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No cosy finish for Vettel in Korea

2011-10-17 09:09


YEONGAM, South Korea - After 55 laps a McLaren, a Red Bull, a McLaren and a Ferrari line astern up front – their drivers with four World championships between them crossed the Korean International Circuit finish line covered by four seconds.

They could have been covered by a duvet so close were they and, as a spectacle, this was up there with the finish of the previous week’s Japanese GP which saw three cars take the flag with two seconds.


The only problem for Lewis Hamilton, Mark Webber, Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso was that winner Sebastian Vettel had finished his race 12 seconds earlier and disappeared around Turn 1 before the checquered flag dropped on the quartet, amply demonstrating just how dominant the new 24-year-old had been in the 16th (of 19) race of the season.

Given that the German had not once topped the Korean time sheets before the race - those honours went to Michael Schumacher, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton in the three practice sessions respectively, with the last-named also taking McLaren’s first pole in 27 races and the first non-Red Bull pole since Brazil in 2010 – Vettel should have been surprised.

But, no: he and his team had played a waiting game; saved three sets of prime tyres (‘softs’) for the race, which made his front row slot beside the McLaren all the more remarkable, for standard procedure is to try to save the option (in this case super soft) compound for the race – explaining why Q3 back-markers seldom put in runs.

So, the World champion was on the front row and had three sets of softs at his disposal, versus the two sets of the others. The scene was set as the clock counted down to 3pm local…

MAYHEM ABOUT TO START: Just seconds after this image was taken pole-starter Lewis Hamilton was out-foxed by Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel - and the race was won.

In the end he didn't need the third set and it was returned to Pirelli afterwards, but before the race, with high degradation expected due to the ‘greenness’ of the circuit (plus rain all Friday) and a circuit which evolved more than any other in 2010, that set could have proved crucial. Which shows how Red Bull works – shows also how Ferrari works: after qualifying Alonso was asked whether Ferrari had considered the tactic?


And why did you then not do implement it?

“We didn’t want to risk it…”

There is not much to say about Vettel’s race for, once he forced his way past Hamilton, he was gone, the gap steadily opening as Hamilton and Webber fell over each other. Where their potential race pace was within a few tenths of Vettel, they at times lost a second a lap to him as they blocked and fought each other.

But, it was beautifully executed, the McLaren being faster where the Red Bull was slower, and vice versa, their drivers attacking/defending as required. But, of course they invariably put themselves at the mercy of Button and Alonso, who hungrily closed up from behind.


Button, winner in Japan, was swamped at the start, his third grid slot quickly deteriorating to P6, and even seventh when Nico Rosberg momentarily passed him after a drag race down the pits lane. So all credit to him that he was able to fight back.

Both McLaren drivers complained after the race of lost downforce due to debris sticking in their nose wings but as this did not affect the rest it can only be put down to McLaren design quirks. Whatever, despite having been dropped by Webber and ridding himself of the pesky Rosberg in the other silver car - the full-fat Mercedes - Jenson quickly became the focus of Alonso’s attention. His pace forced Button to up his, which meant he came closer to Webber, who upped his, bringing him closer to Hamilton

NEW TAKE ON BUILD QUALITY: Grid girls the world over are the same old... but the young ladies hired for the 2011 Korean F1 GP are a trifle different but all seem to go to the same, er gymnasium.

Alonso qualified sixth – finding himself ‘done’ by team mate Felipe Massa for the fourth time in six races – and spent the first half of the race behind that Brazilian. Alonso was running a different wing in line with Ferrari’s decision to test 2012 components now that the title hunt is over, and possibly that contributed to his lack of qualifying pace, but his car wanted for nothing in the race, particularly after being fitted with softs.

While clearly unhappy about not being right up there with the other champions, he did not seem too perturbed at qualifying behind his team mate, which is telling for a soul as competitive as Alonso's. Massa, who put in a demon opening lap, eventually finished sixth behind his team mate, having been jumped after his second stop by a combination of  traffic and Alonso’s speed.

A strong seventh went to Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso’s Spaniard growing in stature with virtually every race after some lacklustre early-season performances. A brave strategy got him among the Ferrari and Mercedes drivers and thereafter he kept it on the island.
Rosberg, the sole surviving Mercedes driver after Michael Schumacher was assaulted from the rear by Renault’s Vitaly Petrov after the two plus Alonso played at slip-streaming each other down the 1050m straight - and earning the Russian a five-grid slot penalty for India - finished an unhappy eighth.


Sebastien Buemi, in the second Toro Rosso, took ninth with Paul di Resta rounding off the top ten for the team now named ‘Sahara Force India’ after its owners sold a stake to an Indian conglomerate ahead of the country’s grand prix on 30 October.

So a scintillating race – one of the best seen in a while, which says something in this season of DRS, kers and Pirellis - drew to a close, leaving that quartet with a chance of clinching the runners-up slot: Button has 222 points, Alonso 212, Mark Webber 209, with Hamilton on 196, with 75 points still to play for. Still, there was something missing: passion.

That vital ingredient, which fuels paddocks from Melbourne to Monza, was simply nowhere to be seen (or felt), be it in the pits lane, in the media centre or in the stands. If the race ticked all the boxes it failed to answer a burning question: what was F1 doing in a country with absolutely no feel for the sport? For real passion, rewind a week to Japan: Fittingly, that race was twice as close at the sharp end?

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