugural Grand Prix of India in Greater Noida on Sunday.
On Saturday, he was in complete command of car and strategy as he claimed pole position for the 13th time this season with a lap of 1 minute 24.178 seconds in qualifying. In doing so, he showed that he was eager to become ‘a happy and proud’ first winner of the Grand Prix of India and secure his 11th victory in 17 races this season. He was only underscoring that excellence was only a matter of habit.
However, beyond the realms of such cold statistics that stem from his intensely competitive attitude on track, the 24-year-old Vettel’s philosophy of learning all the time will stand him in good stead. “I do not think we were 100 per cent,” he said of his combination with the Red Bull Racing car that has dominated the Formula 1 season.
To this day, India’s most celebrated contemporary sportsperson Sachin Tendulkar says he is happy but not satisfied when he gets to the milestone of an international century, insisting that satisfaction is like engaging the hand brake in a car and still expecting it to move. And even if Vettel may not understand cricket, he would surely buy into Tendulkar’s approach to his career.
“We are all racing here in what will be the first Grand Prix of India and I think each one of us drivers would be happy and proud to be the first winner here,” Vettel said. “It will be great to start the race from the front since we all realise that it could be tricky to go off the racing line in an attempt to overtake here.”
“It is tricky for all of us, the dust on the track,” Vettel said. “There is one racing line that is now clear of dirt and the car was fantastic through qualifying on the challenging circuit. I am sure Fernando (Alonso) and Jenson (Button) will put a lot of pressure on us. We (Red Bull drivers) are going to race hard and enjoy it and see where we finish. We want a 1-2 finish.”
With the top five drivers stopping the clock inside 1 minute 25 seconds on Saturday, the 60-lap race itself promises to present the 100,000 spectators and the millions watching on TV a memorable race on what has been called an interesting track that can become a bit tricky because of the dust on the lines away from the racing line.
Britain’s Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) finished second in qualifying but will start fifth on the grid after he incurred a penalty for what he called was a silly mistake during practice on Friday when he ignored a yellow flag caution and did not reduce his speed. That will allow Australian Mark Webber to move up and complete an all-Red Bull Racing front row.
Spain’s Alonso (Ferrari) and Briton Button (McLaren Mercedes) will take the third and fourth places on the grid ahead of Hamilton while Brazilian Felipe Massa (Ferrari) finished just outside the 1:25 bracket.
The sentimental favourite Michael Schumachaer did not make it to Q3 – the final 10 minutes of the qualifying reserved for those clocking the top 10 times in Q2. He finished with the 12th best qualifying time but will start 11th as a result of Russian Vitaly Petrov (Renault) dropping five places on the grid for causing an accident that took Schumacher out of the last race.
As we drove away from the Buddh International Circuit after watching Austrian teenager Lucas Auer win the first race of the fifth round of the JK Racing Asia Series on Saturday, it was hard not to think of Vettel as someone blessed with a mature head on his young shoulders and as someone who could win the hearts of Formula 1 fans not just with his driving but also with his incredible personality that is based on team-work and extreme confidence rather than arrogance.