The Red Bull Racing driver started third on the grid behind Lewis Hamilton of McLaren-Mercedes and Williams’s Pastor Maldonado, but as both drivers saw their races ended prematurely by mechanical failures, the resurgent Vettel was able to coast to a 23rd career win.
The victory takes the reigning world champion to within 29 points of Fernando Alonso at the top of the drivers’ standings and anybody doubting the importance of the result to Vettel’s quest for a third successive championship had only to look at the German’s tear-filled eyes atop the spot lit podium.
“I am incredibly happy and proud because it is such a tough race,” the emotional 25 year old said after a draining two-hour contest in harsh and humid conditions.
“It’s one of the toughest races of the year; so many bumps and no room for mistakes. The circuit is a killer.”
At times it showed. The safety car was deployed twice in quick succession: once following a shunt by Hispania Racing Team’s Narain Karthikeyan and again, moments later, for a collision involving Michael Schumacher and Jean-Eric Vergne, which saw the seven-time world champion handed a 10-point grid penalty for next month’s race in Japan.
Vettel, however, knows how to tame a track and for periods made it look easy as he eventually passed the chequered flag almost nine seconds ahead of second-placed Jenson Button of McLaren-Mercedes. Ferrari’s Alonso finished third.
“The pace was there for us,” Vettel said. “We had an answer every time Jenson tried to go faster. It was a bit of a marathon, but that is one of the things that it special.
“Working in these conditions it is very hot, so the team deserves a big thank you. I am not a genius, but with Fernando finishing third, that means the world championship is looking better than before.”
When Vettel won here last season, it moved him to within one point of the 2011 title with five races remaining.
This year, he has found competition a lot tougher with teammate Mark Webber, Alonso, Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus all fighting for the title.
It was Hamilton who looked most likely to close the gap on Alonso.
The Englishman, starting at the front of the grid following a storming qualifying session, held the lead for almost half the race, yet on the 23rd lap, for the third time in five races, he was forced to retire when his McLaren suffered a gearbox failure.
It is often said one man’s loss is another man’s gain and the consistently impressive Alonso was the chief benefactor, quietly pleased with yesterday’s outcome after conceding his car was not as quick as his nearest rivals.
“It is a very positive weekend,” the Spaniard said. “We were not very competitive this weekend and we were struggling a little bit with the pace of the car.
“Yet of the four title contenders, we lost points with one and increased the advantage over the other three. So to win more points against three of our competitors when we are not quick enough is positive.”
Behind Alonso was not Raikkonen, who finished sixth in what he lamented as a “boring race” after finding himself incapable of overtaking on the city’s narrow streets.
Nor was it Webber, who finished 11th after receiving a 20-second penalty for being judged to have left the track during the race and gained an advantage.
Instead arrived the surprising figure of Force India’s Paul di Resta, who secured the best finish of his career amid speculation linking him with Hamilton’s potentially vacant seat at McLaren for next season.
“Fourth place is a great team result and my best day in Formula One so far,” the Scot said.
“We qualified, raced hard and took advantage of a few retirements, but in the final stint we certainly showed that we had great pace.
“I was very close to Alonso in the closing stages, but was just missing the pace to really challenge him for the podium.”
Info: The National