Vettel is getting used to taste of success
World champion Sebastian Vettel cruised to his sixth win of the season as he rivals all but conceded this year’s title.
Vettel controlled the race from the beginning in a race that failed to match the drama of Canada a fortnight ago.
Home-favourite Fernando Alonso beat Mark Webber to second following a race-long tussle.
Lewis Hamilton took a distant fourth ahead of Felipe Massa and Jenson Button who toiled home in sixth after having been initially held up by the fast-starting Mercedes of Nico Rosberg.
Vettel’s haul of six wins and two seconds means the German has established a 77-point lead over Button and Webber – the equivalent of more than three race victories.
Any thoughts that Vettel was cracking under the pressure after his last-lap error in Canada were quickly quashed as he got a near-perfect start from pole.
Massa made an outstanding getaway from fifth and was challenging Webber for second into Turn Two but was re-passed by Alonso as the Brazilian had to back off when the Red Bull turned in.
Both McLarens lost places off the start and never looked capable of challenging for the podium. Hamilton slipped from third to fifth by the first corner and could not match the pace of Red Bull or Ferrari and only passed Massa in the pit-stops.
“We just got a bad start and lost out to the Ferraris but in all honesty we weren’t as quick as them,” Hamilton said.
“The team was asking me to stay out longer but I was saying ‘I’m trying to look after my tyres as much as I can’. I was struggling with over-steer the whole time.”
Button fared little better even once he muscled his way past Rosberg into Turn Two on lap six.
The 2009 world champion said after the race he was struggling for balance throughout and lost KERS at half-race distance.
But at the front Vettel’s afternoon was plain sailing as he cruised to his 16th career victory.
“Maybe from the outside it looked like a boring race, but I enjoyed it so much,” Vettel said.
“Of course I had some pressure from Fernando [Alonso] and Mark [Webber] behind and even though I had a gap before the stop, they were still very close.
“I was pushing hard, judging the tyres, trying to imagine what the end of the stint would be like.
“For some reason I enjoy this track. Last year I had a smooth race and again this year, I had a good race.”
Ominously Vettel said: “This track is not made for us [Red Bull] with no real fast corners, but we still managed to put everything together.”
The battle between Webber and Alonso was the only real highlight as front-running action was sparse in the Valencian sun.
The Spaniard stalked Webber for the first third of the Grand Prix before beautifully overtaking the Australian up the inside into Turn Twelve. The Ferrari driver feigned to move left and as Webber defended the racing line, the double-world champion slipped up the inside to take second.
But Alonso’s fantastic move was soon made obsolete as Webber re-took second during the third round of pit-stops as the Australian pitted for fresh rubber on lap 29 – a lap before the Ferrari. On the new tyres Webber’s out-lap was sufficiently fast for him to regain second.
But at the final stops Alonso gained the jump on Webber by staying out longer on an empty track as Webber got caught up behind Rubens Barrichello and Vitaly Petrov.
It was a strong performance by Alonso, who is optimistic that Ferrari can close down Red Bull.
“It was an interesting race for the fans to see the fight with Webber all the way through,” Alonso said.
“At the beginning I was behind him trying not to be too far behind ahead of the first pit-stop. The opportunity came later when I overtook him, under-braking into Turn 12.
“In the pits, they did a good job to overtake us and then my team did a good strategy to get us back in front.
“In the end, I think second place was the maximum we could hope for. We’re definitely moving in the right direction but need to keep working.”
Despite a stronger showing Alonso was pessimistic over his title chances.
“The [title] is not in our calculations,” he said. “If anyone thinks we can win being eight-tenths of a second behind [Red Bull] they don’t understand Formula 1.”
Hamilton was equally downbeat when quizzed about the championship after the race.
“It’s finished really. In the sense of the title it’s almost over,” said Hamilton on Sunday.
“We’ve taken a step back this weekend – or maybe the others have gone forward. I think we’re quite a bit down in downforce.
“We haven’t made an upgrade on that for several weeks, especially rear downforce, and I think that in the next race we may really struggle again,” he said.
“I’m really not looking forward to Silverstone. Ferrari are a lot faster than us and the Red Bulls are on another planet.”
But today Hamilton tweeted: “To all our supporters, ignore what you read in the papers today. My team will never give up and I will never give up.”
He said he could not wait to get back behind the wheel at Silverstone and explained his comments were in no way meant to suggest racing at Silverstone was not something he enjoyed.
Hamilton said that racing on home soil made his desire to win all the greater.
Outside the championship mix it was a mixed afternoon for Mercedes. Rosberg drove solidly to take seventh but Michael Schumacher’s race was ruined as he broke his front-wing when crashing into Petrov after leaving the pits on lap 15.
“I locked the front wheel and slipped into him, which was clearly my mistake,” said Schumacher as he limped home in 17th.
Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari took a second consecutive eighth place finish and said he was confident his drive with the team was not under-threat.
The Spaniard drove immaculately from 18th on the grid and hoped rumours linking Daniel Ricciardo with his seat would finally be put to bed.
“I don’t think my future is under question or that I will be replaced,” the 21-year-old told BBC Sport.
“I don’t care because I want to enjoy the best of Formula 1.
“I do my very best job race after race and I think we can score some points at Silverstone. We had some problems but in life problems exist,” Alguersuari said.
German pair of Adrian Sutil and Nick Heidfeld rounded out the top-ten scoring positions as all 24 starters finished the race.
It is only the fourth time in history where all cars made the distance and the first time since the 2005 American Grand Prix when only six started.
It is also a record for the number of finishers – eclipsing the 23 who completed the Chinese Grand Prix.