Lewis Hamilton admitted it was “heartbreaking” to have his final Formula 1 world title hope this season extinguished.
Hamilton went into the Indian Grand Prix with only a slender chance of finishing his final campaign with McLaren by claiming the title.
At the end of it, and following a fourth consecutive victory for the dominant Sebastian Vettel in his Red Bull, there is no longer light at the end of the tunnel.
Hamilton finished fourth and now trails Vettel by 75 points with 75 available from the last three races in Abu Dhabi next Sunday, the United States and Brazil.
Put into perspective, ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix where Vettel began his winning streak, Hamilton led the 24-year-old German by two points.
“I’m not happy with the result because I’ve lost the world title, so it’s heartbreaking, but that’s the way it goes,” said Hamilton.
The result may be one thing, but the performance was another as the 27-year-old Briton came within 0.6secs of a place on the podium.
A woeful start, described by Hamilton as “a disaster, brutal, terrible”, let him down and left him searching for answers from his team.
Hamilton said: “I asked the team ‘please tell me what I’m doing wrong so I can fix it?’.
“But they’ve said I’m doing everything right, that it was perfect, so I don’t know. It’s something we’re going to have to investigate.”
It resulted in a phenomenal first-lap tussle between himself, team-mate Jenson Button and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso at the end of which Hamilton dropped from third to fifth.
Further issues with the soft-compound tyre and his steering wheel, which encountered a downshift failure, did not aid his cause, the latter changed along with his tyres in his only pit stop that took just 3.6secs.
But once on the harder tyre in the second half of the 60-lap race, Hamilton and Button were consistently quick, the latter setting the fastest lap on the final lap.
“It was a very tough race, but a great race. Within the car it felt great,” said Hamilton.
“It was fantastic at the end. Every second I thought I could catch Mark (Webber). You have to believe, and that’s why you push.
“But I just wasn’t close enough. It’s such a shame we didn’t have the ultimate pace at the beginning to really challenge the guys in front.
“But I feel proud of myself and proud of the guys.”
For Button, after winning the battle of the champions on the first lap, it was not long before he was passed by first Alonso and then Hamilton, dropping to fifth which is where he eventually finished.
“I’ve never had the start of a race like that before,” said Button.
“It was a good clean fight, millimetres between us through the first few corners and I really enjoyed it. It was nice to fight like that and come out on top as well.
“But then I just didn’t have the pace and they both came past me. The whole first stint was pretty poor.
“Then when we put the hard tyre on, the car felt really good, but I found it very difficult to get past (Romain) Grosjean.
“I lost so much time behind him, and that was my race over for a better position.
“So the first and last laps were great. It’s just a shame about all the others in the middle.”
Vettel has reassured his bosses at Red Bull that he has not signed a pre-contract agreement with Ferrari.
Vettel found himself put on the spot following his fourth consecutive victory, and his second in India, that has lifted him 13 points clear of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso in the fight for the Formula 1 world title.
Rumours have persisted for months, and been ramped up only recently, that Vettel will join Ferrari in 2014, even though his current deal with Red Bull expires at the end of that year.
But with Alonso sat alongside him after the race, Vettel was pointedly asked whether there was any arrangement, agreement or talk between himself, his representatives and those at Ferrari about a move.
“No, there’s nothing, nothing to tell you, nothing I’ve signed, nothing has changed,” said Vettel.
“I don’t know where it came from. I don’t read much, so it’s quite a surprise when you get to the circuit and get all these questions.
“Actually, there’s one thing I would like to say about this – you don’t know every single one in the team, and it’s hard to speak to every single one.
“So if there’s some rubbish in the press, obviously there might be some concerns back in the factory. But I’m 100 per cent behind them as I feel they’re 100 per cent behind me.
“Therefore I want to get this straight – there’s nothing to report and I’m very happy at Red Bull Racing.”
That is unsurprising given the turnaround in Vettel’s season over the last four races, from the moment Hamilton retired with a gearbox failure on lap 23 of the Singapore Grand Prix.
From the 24th, Vettel has led every single lap since, a grand total of 204, a period of dominance matched by precious few in Formula 1 history.
Around the Buddh International Circuit yesterday, once the five red lights disappeared, not for a single moment did Vettel come under pressure.
However, he was wary when asked whether he felt he now had one hand on his third successive world championship.
“This was obviously another good step for us, but there is still a long way to go,” said Vettel.
“It obviously feels fantastic to have a race where everything works the way you want it to, so I’m very proud, very happy and enjoying it.
“But we have seen this year how quickly things can change, so this race has gone and now we focus on Abu Dhabi next weekend.
“There’s a lot more to come, so we’ll try to take things step by step.”
Alonso did everything he could to stay within touching distance of Vettel, notably after a stunning first-lap battle with the McLaren duo of Hamilton and Button.
Despite conceding ground to Vettel, Alonso said: “We lost points, but it was the best we could hope for this weekend.
“We were not fast enough to compete against Red Bull, so we lost the minimum amount of points, and as I’ve already said, better races will come.”
It is most definitely now a two-horse race because with 75 points up for grabs from the final three races in Abu Dhabi, the United States and Brazil, Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen, Webber and Hamilton are 67, 73 and 75 points adrift respectively.
That trio are now squabbling for overall third place for the season.