Sunday, October 24, 2010


Two weeks ago, the tarmac hadn’t even been laid at the Korean International Circuit.  Earlier today though, it hosted its inaugural Grand Prix after 14 days and nights of hard work.
The track had been branded the Hungaroring with more corners, and on Friday the dust seemed to be oozing out of the place.  The weather for the two Friday practice sessions stayed dry, allowing the drivers to get to grips with the track, the location, and the driving limits.
It was a rather eventful day as far as practices go, but the track time brought attention to a rather controversial section on the track.  The pitlane exit follows a blind right hand sweeping corner which starts right on the racing line.  With drivers forced to stay within the white line on entry, and a nasty bump which would be highlighted later on in the weekend, the drivers met on Friday evening to discuss potential changes to the corner.  They concluded that whilst there was not much that they could do for this year’s race, there would be a complete redesign of turn 17 next year.  The only change they confirmed for this year was that the rule of staying within the white line on entry would be abolished.
With track changes made, Saturday brought new challenges – driving on the limit.  Friday practices are used for high fuel testing and so, often the cars are not pushed to the limit.  On Saturday the teams do low fuel runs ahead of qualifying.  This tests the cars’ ultimate pace.
Under starters' orders: the pack make their way around the track behind the pace car
Safety car driver, Bernd Maylander, led more laps
than any other driver
Qualifying this year has been dominated by Red Bull Racing.  The surprise in Korea was though, that with one minute left on the clock, it was Fernando Alonso who had the lead.  True to form, Sebastian Vettel absolutely obliterated the opposition in qualifying with only one single lap.  Webber slotted in ahead of Alonso but behind Vettel.  Further back Nico Rosberg discretely pulled his car up to fifth on the grid, with Hamilton ahead, and Massa and Button behind.  Vitaly Petrov qualified in 15th, but due to a five place grid penalty gained at the previous race, started the race in 20th.
On Sunday morning the start time came and went without a sign of a racing lap.  After 10 minutes, it was announced that the race start would take place behind the safety car. The reason for this was heavy rain in the Yeongam provence.  This proved to be a mistake for the race organisers, as only a few laps in, the race was abruptly stopped and the restart delayed for well over an hour.
After much reluctance from the drivers, and waffle-panned commentary, the race resumed.  This was once again behind the safety car.  On lap 17, the safety car returned to the pits much to the excitement of a very keen Lewis Hamilton.  The race had only just properly started as the action commenced.  Championship leader Mark Webber fell victim to a self induced collision with the barrier on the first lap after the restart.  He ran wide at turn 12, getting on the dust and dirt at the exit.  He was slightly over exuberant on the pedal, and simply speared into the Armco.  This ended his race on the spot, but his rebound off the barrier collected Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg, taking him out of the race as well.
Mark Webber was left with three wheels after an early collision
This crash brought out the safety car for a third time in the race.  Soon the safety car came in, and a flawless opening few laps gave Vettel a commanding race advantage.  In second was Fernando Alonso with Hamilton, Massa, Button and Schumacher in pursuit.  Schumacher was on the pace and keeping up with the front runners.  It wasn’t long before he had Button overtaken, the Brit slowing with tyre related problems.
At this point, the weather was still wet, at a level no different to that at the start of the race.  Further back, Sutil, Kobayashi, Liuzzi and Alguersuari providing most of the drama.  This group were the first to pit for the intermediate tyre, sparking a stop for Button and then the rest of the leaders.  Kobayashi was the star at the previous race in Suzuka, and seemed less inspired in Korea.  Instead of Kobayashi, it was Adrian Sutil causing most trouble.  This time, though, for all the wrong reasons.  Button had returned from his stop behind the aforementioned group, losing a lot of time, and subsequently points.  With Button managing to pass Sutil, it was when Sutil came back at him that cost him the race.  The two tangled wheels, sending Button off the track, and losing even more time to the front runners.  Even further back, the new teams were battling (and struggling) for pride.  Buemi collected Glock, earning the former a grid penalty for the next race.  Whilst a collision between Senna and Trulli went unnoticed by the stewards, Sutil’s crash with Kobayashi earned a similar penalty to Buemi.

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Korean GP
Vettel was denied an easy win by his Renault engine

Petrov was left fuming after a spin into the barriers out of 7th on lap 39.  Vitaly Petrov is fighting for his position in the Renault team, and a good result would have helped his cause endlessly.  Vettel’s lead drastically decreased with only 11 laps remaining.  This was put down to an engine failure, and his race was over with the rest of the remaining (and reduced) field streaking past. 
This development allowed Fernando Alonso into the lead.  Alonso had been passed by Hamilton at his pitstop because of a jumpy wheel nut, but a mistake by Hamilton let Alonso back past.

Fernando Alonso celebrates his win in the wet
Fernando Alonso now leads the championship
Alonso’s lead became comfortable due to similar problems on Hamilton’s car, as to what was earlier experienced by team mate Button.  Behind, Hulkenberg’s strong sixth place quickly turned into a poor one point with a late puncture. 
The Spanish double world champion finished the race in near darkness, but deserved the result which sends him 11 points clear of Webber in the championship.  In second was Lewis Hamilton, who now moves up into third overall.  Alonso’s team mate, Felipe Massa, rounded out the podium places, with comeback king Michael Schumacher in fourth.  Robert Kubica failed to live up to the Friday hype, finishing only in fifth.  Liuzzi may well have saved his Force India bacon, with a strong 6th placed race finish.  In seventh was Rubens Barrichello, who lost two places in the closing laps.  He finished ahead of the two Saubers (Kobayashi and Heidfeld respectively) with Nico Hulkenberg claiming the final point.
Mark Webber now lies second overall, ten points clear of Lewis Hamilton.  Sebastian Vettel lies a further four behind, with Jenson Button realistically out of the reckoning in fifth.
The next race is in Brazil in two weeks.  This race has decided the championship winner in the past five years, and may well do so again this year.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Sebastian Vettel, winner of the Japanese GP
 After an rain aborted qualifying session, some critics doubted that this year's Japanese Grand Prix would even take place.  However, the race did start on schedule, and didn't fail to impress.

When the qualifying finally got going, Lewis Hamilton knew that he could only manage 6th at best.  This was due to an enforced gearbox change, which brought a five place grid penalty.  Realistically though, Hamilton knew that starting the race in the top 10 would be an achievement. 
It came down to a straight battle between Vettel and Webber in the end for top honours.  But, Vettel was unbeatable.  On his day Vettel can beat anyone and everyone, and this was it.  He had Webber well and truly beaten, and posted two laps both worthy of pole position. 

The race itself started at 3pm local time in Japan (6am GMT) in beautiful climatic conditions.  But the race hadn't even started when the drama began.  Lucas di Grassi en route to the grid bizarrely spun in the high speed 130R corner completely destroying the rear end of the car.  Whilst the cause is still yet to be determined (some 11 hours later), the Virgin team will be trying to avoid such an embarrasment reoccuring in the future.  The drama continued, when on the grid several of the championship contenders had dramas of their own.  Mark Webber's front ducts had cracked and required some quick re-taping, whilst Fernando Alonso was warned over a potential start issue.
Both of the above worries paled into insignificance in the end, however, the start itself certainly raised some eyebrows up and down the pitlane.

Both Vettel and Webber got clean starts, but not as clean as Robert Kubica, who hooked his getaway up beautifully.  The same could not be said though, for Nico Hulkenberg who didn't seem to get away at all.  This, combined with a real moment of carelessness for Vitaly Petrov saw both out of the race immediately.  Also out of the race were Felipe Massa and Vitantonio Liuzzi.  Whilst both of the latter two were reprimanded after the race, Vitaly Petrov was handed a five place grid penalty for the Korean Grand Prix later this month.

The first corner incidents brought out safety car for its first, and subsequently only, stint at the head of the pack.  Even with the safety car out, the action continued.  Robert Kubica was very quickly alerted at the fact that he was very soon going to lose his right rear wheel, which he did.  Thankfully the wheel rolled into the barrier causing no damage.  When the safety car came in the order at the front was Vettel, Webber, Alonso, Button, Hamilton, Schumacher, Barrichello.

With the race at the front settling down and Sebastian Vettel in a comfortable lead, most of the action was further back thanks mainly to two people.  Michael Schumacher seemed to be enjoying this race rather more than the last, and he was all over team mate Rosberg like a wasp to a sweaty man.  Had it not been for a blunder in strategy he may have been able to get past and score more points.  But Mercedes' stubbornness in refusing to show any signs of team orders quickly dismissed any of these suggestions.  The other man lighting up the tv screens was Japan's very own - Kamui Kobayashi.  Kobayashi clearly was clued in when he came up to pass Adrian Sutil.  He'd already passed Alguersuari (rather reluctantly) as he arrived up to the turn 11 hairpin.  Sutil game him just enough room and no more, as Kobayashi glided round the outside of the corner slotting in just with millimetres to spare between himself and Sutil's front wing.  This stunning form continued after a contentious strategy call by his team to leave him out on the slower times as long as possible.  But they needn't have worried in the end as Kobayashi caught back onto Alguersuari.  Again coming into the hairpin the two collided with Alguersuari to blame.  Martin Brundle in the BBC commentary described the incident as if "Alguersuari didn't want to give up a position that he had clearly lost."  This preceded another turn 11 passing move, except on Barrichello this time for 10th position.

With all going seemingly well for Button, the same could not be said for Lewis Hamilton.  Hamilton was informed via the team radio that his car had lost 3rd gear, and he would have to finish the race using only 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th gear.  With Button not far behind, it was not long before the two had to swap positions.  The inevitable happened on lap 38 at the hairpin (bit of a theme emerging here). 

A few more strange incidents concluded the race.  Adrian Sutil probably would have been wishing it was.  He suffered a rather monumental engine failure heading into 130R, the fastest corner on the track.  This spewed oil and flames out of the back of the car, sending himself into a spin right in the middle of the racing line.  Whilst everyone managed to avoid the oil, Sutil was forced to retire from the race.  Nico Rosberg then, who by this stage was still holding off Schumacher, had a similar wheel failure to that of Kubica, albeit with rather differing results.  Whilst Kubica was able to slow down and pull sensibly of the racing line, Rosberg was in the middle of the daunting "Esses" section of the track.  With no time to react to such an event, and at a reasonably high speed, Rosberg spun round tagging the barrier with the front of his car.  It was decided that the safety car was not needed for this incident.

So as the final corner approached, it was Vettel who took the flag.  He finished ahead of team-mate, and championship leader, Mark Webber.  In third was Fernando Alonso, beating off Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton to the line.

With only three races remaining in the championship, it is still Mark Webber in command.  He leads Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel by 14 points.  In fourth and fifth are McLaren's Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button 28 and 31 points back respectively.  With 75 points still to play for each of the top five are still very much in the hunt ahead of the inaugural South Korean Grand Prix.