F1 2013 Korean Grand Prix Race Review
Sebastian Vettel cruise to yet another victory inching that much closer to another world championship.
TV: Sky F1 (UK), NBC (USA)
Although it marked the fourth consecutive victory for Sebastian Vettel, the Korean Grand Prix was anything but the boring Red Bull-fest that many predicted to be. Yes Vettel remained largely unchallenged for most of the race, but the non-Vettel action was thrilling, captivating and sometimes downright bizarre.
Vettel’s only threat for the entirety race, given it was going to a dry one, was at the start. He couldn’t afford to slip up as his teammate Mark Webber had done last year, and have fight for the lead in a mistake that could potentially cost him the race. However, the German made of cleanest and easiest starts of the season from pole and got away clearly from a fast starting Romain Grosjean who squeezed his way past a dazed Lewis Hamilton at the exit of turn three.
From thereon in it was all about management; management of tyres, management of safety cars and even management of some debris and a fire truck. It means that Vettel’s now 77 points clear with a mathematic possibility of claiming the title in Suzuka in a week’s time. The Championship is all but his and only a monumental catastrophe can prevent him from making Formula 1 history as the youngest four-time champion.
However, despite the Vettel dominance and yet another amazing Kimi Raikkonen recovery, the drive of the day almost unanimously went to German starlet Nico Hulkenberg’s who extracted the absolute maximum from an improving Sauber package to hold on to fourth place, his equal highest finish in F1. Having qualified well a good race was certainly in order, but Sauber would have had their optimistic target set at medium to low points, not a single position of the podium.
It caps of a remarkable couple of races for Sauber who’ve recovered well from a very underwhelming start to 2013 given the progress and promise they showed last season. While they still lag behind Force India by a relatively hefty 31 points, with five races left and a car appears to have made genuine structural progress anything is possible.
Force India must also be quite worried. If not for the prospect of being chased down by a confident Sauber outfit, then for the incredible loss of form for their lead driver Paul di Resta. It’s six consecutive non-points finishes and perhaps more alarmingly four consecutive crashes and retirements, the last three of which were completely driver error on behalf of the Scotsman. While his talents are justifiably talked up when names are thrown forward for potential vacancies at bigger teams, di Resta all but ruled himself out of any move all through his own doing and poor driving. Force India will be happy in a way that there’s no prospect that they will lose him to another team, however di Resta must try understand what has happened and why and whether it’s a case of frustration and pressure getting to him.
There’s little doubt that in a few years’ time di Resta deserves a crack at a top team, much like one was handed to Sergio Perez or Romain Grosjean. However, based on current performance, any top team will do well to steer well clear of a driver who appears unable to handle himself when many people are looking.
A positive from the Korean Grand Prix amongst all the chaos was the upturn in fortunes of McLaren. After a surprisingly good FP1 where Jenson Button put his car in the top three of the timesheets, McLaren were hopeful that this might be their race to finally end their 2013 podium drought. But from there things went quickly downhill, to the extent where neither car made it to Q3 on the Saturday afternoon, a rare occurrence for the Woking based team. Although the double points finish was a good result considering their starting points, it marks yet another disappointing weekend where things just haven’t gone McLaren’s way. The talk that they are attempting to lure Fernando Alonso out of Ferrari after the arrival of Kimi Raikkonen would be genuine talk in any other year. But given the disappointment of their performance this season, it’s incredibly unlikely Alonso will give up what he has for what he can see is far inferior.
Heading into the Korean International Circuit on Sunday afternoon, Lewis Hamilton would have been quietly confident of his chances of making a good start and taking Sebastian Vettel through the inside of turn one or two. He certainly didn’t envisage struggling behind a Sauber for the last ten laps of a race where his tyres were his biggest nightmare. At one stage during his second sting he was lapping almost three seconds slower than those around him on tyres that were almost the same age as his. In an incredibly unfortunate situation, Nico Rosberg’s front-wing failure occurred at just the wrong time such that Hamilton was forced to go for one more terrible lap on a set of tyres that were absolutely shot to pieces. These conspiring in the middle part of the race effectively ended any chances Hamilton had of a podium as the two Lotus’s of Grosjean and Raikkonen were able to get past.
Rosberg’s race was a little more forlorn. He actually made quite a solid start from P4, but was unable to make it stick in terms of positions. From there, he drifted away from the main pack of Vettel, Grosjean and Hamilton, but was able to maintain good pace before a complete detachment of his front-wing which sent sparks flying everywhere called for an early and long pit-stop that ruined his chances of a podium place.
Romain Grosjean displayed exactly why Lotus probably have to keep him now that Raikkonen has left. They know he is inconsistent, most people know that, but when he concentrates and gets his rhythm going, he definitely looks like he belongs at the sharp end of the field.
Unlike his usual starts where his force tentativeness causes him to waste genuine opportunities for inroads that present themselves, he made the most of a good get away to take second place of Hamilton with a nice aggressive move on the inside of turn three. For the majority of the race he held his own in a car that wasn’t quite up to beating Vettel but was more than capable of taking care of the Mercedes’. Save for one mistake where Raikkonen was able to pull of an opportunistic move to steal a sure second place of the Frenchman, his race was pure class and a marker of things to come. We’ve seen this type of performance before, so we shouldn’t be too surprised. But what Grosjean needs to do if he is to lead the Lotus team in 2014 in Raikkonen’s absence is make sure this is the type of performance he attempts to give every single race, because it doesn’t appear like that at the moment.
Suzuka is forms the second part of this Formula 1 double header, of which there are two more to go. The teams are almost definitely tired now and won’t be looking forward to the next month of non-stop work, save for maybe Red Bull who know that party time isn’t far away. With a bit of luck they’ll secure the title at Abu Dhabi, a place where the lights and entertainment are second to none.
Spare a thought for Fernando Alonso, who quite clearly was disheartened by the poor performance of the Ferrari. As Hamilon put himself, the likes of those two don’t deserve to have cars that are unable to keep pace with Vettel let alone beat him. Here’s hoping that 2014 provides a serious shakeup to the current order of the F1.
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