The remote Korea International Circuit in the Southern County of Yeongram welcomed the F1 jamboree for only the 4th running of this Grand Prix. Yet another Hermann Tilke designed track with agreement to run the race, in theory, until 2021 but many now doubt its appeal will carry it that far. You will note the 2014 race here is only now classified as provisional, and another recently awarded Grand Prix in India has quietly slipped altogether off a very busy 22 race schedule next year.
Even before the meeting started, Typhoon Fitow was edging across this bleak region threatening torrential downpours and high winds on race day. The first Korean GP, I recall in 2010, was held in extremely wet conditions and won on that occasion by Alonso, after an hour’s delay and a start behind the pace car.
Off track, gossip reverberated around the paddock over the possibility Red Bull were deploying some form of traction control in Singapore, after the ex- Red Bull Boss Giancarlo Minardi thought he heard sounds emanating from the Red Bulls consistent with driver aids. Lewis added to speculation by commenting on the uncanny ability of the Red Bulls to be fully powered on 20 metres before any other car. Red Bull quickly dismissed all speculation and even Fernando remarked it is up to other teams to ‘do a better job’. Red Bull may indeed have developed more advanced engine mapping than their rivals but strictly they claim within the tightly monitored rules.
Other debate swirled around ‘car plus driver’ weight limits and how these unfairly penalise less jockey like combatants. Button and Webber both claim they regularly starve themselves to death before races to keep within weight limits. Hulkenberg and Di Resta could face uncertain futures despite their undoubted potential because of extra body mass. With micro seconds splitting times these days, two tenths or so lost for every 5Kg extra a driver carries, confirms this is becoming a hot topic. Next year with revised weight limits coming in to accommodate new turbo engines and heavier recovery systems, this issue becomes even more acute, and Button is absolutely right to be banging on about it now. Messrs Vettel and Rosberg were strangely silent in the debate.
As we moved into the second day of the meeting and qualifying, off track issues still sparked more interest than on track action, which frankly remained a little dull and predictable. By the end of qualifying the only material change to the order from Friday practice was initiated by Webber’s 10 place grid demotion as a penalty for thumbing a lift back to the paddock off Fernando in Singapore. Q1 claimed the scalps of the two Williams and Q2 both McLarens. The two Saubers were the beneficiaries and are beginning to show the rate of development work that has been invested in their cars during the second half of the season. Q3 sealed the fate of the two Ferrari’s on row three, with Rosberg, Grosjean and Hamilton further up the time sheets and Vettel of course at the top.
Then came the race. I have to admit to a feeling of some disdain that we would be in for another Vettel master class and a procession behind. Whilst correctly judged on the first count, on the second I was adrift by a country mile.
Seb scampered away from pole and quickly built up a lead. Behind the German, mayhem started early on with Felipe misjudging his speed into Turn 3 on the first lap and whilst spinning came within inches of taking out his team mate. Plumes of tyre smoke everywhere signalled numerous heavy lock ups on this first lap. Maldonado somehow gained nine places in all the melee, with Felipe dropping down to 21st place from row 3 after his spin, as the race moved on to the second lap. Most teams opted for a two stop strategy with first tyre changes coming as early as Lap 10 of 55 for the front runners.
Vettel dominated the race throughout. He was breathtakingly quick off the grid and wasted no time re-gaining control after two safety car re-starts. Purple fastest laps were bagged to boot. The Championship would seem totally secure for the German now, unless in error he is allocated Webber’s car for the rest of the season.
Many though will reflect primarily on the excellent performance by Nico Hulkenberg. Nico’s perfectly judged race craft, denying the likes of Hamilton and Alonso 4th place, will live long in the memory of this race. There will be no justice if the German fails to secure a competitive seat next year, potentially on account only of his lanky 6ft frame and body weight similar to the likes of Webber and Button.
As for the two Ferrari drivers, Fernando raced as hard as we know he can, but his reward was a disappointing 6th place and only 8 points with a car uncharacteristically down on race pace. Felipe, in part, made up for his 1st lap error and clawed his way back to an eventual 9th place, after a feisty joust with a tight grouping of Maldonado, Bottas, Perez and Gutierrez in the final 10 laps.
With seats still unconfirmed for 2014, speculation builds that following Kimi’s signing at Ferrari Alonso has an opt out in his contract and becomes a free agent. McLaren are known to be less than happy with Perez’s form so watch that space. If I was Luca or Stefano I would be thinking in terms of putting in a call to Nico H’s management team pretty smartish.
Click here for FIA lap chart.
Stefano Domenicali: “We were hoping to be able to attack the two Mercedes on the opening lap, as we knew we could deal with their race pace. Unfortunately, that was not the case and the incidents just after the start affected our race, wiping out any chance of getting close to the podium. In these conditions we didn’t manage to get the most out of our car and now the only thing we can do is keep our concentration high for the next round in Japan, where we get an immediate chance to redeem ourselves”.
Fernando Alonso: We knew this would be a difficult race and unfortunately the results confirmed the concerns we had already experienced on Friday, when we had a few problems with tyre degradation on the long run. It wasn’t a surprise to be off the pace in qualifying, as that’s been the case since the start of the season, but the fact that we didn’t have the pace in the race was one. Unfortunately, at the start, I couldn’t keep the Sauber behind me and that meant I had a particularly stressful race in terms of the tyres. Vettel is a very long way off in terms of points, but above all in performance terms and we cannot expect miracles between now and the end of the championship”.
Felipe Massa: “Today’s race was really very complicated, because my chances of getting a good result evaporated right from the first lap, when I found myself in the middle of a group, all of us fighting and I decided to go down the inside to try and brake later. Unfortunately, some of the cars were slower and in order to avoid driving into one of the Mercedes, I was forced to move over to the right, ending up in a spin. Luckily, the car was alright, but at that point I was contemplating a race from the back of the pack. Today, we weren’t competitive and there were at least three or four teams quicker than us, including Sauber, but I hope this was mainly track dependent and that our car will be better suited to the Suzuka track”.