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Rencken: 2013 Korean GP wrap

2013-10-07 07:38

GREAT JOB LOTUS: Race-winner Sebastian Vettel gestures to third-place Lotus’ Romain Grosjean, who finished behind team mate Kimi Raikkonen. Image: AFP


Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel drove immaculately and it looks like yet another season lost for Alonso and Ferrari following the 2013 Korean GP, writes DIETER RENCKEN.

Sebastian Vettel’s qualifying margin over fellow front-row starter at the 2013 Korean GP, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, was a comfortable but not scintillating 0.218sec. At the end of the opening lap, Vettel’s  gap over his closest challenger (Roman Grosjean, who lined up third in his Lotus) was 10 times that, yet by the end of the 55-lap race only 4.224sec separated the quadruple champion-elect’s Red Bull from Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen.


True, two pace car phases – the second after local race officials mid-race controversially deployed a SangSomething fire tender after Mark Webber’s Red Bull erupted in flames following an (innocent) altercation with a wayward (again) Adrian Sutil – negated some of Vettel’s hard-earned advantage.

True, Vettel’s closest qualifying challenger Hamilton grappled throughout with tyre issues, yet one would have expected Vettel’s finish line advantage to be upwards of 10 seconds given his car’s (perceived) performance advantage.

Equally true, Vettel hammered home his advantage by setting the fastest lap two rounds from the end. As the rest were desperately conserving their second set of Pirelli Mediums, all but one (Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo,) having started on the Supersoft Option, then switched to the harder compound after around 10 laps, with further replenishment to the same coming during either of the two pace car interruptions – so it is clear the winner rolled back drastically save for a final demoralising show of strength.


Did an order not to demonstrably dominate the race come from above, to wit from Red Bull’s lair in the Austrian Alps? After all, a 32-second margin as per Singapore a fortnight ago is exceedingly bad for business for a team solely in F1 for marketing purposes, for not only did TV viewers turn off but cameramen didn’t even follow the leader, preferring to focus on battles further back.

Factor in the jeers and boos aimed at Vettel during the podium ceremony on at least four occasions this year and such an order would come as no surprise, particularly as paddock sources have it that Red Bull’s hierarchy has become extremely perturbed by this evident lack of empathy for a team pumping hundreds of millions into this sport (and others).


After all, were not Michael Schumacher and Ferrari praised to the heavens when they similarly dominated F1 less than a decade ago? Yes, but the Scuderia earned respect over six decades and F1 for all the right reasons. Red Bull is, though, seen as an upstart team run by marketing men masquerading as racers – that is certainly the perception out there and Red Bull would do well to continue to ensure that Vettel is not seen to dominate…

That said, rolled-back victory or not, Vettel drove immaculately, never putting a wheel out of place or leaving the slightest doubt that he and RB9 are consistently the quickest combination out there.

Yes, Grosjean came close on occasion, as did Raikkonen, but when it came to relentlessness the leader was in a class of his own, as he admitted post-race: “Fortunately we had enough pace always to open up a little bit of a gap even though I think Raikkonen and Romain, to be fair, were pretty competitive the longer the stint was.

“So I think they did maybe a better job with their tyres, looking after their tyres.”

Yes, they did, but team orders also came into play after the team instructed the faster Grosjean, who had erroneously ceded an eventual second place to his team mate, to keep station behind the Raikkonen in the closing stages, with only 0.7sec separating the two black/gold cars at flag-fall.

It was the third time in 2013 that Raikkonen had been favoured thus – as he, as third-placed driver in the championship, deserves to be – and Romain accepted it in good spirit.


The much-vaunted Mercedes challenge came to naught as Hamilton lost second place going into Turn 1, then struggled with Mediums which fell off a cliff after 10 laps, forcing the 2008 champion to yo-yo up and down the order all afternoon. This left the way open for Nico Hulkenberg to post another superb result for his struggling Sauber team on the first anniversary of Monisha Kaltenborn’s anniversary as F1’s first female team principal.

Hulkenberg drove a tactically brilliant race, permitting Hamilton to pass as he conserved tyres, then retook the Mercedes under DRS zones, thus they entertained mightily for the final 10 laps. Fourth was just desserts for the lanky driver who too often has been overlooked in the past, most recently by Ferrari – who went for Kimi in favour of Nico as 2014 replacement for Felipe Massa.

Fernando Alonso started fifth and finished sixth, which sums up his race, for the 2005/6 champion generally makes up grid position, invariably in the drag to the first corner. At the 2013 Korean GP, more than any other race, his Ferrari was hampered by Pirelli’s post-Silverstone switch to its 2012-specification tyre construction.


As Alonso ruefully pointed out, in the first half of 2014 Sauber was nowhere; now the white cars are up to Ferrari performance – on the same engines. Having battled Hulkenberg in the opening stages, Alonso was well-placed to judge The Hulk’s performance, post-race suggesting he was “Man of the Race”.

True, Alonso would hardly shower Vettel with such compliments, but is not given to loose talk, either, so high praise indeed for Hulkenberg, who afterwards told W24 his team had maximised all its opportunities.

Alonso said: “We really punched above our weight. We shouldn't be in front of these cars but we are because we put everything together and we were quick in the important points (of the track).”

The bottom line is that the 2013 Japanese GP will be Alonso’s last chance of 2013 to equal Vettel’s tally of three World crowns, for eighth or lower in Suzuka will secure the title for Vettel.

Another season lost for Alonso and Ferrari…


Nico Rosberg was seventh but it was another afternoon of wasted opportunities for “that other” German: while challenging Mercedes team mate Hamilton for a provisional third at half-distance his front wing suddenly drooped in a spectacular shower of sparks, forcing him into an unscheduled stop after the team hurriedly ordered him to pit.

Rosberg said: “I wanted to know how bad it was because if the wing is really under the car then it's massively dangerous and I could've completely lost control and crashed straight on, without braking, into the wall.”

Eighth went to Jenson Button in the first McLaren, with the Briton and team mate Sergio Perez – who sparked the first pace car but flat-spotting a right front tyre so severely it burst in a storm of rubber - sandwiching Massa, who recovered well after being forced into a spin on Lap 1 as he desperately sought to avoid Rosberg in the opening melee.

Thus ran out what could very well prove the final Korean GP after only four – the promoters are said to owe Formula 1 Management millions going back to 2010 - with pole position, fastest lap and victory all credited to Vettel as he took his fourth consecutive victory (and sixth win of the season).

It was not the dominant show expected after Singapore - for whatever reason…

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