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F1 Indian GP goes off without hitch - sort of

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Auto Racing Writer

It was a case of new country, same old story for Formula One as Sebastian Vettel swept to his 11th victory of the season and his first career perfect performance at an Indian Grand Prix that went off without a hitch.

The Red Bull driver's victory kept alive his chances of matching Michael Schumacher's all-time record of 13 wins in a season with races still to come in Abu Dhabi and Brazil.

Adding to the sense of deja vu in India, McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari's Felipe Massa crashed into each other for the third time in four races and fourth overall this season.

Such repetition aside, it was a weekend of new horizons for F1 as it held its first race in the world's most populous country. The chaotic preparations for last year's Commonwealth Games in New Delhi had many predicting the worst for the city's Grand Prix, but for the most part things ran smoothly.

Drivers were rich in their praise for the Buddh International Circuit, with its undulating straight, blind-turn hairpin, and challenging double chicane. McLaren's Jenson Button - who finished second to Vettel - compared the track to Belgium's Spa Francorchamps and Japan's Suzuka, arguably the two best tracks on the F1 calendar.

The one thing Button disliked about the track was the familiar sight of Vettel pulling away into the distance in the opening laps, using his seemingly peerless brilliance on fresh tires.

This was the first time in his career that Vettel had completed what they call in F1 the 'grand chelem': pole position, race victory, leading every lap and setting the fastest lap.

That last criterium raised the ire of his Red Bull team, as Vettel set the fastest lap on the final lap of the race, risking his victory to go all out and complete the rare feat. This came just two weeks after the team had cautioned him for doing the same thing in Korea.

''We had done our best to manage it, we had turned all the engine modes down, KERS off, and short of putting a cow on the circuit there was not a lot else we could do,'' team principal Christian Horner said.

While Horner said ''we have complete trust in him'', the issue was important enough for him to mention in his congratulatory message to Vettel over the radio on his victory lap.

''We spoke about it after the last race and he apologized and said, 'Sorry, it won't happen again.' And two weeks later here we are,'' Horner said.

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso finished third, but most attention in the Ferrari motorhome was on Massa, who was found guilty of causing the collision with Hamilton, and had to do a pit drive-through penalty. Ten laps later he was out of the race after running hard over a curb and snapping his front suspension - precisely the same mistake he made in qualifying.

The Massa-Hamilton crashes have gone from curiosity to feud during the Asian swing of the season, having collided in Singapore, Japan and now India. The pair exchanged sharp words in the media interview area after the Singapore race and had not talked since, until just before Sunday's race.

The two found themselves standing side-by-side on the grid as drivers and top F1 personnel held a minute's silence to honor IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon and MotoGP rider Marco Simoncell, both of whom were killed in race crashes in the preceding two weeks.

After the minute's silence, Hamilton reached his arm out to Massa and wished him the best for the race, yet within an hour they collided again. Massa shrugged off Hamilton's pre-race gesture as inconsequential, and said it would be up to the Briton to mend fences between the two as he would not make the first move.

Massa is under contract for next season, but the Brazilian's underwhelming performances since his life-threatening incident in 2009 had many expecting a change for 2013.

The driver market for next season is not as fevered as usual, with few seats up for grabs, but there were two interesting developments at the Indian Grand Prix.

Renault announced that GP2 champion Romain Grosjean will drive in Friday practice at the remaining two races of the season, anointing him as a potential race driver for 2012. Renault's lineup for next season hinges largely on whether Robert Kubica - who has missed all this season after serious injuries in a preseason rally crash - will be fit to return. Grosjean and current drivers Vitaly Petrov and Bruno Senna also are in the frame.

Force India team principal Vijay Mallya said he would accede to Adrian Sutil's request to fast-track the team's lineup, with an announcement to be made before the end of the current season. There is speculation that reserve driver Nico Hulkenberg will be promoted at Sutil's expense. If so, the German could move to Williams, although that team is remaining tight-lipped about its plans amid talk that 20007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen could be wooed back into F1.

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