Vettel Drives to Victory in Brazilian Grand Prix

  November 7, 2010, 1:04 pm

By BRAD SPURGEON

Updated | 3:30 p.m. ET

INTERLAGOS, Brazil — By Saturday evening, the Brazilian Grand Prix outside Sao Paulo was set to be a wild and crazy ride, possibly culminating in a world drivers’ title victory by Fernando Alonso of Ferrari.

In the end, though, most of the excitement came not from what happened on the track on Sunday, but from the news of the night before that Jenson Button had been involved in an attack by armed bandits on the road from the circuit to São Paulo. Members of the Sauber team were also attacked and robbed.

Neither Button nor anyone in his entourage was injured, but they sped off through the streets, scraping several other cars in the process.

The race was calm by comparison.

Alonso needed to win the race and hope for the near elimination of the other title contenders if he was to take his third drivers’ title Sunday. But by the second corner, both Vettel and Webber had passed Nico Hulkenberg, who had won the pole position, and they took a lead they would never give up.

It was Vettel’s fourth victory this season and the ninth of his career, and it moved him up to third in the driver standings from fourth. It gave Red Bull its first constructors’ title since it began racing in Formula One in 2005.

‘‘An incredible day,’’ Vettel said. ‘‘It’s good to show one race to the end what we are made of. We are here to fight.”

But it is the drivers’ title that has more prestige.

Alonso, who finished third in Brazil, leads the drivers’ series with 246 points, Webber is second with 238, Vettel is third with 231 and Lewis Hamilton is fourth with 222 points. Button, who entered the race as a contender, was eliminated, as he finished fifth and lies fifth in the series with 199 points. A victory awards 25 points, while a second place finish is worth 18 points.

‘‘The rest can say what they want, but we have the constructors’ title at the moment,’’ Webber said.

The rainy qualifying session on Saturday resulted in the surprise pole position by Hulkenberg in a Williams car. That team had not scored a pole position since 2005, and it looked as if the main contenders for the title would have a rough time passing him, but they did not.

‘‘I saw that Nico had a bit too much drift, and I squeezed down the inside,’’ Vettel said. ‘‘That was the key. I was able to hold the gaps as I planned and control the race.’’

Alonso, too, passed Hulkenberg, and by Lap 14, Hamilton moved into fourth after Hulkenberg made his pit stop. Button qualified only 11th, but he would eventually rise to fifth, and for the rest of the race the five contenders raced in the top five positions.

On Lap 50, Tonio Liuzzi crashed his Force India car, and the safety car was deployed so the mess could be cleared up. The race restarted after Lap 55 and Vettel got off to a clean start, with Webber 2.1 seconds behind and Alonso 3.1 seconds behind Webber. The order of the race remained the same, with Alonso finishing third.

‘‘I think a good race for us,’’ Alonso said. ‘‘In terms of points, we are extremely happy.’’

Vettel, for his part, sang the praises of his team with a little nostalgia.

‘‘When Red Bull entered Formula One, I was a small boy and I had just got my drivers license, and I drove to England and someone showed me around and I was fascinated,’’ said Vettel, 23. ‘‘And now to be part of the team and part of the driver lineup and to give them their first championship is incredible.’’

Meanwhile, however, there was a strategic calculation that the Red Bull team had to make. If Webber won the race with Vettel finishing second and Alonso finishing third, then the team would have greatly increased its chances of winning the drivers’ title next week. Webber would trail Alonso by only one point instead of the eight-point deficit with which he will now go into the final race. As it stands now, even if Webber wins the final race, Alonso would take the title if he comes in second. Vettel, for his part, lies 15 points behind.

Yet it would break the rules if Red Bull had ordered Vettel to let Webber win the race. This year saw scandal when Ferrari asked Felipe Massa at the German Grand Prix in July to allow Alonso to pass him to take seven extra points for the drivers’ title.

Ferrari escaped with only a monetary fine. This time, Red Bull chose not to adopt the strategy.

 Copyright New York Times Company. 2010. All Rights Reserved

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