Hannah Taylor, F1 Correspondent
As the chequered flag waved to mark the end of the Formula One 2011 Korean Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel secured his 10th win of the season, and the Red Bull team have been crowned back to back Constructor’s Champions.
Together with his Australian team mate Mark Webber who finished in third place the pair prevented their closest rivals McLaren from outscoring them by two points to seal the deal. However, Vettel was the man of the moment with luck on his side as he took the top spot by overcoming the safety car situation, managing his tyres and timing of his strategy to pass by his rivals and be number one at the end.
Vettel explained how the race went and also how he feels to have helped Red Bull maintain their Constructor’s title for a second successive season.
“Fantastic, a very nice day today and very special for the team. Winning the Constructor’s means a lot. It was a phenomenal race, we had so much pace and it was so much fun out there… It’s down to the whole team to build two competitive cars and we push it to the limits on the track. It was a lot of pressure off the shoulders today when I crossed the line. People now expect us to take it easy, but we are here to win and do our best. We had a chance to win today and we took it,” commented Vettel.
McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton finished in a Red Bull sandwich; as he had to settle for second place overall. Despite initially maintaining his pole position lead from the beginning of the race, Hamilton was forced to give in to Vettel as the drivers went head to head on the first lap. Consequently, Vettel comfortably took the lead as Hamilton slipped down to second place.
It was a similar situation for Hamilton’s team mate Jenson Button who started from third place on the grid. The 2009 World Champion found himself under pressure before the Grand Prix had barely begun. Ferrari’s Felipe Massa appeared to be on a charge and successfully snatched fourth place from the Englishman. Webber then made matters worse for Button as he also seemed to have good pace early on, which caused Button to rapidly fall down to sixth place on the first lap.
Following the soggy practice conditions experienced at the beginning of the weekend, the likelihood of raindrops appearing in the race was a strong possibility. On the other hand, it was only very brief in the initial stage of the Grand Prix. On lap four via Vettel’s team radio it was reported that there was “light rain ahead at Turn 4”. Fortunately, the minimal raindrops did not amount to much and last too long, so the rest of the race was completed in dry conditions.
Although Vettel had pinched first place from Hamilton, the pair were not far from a competitive scrap on lap five. Hamilton was gradually getting closer which was shown with his impressive lap times. The Englishman was the fastest man on the track as he topped the timesheets with a time of 1:45.020secs from second place.
Meanwhile, Force India’s Paul Di Resta was not quite on the same level as the men at the top. The Scotsman reported of under steer on his car and seemed to be struggling for grip with his right front tyre on lap six. Suddenly Di Resta’s situation did not improve and his problems were confirmed when Toro Rosso driver Jaime Alguersuari could cruise past to take 10th place from him.
While there was activity in the midfield with scraps for position, and between Hamilton and Vettel at the front, there was an interesting battle in the middle as well on lap eight. Webber was leading in the fight from third place, but Massa was catching him in fourth place, with Massa’s team mate Fernando Alonso next in fifth position. At the same time Button was also making progress to close in on the trio. Consequently, Button gradually appeared to be getting closer to the Spaniard who held fifth place from the Englishman.
Meanwhile where Vettel and Hamilton’s front row scrap was concerned, Vettel seemed to be running away with the lead as he had increased the gap by 2.9secs on lap 11.
As the first pit stop window arrived on lap 11 for some drivers, Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi and Williams’ driver Rubens Barrichello were the first to blink as they stopped for a tyre change. The action on the track continued at this point and the battle between Alonso and Button was heating up. However, Alonso was still managing to keep Button at bay, as a window of opportunity had not arrived for Button then.
While Button had the challenge of tackling Alonso for position, there was a bit more success further down the field. Sauber’s Sergio Perez found a gap at Turn 3, and managed to snatch 15th place from Lotus Renault driver Bruno Senna. As a result of this manoeuvre the Brazilian driver slipped down to 16th place.
After his problems early on in the race, and struggling with his tyres, Di Resta decided to pit on lap 12. Although he re-joined the race in a better situation on new tyres, he had fallen down the field to 18th place.
The previous battle towards the front of the pack was still going as a select few drivers fought over fourth place at the time. Massa had the upper hand in fourth place, but was followed by Alonso, and Button was a further place behind. In a similar situation as was seen earlier on in the race, Senna and Perez were still scrapping over 15th place. Although Senna was still running behind the Mexican driver, Senna seemed to falter under the pressure in his determination to get ahead. Consequently, Senna appeared to out-brake himself on lap 12, and had a slight wobble but held onto 16th place.
On lap 14 of the Grand Prix Button and Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg followed the pit stop trend. At that point in the proceedings Button was ahead in sixth place and the German was trailing him in seventh position. There was a close encounter between the pair as they emerged from the pits. Rosberg got in front of Button as they were at the pit exit, and momentarily he made his successful move stick. Unfortunately, Rosberg then out-braked himself and Button was able to sneak past. Suddenly Rosberg got the situation back under control and took the place from Button again. Rosberg then ran wide at Turn 4 but maintained 11th place. As a result of their pit stops the pair had dropped down the field. Button was following Rosberg in 12th place at this point.
As several front runners had to make their essential pit stops, with the likes of Webber, Massa, Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher, and Lotus Renault’s Vitaly Petrov out of the picture, Button and Rosberg were promoted to a higher track position. The pair continued their scrap from earlier on and Button was ahead this time in seventh place.
The popularity of the pit stop visits at this point saw Hamilton and Alonso make theirs in sync with each other on lap 16. Sadly, when the moment came to re-join the race Alonso lost out as Schumacher came past to get ahead of him. Race leader Vettel also made his pit stop for a tyre change around this time.
With Formula One races famous for delivering the unexpected, the Yeongam circuit was true to form as it played host to a safety car situation on lap 17. Schumacher had not long made his pit stop when he spun at Turn 3. It appeared that he had a coming together with Petrov who had also been off the track at this point. Schumacher’s rear wing had broken as a result of the incident, and there was a lot of debris on the track which provoked the safety car deployment. Although there were two victims from the incident, Alonso nearly became a third but narrowly missed being collected. The former double World Champion had to run wide and go off the track to avoid it.
Meanwhile, Schumacher was not quite as lucky as the damage to his car was beyond repair. As a result of this the seven times World Champion took no further part in the race. Initially it looked like Petrov was going to continue racing, but he visited the pits in an attempt to repair the damage. Once the Russian had retreated to the pits it appeared that his steering arm was broken. It was reported that his right one was working, but the left one was not moving at all. As a result of this Petrov soon accompanied Schumacher in retirement from the race. On lap 23 the incident was reported to be under investigation by the stewards after the race. Petrov seemed to be at the heart of the action, for causing an avoidable accident with Schumacher. Subsequently, the stewards have since made their decision on the incident. Petrov has been issued with a reprimand, and will face a five place grid penalty at the Indian Grand Prix in two weeks time.
With Schumacher and Petrov having their fair share of problems, the action still on the track was not quite running smoothly either. In error the safety car picked up Webber instead of Vettel who was leading the race on lap 17. In order to get back to the correct formation, the safety car had to let the rest of the field pass by. Of the front runners who were at a disadvantage from the safety car window, Ferrari appeared to be the main team to lose out. This was due to Button and Rosberg having the upper hand over Massa and Alonso. On the other hand, Alguersuari was one driver from the midfield to reap the rewards of the festivities. The Spaniard had been promoted to third place as a result of the shuffle of the running order. Unfortunately, this sterling effort from his natural performance and change in track positions across the board was short lived. Alguersuari had to make his pit stop on lap 18 which meant the rest of the field was moving up again.
After picking up first place man Vettel on lap 19, the safety car finished its duties at the end of lap 20 after the debris had safely been removed from the track. As a result of their coming together in today’s race, Schumacher and Petrov have now had an altercation three times so far this season.
As Vettel got the field racing again on lap 20, the German was leading from Hamilton. Webber was in third place and Button followed behind him in fourth position. However, Webber and Button put on a show when they went head to head as they scrapped for position. It was a close call between the pair when they were side by side at one point. Button managed to hold onto his front wing by a whisker as well. While the two drivers approached Turns 4 and 5, Webber would not yield to Button putting him under pressure.
Meanwhile, Williams’ driver Pastor Maldonado added to the race stewards work on lap 21. The Venezuelan was under investigation for hitting the bollard at the pit lane entry. Remarkably, the stewards were very quick with their decision on this matter, despite the workload they already had and issued Maldonado with a drive through penalty. It was reported that Maldonado had been on the wrong side of the pit lane entry before he hit the bollard. For a short while Maldonado was very much in the limelight, not only for his incident and subsequent punishment, but also when he had a competitive scrap with Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi. On lap 22 the pair were battling over 11th place, and Buemi held it at that stage. Maldonado was trying to give the Swiss driver a run for his money, but had to settle for following behind in 12th place then.
While lots of scraps for position were occurring and other incidents, Vettel appeared to be running away with the lead from first place. The reigning World Champion was topping the timesheets and on lap 23 recorded a lap time of 1:42.269secs.
Although the stewards already had several matters to look into, Hispania Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo came to their attention on lap 24. The Australian was under investigation for an unsafe release in the pits. On lap 32 it was reported that the incident would be investigated after the race.
Towards the back of the field there was also a competitive battle going on. When the race had reached lap 24, Kobayashi was maintaining 14th place from Senna. The Team Lotus boys were also going on strong just behind the two scrapping. Heikki Kovalainen was leading from his Italian team mate Jarno Trulli though who trailed him in 17th place. The duo had a back seat view of the action going on in front of them. The positions were hotly contested between Kobayashi and Senna, to the point that they actually had contact. Senna temporarily took 14th place from the Japanese driver and clipped Kobayashi’s front wing in the process. Unfortunately, Kobayashi was the one to suffer the most and had to pit to repair the damage to his car.
At the front of the field where the top title contenders were present, the scraps were just as close as they were at the back of the pack. Rosberg was running well in fifth place on lap 25 from Massa. Alonso completed the trio who were level pegging, and all were driving on the prime tyres at that stage. In an exciting turn of events, an in team battle then formed between Massa and Alonso. The Ferrari duo were having a healthy dispute over Massa’s fifth place.
On lap 27 of the 55 lap marathon Hamilton was on a charge towards Vettel. The 2008 World Champion maintained second place as he fought hard to catch Vettel who was comfortably leading from the front. Rosberg was a casualty as a result of pressure from Alonso and Massa. Consequently, Rosberg dropped down to seventh place on lap 27 as Massa was in fifth place and Alonso just adrift in sixth position. However, the sign of weakness that Rosberg had shown may have been due to inevitable tyre wear. Rosberg then had to pit on lap 28 and re-joined the race in 14th place.
Vettel was true to form and putting on a champions’ performance in the race. On lap 31 he set another speedy lap time with a 1:42.264secs.
Although Vettel appeared to make things look easy from the front, the positions were harder to maintain for the rest of the field. Di Resta was one of the midfield runners who had a battle on his hands as he fought for position with Buemi on lap 31. On the very same lap though, Maldonado could no longer compete with the rest of the pack. His chances of returning to the track looked bleak when he climbed out of his car, which spelt the end of his campaign to finish the Grand Prix.
Despite Button and Webber having a scrap earlier in the race, it seemed that Webber wanted to tackle the other McLaren as well. On lap 34 Hamilton came under threat from Webber, and they went head to head in a pit stop race. Hamilton maintained sixth place from Webber, as the seventh place man locked up his tyres slightly. Button also faced a similar experience, when he found himself scrapping for position with Vettel on the same lap.
While Vettel dominated and led the majority of the race, Alonso had his opportunity to hold first place temporarily. Vettel re-joined the Grand Prix in second place, with Alguersuari following him in third position. Hamilton was maintaining fourth place from Webber closely on his tail. Button was in sixth place at this point, and Buemi was alongside him in seventh place. Force India’s Adrian Sutil was having a fairly quiet race in eighth place then. Massa and Perez landed ninth and 10th position at that stage. Rosberg had dropped down the field to 11th place on lap 35. Di Resta was also climbing his way back to the front end of the line up from 12th place. Both Kovalainen and Trulli were just behind Di Resta and running well. After Senna had been at the forefront of the action for a short while earlier on, he had fallen down to 15th place, and Barrichello was having a lonely time down in 16th position.
Kobayashi was the last of the midfield runners who featured near the back of the pack at this point. He found himself quite far behind in 17th place. Marussia Virgin Racing’s Timo Glock was the closest of the newer teams to catching their rivals Trulli and Kovalainen, who were ahead of them in the running order. The German driver had a bit of catching up to do in order to reach the pair. At this point in the race proceedings, Glock was running in 18th place in the line-up. Ricciardo came next in 19th place ahead of second rival Marussia Virgin Racing driver Jerome D’Ambrosio. Ricciardo’s team mate Vitantonio Liuzzi was the final driver still in the race, and holding the final place in 21st position.
In the meantime, Alonso was one driver who was really picking up the pace. He was on the hunt to extend his distance between team mate Massa, in order to get ahead of the Brazilian driver later on in the running order. Alonso needed a gap of 24 seconds to be safe to make his pit stop and pip Massa. At this stage in the Grand Prix Alonso’s tyres were 20 laps old. A nail biting in team battle between the pair unfolded on lap 38. Alonso made his pit stop in preparation for his head to head with Massa. Alonso succeeded in his mission to get ahead of Massa. Following Alonso’s crucial pit stop, he took fifth place and Massa was behind him in sixth position.
The close contest at the front of the field was shown by the lap times on lap 38. Vettel had extended his lead from Hamilton by 9.9secs. Webber was then just half a second away from catching Hamilton to take second place from him. However, Alonso was also running well following his pit stop for a tyre change. Even though he was in fifth place on lap 40, he set the fastest lap with a 1:40.912secs. He went on to better this time not long after, and topped the timesheets with a 1:40.623secs. Alonso clearly still had more pace in his car, and proved this with the next flying lap of a 1:40.547secs.
At the back of the field the drivers were also getting close. Although they could not match the pace of the front runners, they were competitive between each other. Trulli found an opportunity to take 17th place from Glock on lap 40, while Trulli’s Finnish team mate went one better after his pit stop, as he re-joined the race ahead of both to take 16th position.
Similarly, near the front runners in the top 10, Rosberg came under pressure from Alguersuari on lap 42. Fortunately, Rosberg’s persistence paid off and he did not yield to Alguersuari at that point. Nevertheless, Rosberg still had him on his tail but kept his hold on seventh place. Alguersuari still posed as a threat chasing behind in eighth place though.
As the scrap between Rosberg and Alguersuari remained unchanged then, it was a different story for Hamilton and Webber on lap 44. On the previous lap the battle was getting close and Hamilton pounced on the following one to snatch second place from Webber. Despite this, Webber attempted to put Hamilton under pressure on lap 47. At the same time, the pair had company from Button who was catching them from behind in fourth place. Alonso was also running well as he was only 2.4secs away from threatening Button’s fourth place. According to the lap and sector times, at this stage 16 seconds covered the top five drivers.
Of the top five drivers at the time, Webber had a stroke of luck on lap 49. As he was passing through traffic, Webber saw the opportunity to tackle Hamilton. Consequently, Webber made the move stick and moved up to second place. However, as the pair were between Turns 17 and 18, the scrap resumed and Hamilton took back second place. Webber then held onto third position, even with Button on form in fourth place. Webber picked up the pace on lap 50, as he became the fastest man sector time wise in the race so far then. Both Hamilton and Webber picked up the pace as they dropped off Button slightly who was still behind in fourth position. Alonso came next in the line-up in fifth place ahead of Massa in sixth position. Rosberg was still holding onto seventh place and had a battle forming behind him. While Alguersuari was driving well in eighth place, his team mate Buemi and Di Resta were fighting over ninth place. On lap 50 Buemi took ninth place and Di Resta dropped down to 10th position. With three laps to go until the race came to a close, Alonso was hunting down Button on lap 52. Fortunately, Alonso was not able to find a window of opportunity to pass Button for fourth place.
Where the midfield contest was concerned though, Rosberg and Alguersuari’s scrap came alive in the final few laps. Alguersuari was showing quick pace and was half a second quicker than Rosberg on lap 54. Initially the positions between the two did not change as Alguersuari was not close enough to nip in front. Despite this, Alguersuari’s chance did finally arrive and he took seventh place from Rosberg on the final lap.
While Vettel clinched his 20th career victory and contributed to Red Bull becoming back to back Constructor’s Champions, Hamilton had to settle for second place in the end. Webber also added a few points to Red Bull’s victory as he took the third and final step on the podium. Button managed to hold off Alonso to take fourth place, and Alonso was just behind him in fifth place. Massa accompanied his team mate to pick up sixth place alongside him. With the last minute battle for position as the race came to a close, Alguersuari impressed as a he managed to grab seventh place, and dropped Rosberg down to eighth place as a result. Alguersuari’s team mate also picked up some points for Toro Rosso and came across the line in ninth place. Di Resta pipped his German team mate to the last point scoring position and secured 10th place.
Meanwhile, Sutil finished just outside this line up in 11th place. Barrichello appeared to keep out of the incidents and other goings on in the race, as the Brazilian driver picked up 12th place for himself. Senna missed out on the opportunity to score some points for his team, as he could only do enough to finish in 13th position. Kovalainen drove a remarkable race and was the highest finishing Team Lotus. He ended up in a solid 14th place overall. Two of the usual midfield runners featured further down the pack, as Kobayashi ended up in just 15th place, and his team mate Perez came next in 16th position. Where the remaining newer teams were concerned, Trulli made it two out of two for Team Lotus as he finished ahead of their rivals in 17th place. Glock followed behind Trulli to take 18th position ahead of Ricciardo in 19th place. D’Ambrosio came next in the final race classification to pick up 20th place, and Liuzzi was the 21st and final driver who got to the end of the race. This was with the exception of Schumacher, Petrov and Maldonado who retired from the action.
Following the show stopping spectacle at only the second Korean Grand Prix, the newly crowned youngest ever back to back World Champion Vettel has extended his dominant lead in the Championship Standings. He now holds 349 points to his name and Button is currently maintaining second place with 222 points. However, Alonso is just eight points behind Button with 212 points. There is an even smaller margin between Alonso and fourth place man Webber. Only three points separate the pair and from Button to Webber, second place could go to any three of those drivers. On the other hand, Hamilton is still very much in the picture as well. He is a little further behind the trio in fourth place, but is 13 points behind Webber.
In terms of the Constructor’s title, as Vettel and Webber scored the vital points needed, and the McLaren boys could not outscore them by two points, the Red Bull team have secured the Championship for a second consecutive season. The newly crowned winners have scored an incredible 558 points so far, and McLaren are in second place at present with 418 points. Ferrari are in third place in the line-up with 310 points to their name at the moment.
After an eventful an exciting races over the last two weekends, the drivers and teams now have two weeks until they face a new challenge. The Formula One fraternity heads to new territory, as the inaugural Indian Grand Prix will take place. As the current races have proved to be unpredictable in events that unfold and with the tyre wear issues, to be racing in unfamiliar surroundings will be certain not to disappoint. However, it will be interesting to see who handles the pressure the best, and delivers a solid performance to take pole position and or the race victory at the Greater Noida Circuit.