Vettel Clinches Another Win at Explosive Korean Grand Prix
Sebastian Vettel has again decimated the competition despite his early lead being wiped twice due to the emergence of safety cars at the Korean Grand Prix. Lotus teammates Kimi Räikkönen and Romain Grosjean finished in second and third, respectively, while Nico Hulkenberg held his own and fought off Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, and Nico Rosberg to win a few much needed points for Sauber by finishing in fourth. It is Vettel’s fourth straight first place finish, and his fourth straight World Championship is practically cemented.
Luckily, an offshore typhoon that was expected to hammer the area around Korea International Circuit this weekend avoided making landfall, and most of the cars entered the track clad in the optional supersofts with the medium prime tires on the rack. Vettel again started in pole position and was joined in the front row by Lewis Hamilton. Grosjean and Rosberg began in row two, and Mark Webber was relegated to 13th after being handed down a 10-place grid penalty for hitching a ride with Fernando Alonso at the conclusion of the Singapore GP.
Race start was drama free and unpacked, at least until Turn 3. Located at the end of a long straight that sees drivers brushing 200mph, the right hander is extremely tight, maybe 50°, and drivers have to come to a crawl before taking the corner. Felipe Massa, under heavy braking and not wishing a serious collision with Nico Rosberg, spun and took out a few cars with him, including Jenson Button and Adrian Sutil. No cars were seriously injured, and everyone continued on slightly bruised.
Rather serious tire wear problems surfaced almost immediately. The front right tires experienced a “graining” effect that degraded the rubber much more quickly than expected; with the exception of Daniel Ricciardo, all racers started on the supersoft tires that are traditionally faster but less durable. Upon pitting in Lap 4 to fix brake ventilation problems sparked by the accident, Button switched onto the prime tires and began outperforming his previous times. After a few laps of this, the other teams realized the advantages of the mediums, and most drivers pitted to change tires far earlier than expected.
The first retirement of the day came unexpectedly in the form of an overeager Paul di Resta, who overcooked a corner in Lap 24 and was rewarded with a tire wall pillow. The yellow flags went out, but there was no need for the safety car just yet. During Lap 28, as both Mercedes drivers jockeyed for position, Nico Rosberg’s nose element bent downward after he escaped a draft from behind Hamilton, and the front dropped far enough to scrape on the ground, showering the track and nearby drivers with sparks. He babied the Mercedes back to the pits, where a nose change prompted a long stop for the German.
Shades of the British GP were evoked during Lap 31 when Sergio Pérez suffered an amazing tire shredding incident that shot rubber, Kevlar, and carbon fiber debris all across the track. He incredibly limped back to pit row on his own accord, but a safety car was forced onto the track to allow it to be cleared of dangerous material.
Upon race restart in Lap 37, Sutil lost control at the exact same spot Massa did earlier in the race. He struck Webber, who was coming up through the outside of Turn 3, and Webber’s car almost immediately caught fire. The hit caused an oil leak from Webber’s radiator, which then cascaded into a major fire. For the second time in a row, Webber’s race was prematurely ended in the glow of uncompromising flame. The SLS AMG safety car again felt the pavement under its feet, but not before Räikkönen overtook Grosjean to sit comfortably in 2nd place.
Lap 41 saw the final restart of the Korean GP, and by this time, the final finishing order was locked in with Vettel and the two Lotuses in the Top 3. There were still a couple of retirements to be handed out before the end, however, and both Toro Rosso drivers were called to end the race after problems with Daniel Ricciardo’s brakes. And with a final lap by Vettel a couple minutes later, the Korean GP was all over.
With the devastating Turn 3 and odd tire wear problems, the race was fraught with drama and thus made for a thrilling race. Although KIC is officially on the docket next season, there have been doubts as to whether a grand prix will be held in Yeongam next year as a result of substandard turnout in years previous. If this race ended up being the last Formula 1 GP for Korea, the track went out with a hell of a bang!
The Japanese Grand Prix will be held next Sunday, October 13, at the world famous Suzuka Circuit.
Photo courtesy of Red Bull