Korean Grand Prix - Red Bull loses grip on title in inaugural rain-filled event Fernando Alonso wasn't bluffing when he three months ago said he was confident he would win this year's title. At the time he was almost 50 points behind the...
Korean Grand Prix - Red Bull loses grip on title in inaugural rain-filled event
Fernando Alonso wasn't bluffing when he three months ago said he was confident he would win this year's title. At the time he was almost 50 points behind the leaders, and many had already written off the season for the Spaniard and his Ferrari team. Not Alonso, he kept the faith, and after last weekend's Grand Prix he is now in command of the championship, while his nearest rivals, Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, went home without scoring any points. Felipe Massa did what his team expected him to do: he took third position and scored 15 points for Ferrari who are still in the race for the Constructors' Championship. Lewis Hamilton scored valuable points to safeguard his title bid, but his team colleague Jenson Button had his worst race weekend so far this season. Both Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg were fast in the rain, but only Schumacher would finish the race.
Drivers were impressed with the layout of the Korea International Circuit and also praised the organization for reacting quickly on the requests of the drivers to make a few last-minute changes to the track. However, there were some comments about the fading daylight, as the race had been red-flagged due to the rain and the many safety car periods had further delayed the race, it therefore ended 15 minutes after sunset. During the race Vettel complained about the poor visibility to his team, and after the race Rubens Barrichello, who is the chairman of the GPDA (Grand Prix Drivers' Association), said it was unsafe and thought the race should have been stopped. "I think the race should have stopped five or six laps before -- I couldn't see. I had a clear visor," the Brazilian said.
Three wins out of four races for Alonso
Alonso managed to win three out of the last four races, a truly amazing performance, perhaps he was lucky his main rivals didn't score one single point in Korea, but in the end, the result is what counts. Alonso added another 25 points to his tally last weekend, enough to give him an eleven points lead in the championship. Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali said, "This has been a fantastic day, in which we have turned around the situation in the Drivers' Championship and also, albeit partially, put us back in a stronger position in the Constructors' classification."
Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo was equally happy with the result: "What I am most pleased about is that we have shown that with determination, hard work, level headedness and the will to win, we can get out of the most difficult situations. We are a team that never gives up and we showed that yet again today." And it is true, Ferrari and Alonso never gave up, and now they are leading the championship. But Montezemolo remains cautious about Ferrari's title chances, "The championship is still very open and we know we are up against very strong opponents. We will have to tackle the final two races with even higher levels of concentration, paying attention to every little detail."
Red Bull leaves Korea empty-handed
If Red Bull Racing had scored yet another one-two victory in Korea, they would still be leading the Drivers' Championship, but instead they went home empty-handed. After Webber had retired, it became apparent the other four title contenders, Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton and Button, had now one aim: finish the race and score as many points as possible now that the leader of the championship was out of the race. Vettel was comfortably leading the race until on lap 45 his Renault engine went up in smoke and parts of the engine flew around the track.
Vettel was of course disappointed about his retirement, but remained upbeat, "There are still fifty points available in the Drivers' Championship, it would have been easier if we had won today and the engine hadn't have broken, but that's life and how it goes sometimes." But he also knew it was just bad luck, "To be at the front of the field for the whole race, controlling it and looking after the tyres, I think there's nothing more we could have done." Red Bull team principal Christian Horner added, "Some days motor racing can be cruel and for Red Bull today it was unfortunately one of those days."
With all engines now at the end of their working life, more engine problems can be expected, but next time it could be a Mercedes or Ferrari engine that 'pops', as Vettel put it after the race. Bad luck or not, the fact remains the conditions on the track and the allocation of eight engines per season are the same for every team, but unfortunately for Red Bull, the slippery circuit caught Webber by surprise, and an engine failure caught Vettel by surprise. Such is the life of a Grand Prix racing team, one weekend you win it all, the next weekend you lose everything again.
Crash fiesta in the rain
Ahead of the Korean Grand Prix circuit designer Hermann Tilke said the slippery track would improve the show, but not even in his wildest dreams could he have predicted the crash fiesta which took place at the brand-new Yeongam circuit. The combination of rain and the still slippery asphalt provided a breathtaking spectacle, for drivers, team principals and spectators alike. After the race had been red-flagged at the end of the first three laps, it was restarted again behind the safety car, which left the track on lap 17, allowing the first green flag to truly start the race. Because of the treacherous track conditions, the big question was: who of the top five drivers will be the first to make a mistake? Webber provided the answer to that question, he spun on lap 19 and pirouetted back onto the circuit, collecting the Mercedes of Rosberg, both had to retire from the race.
Webber, who just went too far over the kerbs said, "I crashed at the exit of Turn 12. I lost the rear of the car on a kerb; I thought I'd managed to catch it, but I lost the car and made contact with the wall, nothing too heavy, but it was enough to bring the car back to the other side of the track and then Rosberg hit me, it was 100 percent my fault and that's the end of it. Today didn't help me with the championship, but I can absolutely still win it; this was only my second non-finish of the year."
Rosberg, who just had overtaken Hamilton, was caught by surprise and tried to avoid Webber, but to no avail. "It's a big shame that my race was ended early. It was really difficult to judge which way Webber's car would go and I took the decision to go left but he spun more and more that way and I just couldn't avoid him. It's a real shame as we could have had a great result today," he commented.
The accident forced the safety car back on track, Renault's Vitaly Petrov and Sauber driver Kamui Kobayashi used the opportunity to pit and changed from full wets to the intermediate tyres. After the safety car left the track again, Jarno Trulli and Bruno Senna collided, the Lotus of Trulli lost its front wing and not much later he retired from the race. Another victim was Virgin driver Lucas di Grassi, who had already missed his breaking point several times before he finally ended up in the tyre stack and retired.
Toro Rosso driver Sebastien Buemi was next, first he hit Heikki Kovalainen in his Lotus, and two laps later, when he tried to overtake Timo Glock, he braked too late and slammed into the side of the Virgin. Buemi, who was later penalized by the stewards said, "We lost the chance to score some real points today. I braked late and locked the front wheels, so I could not turn and ended up going straight on and hitting Timo. I am sorry for him." Glock wasn't happy at all with Buemi's action, "We had quite good pace in the first part of the race and were clearly the quickest of the new teams. It's just a huge shame that we couldn't finish the race and all because of the mistake made by Buemi."
The safety car came out again, and most of the top ten pitted immediately to chance the Bridgestone intermediates, except Vettel and Alonso, who made their stop one lap later. During Alonso's stop a mechanic lost the wheel nut of the right front tyre, it slipped out of the wheel gun, and he lost valuable seconds in the pit lane and thus lost one place when he rejoined the race in third place behind Hamilton. Robert Kubica had a bad pit stop as well, he drove off before his lollypop man gave him the signal, and almost collided with Sutil who just came in for his stop. When the safety car left the track, the entire field was close together again, but during the restart Hamilton ran wide and lost his second place to Alonso, again.
The biggest crash of the race can be attributed to Petrov, when he entered the last corner before the start-finish straight the Russian lost control and slid very hard into the tyre wall which lines the pit lane entrance, totally destroying his Renault. Petrov, "I was still pushing to keep in front of the guys behind me, and I lost the car on the penultimate corner and had a big crash -- but I'm okay." He added, "This was my first experience of such extreme conditions in Formula One, and I think the FIA did a good job to let us run behind the safety car and understand the [conditions on the] circuit before starting the race."
Meanwhile, Sutil in his Force India was also entertaining the spectators with his many successful, and sometimes not so successful, overtaking maneuvers. He finally retired on lap 46, when he hit the Sauber of Kobayashi on the start-finish straight. "There were a lot of times I was off the circuit, or locked up, and then got past a driver and went off the road. In the end I tried to overtake Kobayashi but lost the car on a patch that was a bit more wet than I expected and went into the side of him," a disappointed Sutil said. He was later penalized for causing an avoidable accident.
At the end of the race the worn out Bridgestone intermediates lost their grip, and again many cars were seen slipping and sliding on and off the circuit. Hamilton ran wide several times on his almost bald rear tyres, Button made a pirouette but managed to recover, and also Barrichello and Toro Rosso driver Jaime Alguersuari ran wide during the closing stages of the race. After the race had finished, it was fair to say the Korean Grand Prix had been a true crash festival in the rain, and an event which has contributed to the already thrilling 2010 Formula One season, and last but not least, the rain again reshuffled the cards in the Drivers' Championship table.
FIA Stewards Report
On Friday Hispania was fined $5,000 after Sakon Yamamoto had left his garage with a tyre warmer still attached to his rear wheel, and were also reprimanded because two mechanics tried to recover it from the pit lane exit. On Saturday during qualifying Adrian Sutil was fined 1,800 Euro for speeding in the pit lane, and Schumacher was reprimanded for impeding Barrichello. The Stewards also investigated claims Rosberg and Kubica had been impeding other drivers, but decided not to take further action. On Sunday, the Stewards investigated the incident involving Trulli and Senna, but ruled it was a race incident. Kovalainen was given a drive through penalty for speeding in the pit lane, and both Sutil and Buemi were penalized for causing an avoidable collision, and were handed a five-place grid penalty for the next event.
Hamilton happy to finish and score valuable points
Hamilton had a good race, although his McLaren was certainly not the fastest car on the track. "I was losing a lot of time to Alonso, particularly in the final sector," the 2008 World Champion said. "It was very tricky out there, particularly at the end. It was pitch black, I couldn't see much and my tyres were finished. It was a big surprise to see both Red Bulls go out. Alonso drove really well, but I'm very happy to have scored some points after a couple of disappointing races." But he certainly hasn't given up on winning this year's title, "We've got two races ahead of us, we have more coming for the car, and the guys back at the factory are doing a great job. Everyone is really enthusiastic and is pushing as hard as they can. The championship definitely isn't out of reach, we can still do this."
Button: from bad to worse
Button's performance was far under par, and with now 41 points behind the leader, his title aspirations are effectively over. He still has a mathematical chance to win the championship, but in reality, all other contenders will have to encounter major problems and not score points for Button to still have a chance to win this year's title. Button, who was by the end of the race pretty much the slowest driver on the track, encountered several problems in Korea. "I just didn't have enough grip today. I was really struggling with locking fronts as soon as I touched the brakes; every time I braked for a corner, I went straight on because I couldn't stop the car," the current World Champion said.
Although Button himself hasn't given up the title chase, others believe it is now time he should back his team mate Hamilton. "For us, the strategy is clear. We don't really have to say anything to our drivers," McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said. "Jenson will offer his help to Hamilton voluntarily, because he knows that we have treated him fairly throughout the year." But on Monday Button said he wasn't yet quite ready to help Hamilton, "You don't win world championships by conceding defeat before it is all over. You have seen today how things can change. If mathematically I couldn't win the championship then, yes, I would help Lewis."
Mercedes: fast in the rain
Schumacher scored his best result of the season, Mercedes had already said after qualifying they wouldn't mind a wet race. Rosberg and Schumacher started in fifth and ninth position respectively, and before he was taken out by Webber, Rosberg had overtaken Hamilton and was in fourth position, and had a fair chance to land a podium position, as he was just 1.4 seconds behind Alonso. Team principal Ross Brawn about the race, "The team did an excellent job this weekend and have been rewarded with a very good result for Michael today. He took all of his opportunities and drove sensibly in the tricky conditions. It could have been even better as Nico was in a strong position and obviously we are disappointed that he was taken out of the race."
Schumacher had climbed up to fifth place when he, on lap 31, made his pit stop. He rejoined the race without losing his fifth position, and after Vettel had blown up his Renault engine, he was in fourth position. With a podium position now in reach he then tried the best he could to gain on Massa ahead of him, but his worn out intermediate tyres forced him to settle for fourth place. Schumacher, "I am sure that the spectators had a lot of fun here today at this first Korean race. The FIA did very well to start the race behind the safety car as it absolutely would not have been possible to have a racing start. I am pretty happy with today's race and I have to say thank you to my team who guided me perfectly through the afternoon."
Who gained, who lost?
Obviously Alonso made the most progress last weekend, as he is now leading the championship. Instead of being 14 points behind the leader, he is now 11 points ahead of his nearest rival Webber, who is now second instead of first. Vettel lost his third position and is now fourth with 25 points, or one race win, behind Alonso and still 14 points behind his team mate Webber. Hamilton has slightly increased his chances to win the title, he is now third instead of fourth in the championship, 21 points instead of 28 points behind the leader. Button was worst off, and although he passed the finish line unscathed, like Vettel and Webber he did not score any points, and is still fifth in the championship, now with 42 instead of 31 points behind the leader.
For the penultimate round of this year's championship, Formula One will now travel to the Interlagos circuit in Brazil, the home Grand Prix for Massa, Barrichello, Senna and Di Grassi. Theoretically Alonso could take the title in Brazil, visit Motorsport.com for all the action ahead of the Brazilian Grand Prix on November 7.