- Korean Grand Prix
Vettel wins chaotic Korean Grand PrixLaurence Edmondson October 6, 2013
- Korean Grand Prix
Sebastian Vettel cruised to his fourth victory in a row during a Korean Grand Prix that bordered on chaos at times, with a tyre failure and car fire twice bringing out the safety car.
Just like in Singapore, Vettel kept his head as several behind him appeared to lose theirs, and in doing so made sure the wheel-to-wheel battling stayed firmly in his mirrors. Kimi Raikkonen held off team-mate Romain Grosjean for second place as he made use of the safety cars to recover from his ninth-place grid position to finish on the podium. Grosjean will have felt hard done by after holding on to the coat tails of Vettel in the first half of the race, only to be passed by his Lotus team-mate into Turn 1 in the gap between the two safety car periods.
The battle for fourth raged from the safety car periods to the chequered flag as Lewis Hamilton was passed by Nico Hulkenberg at the first safety car restart and then failed to find a way back past. Hulkenberg drove a superb race from start to finish, but was put to the test in the closing stages as Hamilton attacked the Sauber lap after lap. Fernando Alonso was stationed in sixth to pick up the pieces, but despite a couple of looks up the inside of the Mercedes, never found a way past.
However, it was not just Red Bull's rivals who were left with questions to be answered at the end of the race. Sergio Perez suffered a tyre delamination on his right-front Pirelli causing the first safety car and a fire truck was deployed onto the track in front of the cars as they were still racing to deal with a fire on Mark Webber's car. The Pirelli delamination is likely to be explained by a nasty lock up in the previous braking zone, but the fire truck will likely result in a review of procedures to deal with fires.
At the start Vettel made a perfect getaway and led Hamilton and Grosjean into Turn 2, who continued to battle into Turn 3 where Grosjean got ahead. The main casualty of the opening lap was Felipe Massa, who spun on his own heading into Turn 3 and nearly took out team-mate Alonso. Jenson Button also got tagged in the melee and had to pit soon after to change a damaged front wing.
Grosjean kept Vettel honest in the opening laps, but the suspicion was that the Red Bull driver was monitoring the gap as well as the wear on his front-right tyre, which was marginal for all the drivers. The first pit stops came around lap 10 and in the second stint Hamilton started to push to try and find a way back past Grosjean. However, his extra push took the life out of his front tyres and he soon dropped into the clutches of team-mate Nico Rosberg behind.
However, as Rosberg passed Hamilton his front wing assembly collapsed, sending sparks flying for the rest of his lap to the pits to take on a replacement. That left Hamilton out even longer on his "destroyed" front tyres, which arguably ruined any chance of a podium.
An indication of just how marginal the tyres were came on lap 31 as Perez's front-right tread unravelled itself from the carcass, decimating his front wing and flying into the path of Webber behind. Heading into the previous corner Perez had locked his brakes and badly flat-spotted the tyre and on the following straight it let go in dramatic fashion.
A safety car was quickly deployed, prompting Vettel and Grosjean to make their second pit stops to bring their strategies in line with the cars behind that had already pitted. Once the debris had been cleared, and the lapped cars allowed to rejoin the back of the pack, racing got back underway on lap 37. Vettel quickly resumed his lead while Hulkenberg made a move stick on Hamilton at Turn 3. At the end of the lap Grosjean made a mistake in the penultimate corner and opened the door for Raikkonen to pass into Turn 1 to take second.
"He moved two times to the left but I got a good run," Raikkonen explained on the podium. "He made a mistake in the second to last corner and I got a good run and heard there would be yellow flags at the end of the straight. So I knew he wasn't going to pass me back with the DRS because it's not open with the yellow flags so I thought I would try to overtake and it was not too difficult."
The move may have taken Grosjean by surprise, but what happened on the follow straight was completely unexpected. At the restart, Adrian Sutil lost his Force India under braking for Turn 3 and took out Webber. As the Red Bull came to a stop in the run-off area the rear of the car caught fire and the nearby fire marshals were slow to respond. The blaze soon engulfed the prancing bull on the RB9's engine cover and a fire truck was deployed on to the track. The Jeep joined the circuit on the exit of Turn 2 and continued along the 1.2km straight to Turn 3 while the racing pack came through Turn 1. Race director Charlie Whiting was quick to respond and deployed the safety car, neutralising the race again on lap 38, but fortunately the drivers responded sensibly to seeing the fire truck on track and slowed down.
At the second restart Vettel carried on his merry way at the front as Raikkonen held off Grosjean for second. Grosjean, with fresher tyres on his car, was soon on the radio asking for a free pass, but was told to race his team-mate for position and failed to find a way past.
However, a more exciting battle was unfolding behind as Hamilton attempted to reclaim fourth position. He had the pace into Turn 1 to attempt a move on lap 48, but Hulkenberg's better traction out of Turn 2 allowed him to pass the Mercedes again ahead of Turn 3. Alonso, watching events from sixth position, then attacked Hamilton into Turns 4, 5 and 6, but the Mercedes was placed with precision to make sure it was always blocking each apex. Hamilton came on the radio to ask for suggestions about how to pass the Sauber, but clearly an answer was not forthcoming as he remained stuck behind Hulkenberg until the end of the race and settled for fifth.
Vettel went on to take victory and extend his lead to 77 points in the drivers' championship. There were no boos on the podium this time and the champion elect seemed to be enjoying himself. "I'm just loving what I do, the team is fantastic," he said. "I think we all have a good time and just enjoy the moment really."
Laurence Edmondson is deputy editor of ESPNF1