Korean Grand Prix: Untouchable Vettel triumphs – fourth title now a mere formality

Sebastian Vettel leads from the start of the Korean Grand Prix

Sebastian Vettel leads from the start of the Korean Grand Prix

Sebastian Vettel took a step closer to his fourth world title as he powered to a commanding victory in the Korean Grand Prix, claiming his fourth win in a row and a hat-trick at the Mokpo venue on a day where the excitement came from numerous incidents, prompting a couple of Safety Car periods which spiced up an otherwise dull afternoon on which the world champion elect was never threatened.

There was also the unexpected appearance of a track marshals’ vehicle on the track, which coupled to a number of incidents along the way made the race in the nearly empty venue slightly less boring.

From the moment the red lights went out Vettel simply put his foot down and the Red Bull blasted into the lead where it remained unchallenged. Even at the restarts, the German gave his rivals no room to have a go, as  the combo were again simply in a league of their own, as they have been for the past four races.

Vettel now has a 77 point lead at the top of the table. With five races remaining, it is merely a matter of when exactly the 26 year old German will bag his fourth title. The mathematics of the current situation is such that Vettel will take the title in Japan next Sunday if he wins and Alonso finishes lower than eighth.

Korean GP race winner Sebastian Vettel celebrates on the podium

Korean GP race winner Sebastian Vettel celebrates on the podium

Vettel said afterwards, “It’s not great getting stuck behind the Safety Car, but [I’m] really pleased with the result and great [work] by the team. Fortunately we had enough pace to get ahead after both Safety Cars but both Kimi and Romain were very competitive and did better with their tyres. I am really enjoying things at the moment, we have a great team and we are having a great time.”

Behind Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen drove another superb, well calculated race, converting ninth on the grid to second place by the end of the afternoon, beating Lotus teammate Romain Grosjean in the process. The Frenchman had to settle for third despite looking sure of second place for most of the race, until he made a mistake after the restart which allowed Raikkonen through.

Raikkonen summed up his afternoon, “It was OK. I think I lost a place on the first straight. The car has been under steering this weekend and was doing it today and I had to look after my front tyres. I got stuck in traffic, but even without the Safety Car we [would] have finished on podium.”

Top three on the podium after the Korean GP

Top three on the podium after the Korean GP

Grosjean saw the bright side of losing second place to his teammate, “It was pretty good fun, we had a good start, it was hard but it was good to be very close to the Red Bull – it didn’t get too far away. I made a small mistake and Kimi overtook me but it was my mistake. But we are back on the podium so it is all good.”

Nico Hulkenberg was again the ‘man of the match’ as he went toe-to-toe with Lewis Hamilton in an intriguing battle for fourth place towards the end of the race. The Mercedes driver gave it his utmost but simply could not get by the Sauber which was at its best on the twists of the Yeongam venue.

Further credit to Hulkenberg who also saw off the attentions of Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso before Hamilton attacked mercilessly in the last phase of the race But there was no way through for the Briton who sought advice, over the radio, on how to get by the Sauber, with the words, “Has anybody got any suggestions?”

“I drove one of the best races in my career so far,” said Hulkenberg. “I have had cars in the mirrors before, but today there were a lot and it was a bit annoying. The car’s traction was very good today, so that kept [my race] alive against Fernando and then Lewis later on.”

Sebastian Vettel celebrates win number 8 of the season

Sebastian Vettel celebrates win number eight of the season

Behind the pair Alonso had the best view of the dicing. He had an occasional sniff at the Mercedes but thought the better of it and in the end Hulkenberg took fourth, with Hamilton and Alonso finishing fifth and sixth respectively.

Of  Vettel’s win Alonso said afterwards, “They deserve it, they are the best … at the moment, they are winning everything and we have to do better.”

Hamilton will be disappointed after starting from the front row and at one point challenging Grosjean for second. Bizarrely Mercedes kept the Briton out far too long on his second set of tyres and an unplanned tussle with teammate Nico Rosberg did little to help his cause – Rosberg finished seventh, despite having to pit and change the front wing on the Mercedes.

Alonso remains second in the championship standings but is sure to concede that nothing bar a miracle will see him usurp Vettel. If anything Ferrari have slipped a notch with their race pace no longer the strength that could previously help the Spaniard turn a third row start into a podium.

Romain Grosjean versus Lewis Hamilton

Romain Grosjean versus Lewis Hamilton

McLaren drivers Jenson Button and Sergio Perez were eighth and tenth respectively. Button found himself running hot and cold with a car that is not up to the task of fighting for the podium. Perez caused the first Safety Car period when the right front Pirelli tyre on the McLaren appeared to de-laminate and left a huge chunk of debris lying dangerously in the middle of the track.

Splitting the McLaren’s was the Ferrari of Felipe Massa who recovered after spinning out on the opening lap. Facing the wrong way after an ambitious move over the kerbs at the inside of the hairpin, he had it all to do from the back of the field. Eighth place was his reward.

With his teammate’s luck apparently infinite, Mark Webber was once again victim of a dolop of the bad stuff. Staring from 13th (thanks to a 10-place grid penalty) he carved his way through the field and was looking set for a podium finish, but shortly after the first Safety Car the Red Bull was struck in Turn 3 by Adrian Sutil’s spinning Force India.

The KERS on board the Red Bull is believed to have sparked the fire that broke out. The Australian’s afternoon was over.

Safety car was deployed on two different occasions during the course of the race

Safety car was deployed on two different occasions during the course of the race

Webber went on to criticise Pirelli after Perez’s tyre failure in front of him caused a puncture.

“That is how it is. The drivers aren’t super important – it is what other people want,” he said. “The tyres are wearing a lot and they also explode a bit – but that is for Pirelli to sort out. Pirelli will put the puncture of Perez down to a lock-up but the reason the drivers are locking up is because there’s no tread left.”

For Force India it was a day from hell as both Sutil and Paul di Resta crashed out of the race.

The Formula 1 circus moves to Suzuka for Round 15 of the 2013 Formula 1 World Championship, which is very nearly in Vettel’s pocket. (GP247)

Subbed by AJN.

 

Marshals clear debris from the track

Marshals clear debris from the track

Korean Grand Prix, Race Result – Sunday, 6 October 2013

Pos No Driver Team Laps Time Grid Pts
1 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 55 Winner 1 25
2 7 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 55 +4.2 secs 9 18
3 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 55 +4.9 secs 3 15
4 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 55 +24.1 secs 7 12
5 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 55 +25.2 secs 2 10
6 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 55 +26.1 secs 5 8
7 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 55 +26.6 secs 4 6
8 5 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 55 +32.2 secs 11 4
9 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 55 +34.3 secs 6 2
10 6 Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 55 +35.1 secs 10 1
11 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 55 +35.9 secs 8
12 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 55 +47.0 secs 17
13 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 55 +50.0 secs 18
14 20 Charles Pic Caterham-Renault +63.5 secs 19
15 21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault +64.5 secs 20
16 22 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth +67.9 secs 22
17 23 Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth +72.8 secs 21
18 18 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari +2 Lap 16
19 19 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari +3 Lap 12
20 15 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes +5 Lap 14
Ret 2 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault +19 Lap 13
Ret 14 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes +31 Laps 15

Note – Webber qualified third, but penalised 10 grid places for accumulating three stewards’ reprimands. Bianchi qualified 21st, but started 22nd after being penalised three grid places for impeding Di Resta in qualifying