Korean GP - Sunday - Race Report
Sebastian Vettel could have stopped off for a barbeque and still won the Korean Grand Prix. And if needed a fire, his teammate Mark Webber's car was fully ablaze following an accident with Adrian Sutil.
Actually, while he started from the pole and led every lap in his Red Bull, Vettel did have Lotus teammates Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean pushing him to the finish. But Vettel still made it look like he was in control throughout the 55 laps on his way to his ninth win of the season.
"The start was crucial," Vettel said. "It's always tricky here as you're nervous about the long straight when you start from pole. Fortunately we had good traction off the line and I had a strong exit out of the first corner. We kept the lead and tried to control the race from there."
At the end of the first lap Vettel already had a 2.1 second lead over Grosjean, Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, Nico Hulkenberg (Force India), Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) and Raikkonen.
Everybody except Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso) had started on Pirelli's super soft compound tires, so the pit stops to switch to the medium compound started by lap 7. Vettel pitted on lap 11 and held the lead.
The early part of the race saw a great battle as Hulkenberg held off Alonso, Raikkonen and Webber. The latter had started 13th because of his 10-place grid penalty for hitching a ride from Alonso after the Singapore Grand Prix.
On lap 30 the tread flew off the right front tire on Sergio Perez's McLaren. Webber, who had just come out of the pits after his second stop, dodged to miss the flying rubber and ended up going through some debris that punctured one of his tires.
There was lots of debris from Perez's tire on the track, so out came the safety car at a very convenient time for Vettel and Grosjean who ducked into the pits for their second stops. Webber came back in and, as he had no more sets of the medium compound tires, had to have a set of the super softs fitted.
The cars trailed around behind the pace car until it came in at the end of lap 36. On the restart Raikkonen dodged past Grosjean to take over second place.
"After the restart I should have been in front of Kimi on the road," Grosjean said, "but it was my mistake which let him past. I went a bit wide in Turn 15 and got on the Astroturf - which is very slippery - and that let him get a run on me. Then there were yellow flags into Turn 3 so I couldn't take the place back straight away."
Raikkonen made the move going into Turn 1.
"He moved a few times on the left," he said. "I got a good run, he made a mistake in I think the second-last corner and I got the good run and I heard that there will be yellow flags at the end of the straight so I knew he's not going to pass me back with the DRS because it's not open with the yellow flags. So I thought I would try to overtake and it was not too difficult."
Then, as the drivers stormed down the long straight and fought for position heading into Turn 3, Sutil spun and tagged Webber.
"I was quite unlucky on the first lap because after (Felipe) Massa spun everybody headed for the inside and somebody hit me on the side of my front wing," Sutil said. "The damage was not too bad but I still had to pit for a new one. As the race went on I was able to fight back quite well and after the safety car I was in P12 and not planning to pit again.
"At the restart I lost the rear of the car under braking for turn three. I really don't know why because I was not braking late and the car just snapped. I hit Webber so I apologies for ending his race. It's a disappointing end to the race because I believe there was still a chance of a point."
Webber climbed out of his damaged car which caught fire because an oil cooler had burst.
"The incident with Sutil was obviously the end of my race today," he said. "It was in Turn 3 on the restart, everyone bottles back up and I was looking for a big exit on the next straight to use some KERS on Daniel (Ricciardo) and the Williams. Then Sutil, I don't know what happened, but obviously he hit me from the inside and that was that.
"There was quite a lot of damage at the back of the car and I hope it hasn't gone towards the chassis - we will have to see before the next race. Before that I was very happy with how I drove and we'd got back to a very good position before I got the puncture. After the Pirelli tire failure on Perez' car, I was very lucky to miss the tread of the tire that came off and then unbelievably I managed to get a puncture from going through the debris."
The marshals were doing a poor job of putting out the blaze so the FIA dispatched an SUV with more fire extinguishers to go to the scene. So all of a sudden a slow moving SUV appeared on the track, and that brought out the safety car for the second time.
"I think it was a Hyundai or Kia SUV," Vettel said. "You want the number plate? It was not Bernd Marylander's, so it was not the safety car. I saw that. Obviously then the team said 'yellow flag', it wasn't quite clear that it was the safety car but then the safety car board was flashing and I lifted and obviously saw that there was another car on the track, took quite easy to make sure I got past. I didn't know what the incident was until I saw the smoke and so on. Obviously they said there was a crash. So I knew it was not the safety car."
When the safety car came in at the end of lap 40, Vettel shot off into the lead again. Raikkonen was second and Grosjean third. The latter was actually faster than the former, and Grosjean radioed to the team and asked for Raikkonen to give the position back. The team said no way.
"Of course, I was asking the team to let me past Kimi as I was on fresher tires," Grosjean said, "but they left us to race which is our philosophy of fair play. You lose so much downforce in sectors two and three and obviously our cars are pretty close on performance so it's pretty hard to pass."
Behind the leading threesome Hulkenberg was holding off an attacking Hamilton who in turn had Alonso right behind him. The Hulk did a great job and made no mistakes and finished fourth.
"Today I drove one of the best races in my career so far," Hulkenberg said. "I have had cars in the mirrors before, but today there were a lot and it was a bit annoying. Lewis really put the pressure on at the end, especially in the last sector. I knew I needed to get out of turn one well.
"The car's traction was very good today, so that kept me alive against Fernando and then Lewis later on. We were also very fast on the straight. I had a good start, although on the outside into turn one, which was a loss at first, but then I had a real good slip stream and was able to get past on the outside."
An unhappy Hamilton crossed the line in fifth place.
"That was not a great day for us and it feels like we deserved more as a team," he said. "After Grosjean got ahead of me at the start, there was no way past and it seemed that we were losing out to other on traction cars all day. In my second stint, running the prime tire, my right front was just destroyed all of a sudden. When that happens, you start losing temperature, understeering and locking up under braking, so it was really hard to maintain the pace in those laps.
"It was a really difficult part of the race but I had to get to a certain target lap before I made the final stop. After the Safety Car, we were just losing out in traction to the Sauber. Our car was really strong through the middle sector but not quick enough on the straights to stay ahead. It was a nice battle with Fernando but it's hard to take when it's only for P5 or P6. It was just not a good race for us today."
Alonso rounded out the top six.
"We knew this would be a difficult race," he said, "and unfortunately the results confirmed the concerns we had already experienced on Friday, when we had a few problems with tire degradation on the long run. It wasn't a surprise to be off the pace in qualifying, as that's been the case since the start of the season, but the fact that we didn't have the pace in the race was one.
"Unfortunately, at the start, I couldn't keep the Sauber behind me and that meant I had a particularly stressful race in terms of the tires. What happened to Felipe (Masaa) at the third corner was not a problem for me: there were a lot of us there at that point and someone must have touched him. I tried to avoid him and continued without it affecting my race, because by then, I was already behind Hulkenberg."
And EVERYBODY was behind Vettel's Red Bull. Could the Lotus guys have beaten him?
"No," Raikkonen replied. "I mean. Let's put it this way: even if we would have started behind him, we still don't have the speed of him. Not far off from him in the race with a little bit from all the tyres but I mean it's so difficult to overtake if you're not massively faster."
Vettel can win his fourth world championship in next weekend's Japanese Grand Prix if he wins the race and Alonso finishes lower than eighth.
"Even though it looks very good, it's still not over so we shouldn't feel too comfortable," Vettel said.
If Vettel does indeed clinch the title in Japan he might not go out to a Korean Barbeque restaurant to celebrate. What he probably will do is have a wild night at a karaoke bar like he did in Japan last year.