The Korean grand prix is not well attended by fans, it’s situated in the middle of nowhere and its place on the F1 calendar is in doubt. Despite this the Yeongam circuit was riddled with brilliant battles and delivered one of the most electrifying races of the season.
Sebastian Vettel led away from yet another pole position but the Red Bull driver’s advantage wasn’t the dominantly supreme pace of two weeks ago in Singapore. He was however in complete control even with the moderate threat from Romain Grosjean. The Lotus driver had managed to get ahead of second place starter Lewis Hamilton and make a slight impression on Vettel.
Fernando Alonso, despondent about the Ferrari’s pace throughout the weekend, could not make much headway at the start of the race. In fact, the Spaniard was lucky to avoid being taken out by spinning teammate Felipe Massa. Alonso found himself tucked up behind the Sauber of Nico Hulkenberg and Kimi Raikkonen bearing down on his gearbox. Raikkonen was able to overtake his future teammate before the first round of pitstops commenced.
Lewis Hamilton’s afternoon didn’t go to plan as tyre degradation severely limited the pace of the Mercedes. The Brit was on the radio, several times, bemoaning the Pirelli’s lack of grip. The team remained adamant and stuck to their original strategy and advised Hamilton to remain out on circuit. The driver though seemed fed up with the situation and appealed to the team to call him in. “You need to call me in now, these tyres are ******,” implored Hamilton.
To add insult to Hamilton’s injury a spectacular failure of Nico Rosberg’s front-wing meant his teammate was called into the pits ahead of him. Mercedes’ strategy calling from the wall left a lot to be desired in this race.
The first of two safety cars was deployed on lap 31 as McLaren’s Sergio Perez suffered a complete delamination of his front-right tyre. A stint of twenty plus lap and a severe flat spot was the perfect was the reason given by Pirelli for Perez throwing the tread off the tyre. Mark Webber was a casualty of the debris from the McLaren and was forced into the pitlane with a slow puncture. Webber commented after the race that Pirelli’s official reason for the failure may not be spot on. “The reason drivers are locking up [the tyres] is because there’s no tread left [on the tyre].”
The deployment of the safety car resulted in a rash of pitstops. The Mercedes team escaped their bad strategy call with Hamilton and allowed Rosberg to recover to a points paying position. The restart of the race had Kimi Raikkonen capitalising on a minute mistake by teammate Grosjean and the Finn snatched second place from the Frenchman who was not too pleased with the “situation.”
Grosjean reportedly voiced his irritation on having been overtaken by Raikkonen and according the teamboss Eric Boullier “he was begging some team orders to let him past.” Grosjean was not able to retake the position with fresher tyres nor was it handed to him by the team. He was told by Lotus’ Director of Trackside Operations, Alan Permane, “We’ll talk about this later, but big ******* smile on the podium, big smile on the podium.” Permane went on to praise Grosjean’s “incredibly strong driving” and Raikkonen’s “luck.”
The race was just about settled down when Adrian Sutil’s spinning Force India smacked into the side of Mark Webber’s Red Bull on lap 38. Webber’s car caught fire and with slow responding marshals erupted into quite a blaze. It later emerged that the fire was caused by a burst oil radiator. The drama intensified as a fire vehicle took to the track ahead of the leaders; prompting the second appearance of the safety car. The FIA said after the race that they had called for the fire vehicle but expected it to come from the Turn 3 marshalling post and not Turn 1.
As the race resumed Vettel was able to move clear of Raikkonen and win the race by four seconds. And while Romain Grosjean complained about not being let through Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg drove the race of his life to hold off Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso. Hulkenberg withstood immense pressure from Hamilton lap after lap and undoubtedly boosted his shares in driver market. The difference between Grosjean and Hulkenberg is subtle. Although the Frenchman has matured as a driver it’s Hulkenberg who showed that he is a true racer. These two could be an interesting match-up if the rumours of Hulkenberg to Lotus in 2014 have any authenticity.
Several fights throughout the field spiced up the Korean GP enough to declare it a thoroughly entertaining race. Sebastian Vettel however was completely oblivious to the majority of it. Calm and controlled at the head of the race the German delivered yet another faultless drive and the rest as they say is record breaking history.