India has seen two of its top drivers make it into F1, it's given rise to its own F1 team, it's hosted numerous demonstration events, and this weekend, for the first time, it hosted its first grand prix.
The race was held on what has – despite a stray dog wandering onto the track during Friday's practice sessions – been widely rated as a fantastic new circuit on the outskirts of New Delhi. But while the hype is all well and good, the part that really counts is how the race went down.
The qualifying sessions on Saturday initially left Lewis Hamilton's McLaren sandwiched between the Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, but after Hamilton failed to heed the yellow flags, he was handed a three-place penalty that relegated him to fifth position on the grid. Ahead of him started Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and McLaren's Jenson Button, with Ferrari's Felipe Massa right behind in sixth, Mercedes GP's Nico Rosberg seventh, Force India's own Adrian Sutil eighth, and Toro Rosso's Sebastian Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari ninth and tenth, respectively, as Michael Schumacher was relegated to eleventh on the starting grid.
The start of the race saw Button squeeze around Alonso for third heading into turn one, then move past Webber for second into turn four. Schumacher charged from eleventh up to eighth while his former prodigy Massa moved up a position to fifth. Further adrift in the tightly packed field, Barrichello, Perez, Glock and Kobayashi were all caught up in collisions that race officials investigated but chose not to penalize. By the third lap, Force India's former DTM champ Paul di Resta and Trulli had also scraped. The race that would see five retirements before the finish, as Glock and Kobayashi never made it out of their pit garages, soon to be joined by three more.
By the fifth lap, Vettel was building a commanding lead as Button was tried to keep Webber at bay. Bruno Senna, meanwhile, was performing admirably, moving up to tenth place from fourteenth on the starting grid. The young Brazilian's luck wouldn't hold out long, however: Alguersuari made it past on lap 10; it soon emerged that there were problems with the Renault's powertrain.
Lap 14 saw Maldonado join Glock and Kobayashi on the pit wall as the third retirement of the day. Three laps later saw some heated action between Ferrari and their former champion Schumacher when Alonso came out of the pit lane just ahead of his elder rival, only for Schumi (still before his next pit stop) to squeeze past. Massa soon joined the pursuit and Alonso made use of the DRS wing to pass the Mercedes.
Massa got more action than he bargained for, however, several laps later when dueling with Hamilton. As the McLaren tried to pass up the inside, Massa slammed the door hard in his face and the two collided. Both cars spun, but while Hamilton made it back onto the track first, he was forced to pit for a new front wing. Massa followed in hot pursuit but didn't show any substantial damage, so by the time the marshals assigned fault to the Ferrari driver, he was already back up in fifth place, the McLaren back in ninth after his pit stop. Massa then took his drive-through penalty, but shook the front-left suspension loose where he had struck Hamilton after charging hard over the curbs. Massa was forced to retire trackside, only a few laps after Buemi.
Alonso picked up the flag for Ferrari, emerging ahead of Webber after his final pit to take and hold third place through the end of the race, finishing on the podium behind race-winner Vettel and runner-up Button. Webber settled for fourth, with Schumacher behind him in fifth, having emerged from his last pit stop just ahead of his wingman Rosberg in sixth. Hamilton had to be satisfied with seventh, just ahead of Alguersuari in eighth. Local team Force India's Adrian Sutil took ninth, ahead of Sauber's Sergio Perez, who collected the final point in tenth. As for Narain Karthikeyan, the only Indian driver on the grid (having been awarded a start by HRT) – well, he managed to tick off just about everyone, consistently refusing to give way to frontrunners long after he'd been lapped three times. He ultimately finished seventeenth, three places from last.
The results, of course, further cement Vettel's and Red Bull's already-clinched championships, but don't help Webber in his pursuit of second place in the standings, as Button and Alonso still stand ahead with two rounds to go. The series rolls back into Abu Dhabi in two weeks before the season finale in Brazil the last weekend in November.
Results from 2011 India F1 GP
Driver’s and Constructors’ points after the 2011 Indian F1 GP