Most of the talk in the pit lane and among fans this weekend was the dominance of both Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel. However, Friday’s practice presented fans a glimmer of hope as both Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton topped the time sheets for all sessions.
But, the sceptic in me told me we’d all seen this before, and even if Hamilton took pole, Vettel and Red Bull are just too strong in race trim.
As it turned out, I was correct and Sebastian Vettel took his hatrick pole position. Lewis managed second, with Mark Webber third and Lotus driver Romain Grosjean forth.
Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg qualified fifth, ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa – nothing knew for them at the moment. Behind them were Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierrez, both drivers showing the car’s improved pace. Kimi Raikkonen made two mistakes, one being only putting in one timed lap, and the other making a mistake on his only lap.
In Q3, only half the field put in two runs: Vettel, Webber, Hamilton, Rosberg and Grosjean. Grosjean looked fast and looked set for a front-row position on his second effort, but a rear lock-up put him out of the running.
With the long runs in testing and the similar pace of Red Bull, Mercedes and Lotus, the race looks set to be a belter. Webber will start from 13th due to his 10-place penalty after receiving a third reprimand of the season in Singapore.
After Singapore, the McLarens of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez were disappointed with their performances, Button blaming Raikkonen for blocking.
Behind the McLarens, Force India, Toro Rosso and Williams will duke it out for the scraps, with the Caterhams and Marussias just trying to stay in touch and beat each other.
Since its inaugural race, the pole-sitter has never won the Korean Grand Prix (the three years). I’m sure Vettel had other thoughts on this.
As the lights turned green in Korea, Vettel rocketed off the line with a great start and led into Turn 1. Lewis Hamilton, however, had to defend against Grosjean, and the Lotus driver skilfully used the slipstream down the first long straight to nab second. Meanwhile, Vettel started making a gap.
The first straight of the lap saw cars five abreast in the battle for fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth – as they approached the hairpin, they slammed on their brakes, with Felipe Massa getting caught out and spinning his Ferrari. He taps teammate Alonso, but luckily he escapes without any damage. Button narrowly avoids crashing into the back of his teammate as Perez locks up heavily.
Three laps on and it became apparent Button took on damage during the previous lock ups, as he is forced to pit for a new front wing.
Thanks to Romain Grosjean and his Lotus, Vettel isn’t able to pull out a big gap. After Vettel pitted, and despite being put under pressure by Hamilton, Grosjean managed to close the gap to Vettel on lap 12.
Mark Webber then led for one lap before pitting, eventually rejoining in ninth, just behind the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen. Unfortunately, Sebastian Vettel started pulling away again, and as one of the commentators said, “If Vettel pulls out a 20 second gap, F1 has lost its Mojo”.
Daniel Ricciardo pitted on lap 19, promoting Nico Hulkenberg to fifth in the Sauber – David Coulthard informed everyone with the news as to why Ricciardo pitted early… the team pulled a pigeon from the side-pod of his car!
Laps 21 and 22 saw Grosjean take time from Vettel, whilst Kimi suffered KERS problems and Hulkenberg experienced a loss in grip. Putting Grosjean in place, Vettel notched up a storming lap and extended his lead to over 4 seconds, with Hamilton just hanging on to the pair.
Over the next few laps, Vettel extended his lead to 5 seconds, with Grosjean extending his lead over Hamilton to 5.5 seconds – Hamilton was clearly in trouble as he was lapping 3 seconds slower than his rivals.
Paul Di Resta experienced more bad luck, spinning his car into the barriers on fresh tyres – this makes his fifth straight DNF.
At the halfway mark Rosberg started to reel in Hamilton at 2.5 seconds a lap as the Brit continued to struggle on worn tyres. When Rosberg eventually passed Hamilton down the straight, sparks flew out from underneath his front wing. He quickly pitted but the mechanic at the front of the car struggled to get that nose off. After around five seconds, the nose eventually came off – Rosberg lost time and places.
On lap 30 Sergio Perez’s Mercedes blew a tyre down the long straight, its carcass discarding the grip all over the track. The Mexican managed to slow down before turn 1 and made it to the pits. The safety car is deployed as marshals cleared the debris.
Seven laps on and Sebastian Vettel accelerated hard as the safety car pealed off. Nico Hulkenberg managed to pass Hamilton at the hairpin, whilst Adrian Sutil spun into Mark Webber. For a moment it looked as though the unlucky Australian could continue until he climbed out and left his car abandoned and on fire.
Kimi Raikkonen passed his teammate Grosjean at Turn 1, the two Lotus drivers nearly connecting. Luckily for The Flying Finn, the safety car came out after the move as Webber’s car was put out.
Lots of action as the safety car went in as Kimi Raikkonen stuck to Vettel’s gearbox. If he could just hold on until the DRS, he may pass the German. Fernando Alonso passed Hamilton after the hairpin, but the plucky Brit took fifth place back up the inside.
On lap 48 Lewis Hamilton passed Hulkenberg into Turn 1, but the Sauber re-passed using the Mercedes’ slipstream.
With two laps to go, Vettel set the fastest lap of the race and his engineer is quick to tell him to take it easy. Meanwhile, Romain Grosjean is catching his teammate Raikkonen for second, but they’re nearly six seconds behind Vettel.
Hamilton is obviously lost for ideas as how to pass Nico Hulkenberg as he comes over the radio asking his team for any suggestions.
Sebastian Vettel started the final lap with a comfortable 5.3-second lead and was first to take the chequered flag. Hulkenberg put in a great drive as he managed to defend his fourth place from Hamilton.
Korean GP Result
- Van der Garde
DNF: Vergne, Ricciardo, Sutil, Webber and Di Resta
- Vettel – 272 points
- Alonso – 195
- Raikkonen – 167
- Hamilton – 161
- Webber – 130
- Red Bull 402 points
- Ferrari 284
- Mercedes 283
- Lotus 239