Thank goodness there's no faddish K-pop song with a corresponding routine leaving an infectious viral trail across the Internet at the moment. We've barely just recovered from the sight of F1 personalities doing "Gangnam Style" last year, and yet here we are again at Mokpo, the calendar's biggest oddity. Let's not even get started on the place itself--at least there are less complaints now over Twitter from mechanics and journalists who have to hole up in the barren city's seedy love motels. The Korean International Circuit itself is a bizarre thing, with three sectors that have totally distinct characteristics. Perhaps the venue's quirky nature will play up the different strengths of the teams to spice up the racing.
1. Mercedes and Red Bull will again share a front-row stronghold, with the gap between P1 and P2 not exceeding 0.150sec. In three previous stagings, the biggest gap seen between the top two qualifiers in these parts was 0.222sec. That was in 2011, when Lewis Hamilton bested then-two-time-champ Sebastian Vettel, who had clinched the title the week before in Japan. Hamilton looks to be the man to beat this year, too, after his clean sweep of Friday practices, but there's practically nothing between the Mercs and the Red Bulls--less than 0.2sec covered the top four in second free practice.
2. Romain Grosjean will be the higher-placed Lotus on Saturday, but the order will be reversed on Sunday. Kimi Raikkonen had an uncharacteristic spill during the tail end of the morning practice session, decorating the dusty track with a long rubber trail from the penultimate sweeper all the way to the exit of final corner, where he smacked the wall. Cue the race TV director switching to an image of a frustrated Lotus mechanic, who likely missed lunch to get the battered car back patched up for another go in the afternoon.
The thing with Kimi, of course, is that his Sunday performances almost always make up for any Saturday shortcomings. His long-run simulation laps on the supersoft tire matched--and at some points even bettered--those of the frontrunners, indicating that if he could only get himself higher up on the starting grid, he would have an opportunity to fight for the win.
3. Fernando Alonso will have made up at least two places by the end of Lap 1, en route to another podium finish. Two places might seem conservative given Fernando's knack for finding the quickest and safest possible path from his takeoff point to the first corner. Do remember, though, that Mark Webber--perennial sufferer of grid-start clutch issues, KERS gremlins, slow reflexes, or a combination of all three--has a 10-place grid penalty to serve. While he has the single-lap pace advantage over Alonso, the penalty will drop him somewhere into the midfield and out of the Spaniard's way.
4. Sergio Perez will beat McLaren hopefuls Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta. It's a bit of a surprise that Perez has yet to be confirmed at McLaren for 2014 when he supposedly has a multi-year deal with the squad. It's likely one of those contracts containing about 15 pages of performance-related clauses and options, but even if Perez could have done some things differently so far this season, his results have been substandard largely due to his being given a crap car.
Hulkenberg and di Resta are both highly talented and well-regarded drivers who definitely deserve to be on better teams. Time will tell if either of them will end up replacing Perez. We feel the Mexican upstart can fend them off at least for this race.
5. The polesitter still won't be the race winner. Save for 2010, when Alonso won from P3 after Vettel's engine gave up the fight with a few laps to go, it's the P2 starter that always seems to get the upper hand in Korea. Part of that is down to the long, long straight between Turns 2 and 3, which leaves the guy on the lead vulnerable to slipstream thieves from behind. Another issue is that the dirty side of the grid--the side that the even-number starters launch from--gives the inside line for Turn 1. Unless the starting sides are reversed for this year, it might be better not to take Saturday honors for a better shot at a Sunday win after all.
The race tomorrow, Sunday, begins at 2pm, Philippine time.
Photos from Scuderia Ferrari
|KOR||Free Practice One||Free Practice Two|
|Pos||Driver (Team)||Time, +Gap (Tire)||Driver (Team)||Time, +Gap (Tire)|
|1||L. Hamilton (Mercedes)||1:39.630 (M)||L. Hamilton (Mercedes)||1:38.673 (SS)|
|2||S. Vettel (Red Bull)||1:39.667, +0.037 (M)||S. Vettel (Red Bull)||1:38.781, +0.108 (SS)|
|3||M. Webber (Red Bull)||1:39.816, +0.186 (M)||N. Rosberg (Mercedes)||1:38.797, +0.124 (SS)|
|4||N. Rosberg (Mercedes)||1:40.117, +0.487 (M)||M. Webber (Red Bull)||1:38.844, +0.171 (SS)|
|5||J. Button (McLaren)||1:40.215, +0.585 (M)||F. Massa (Ferrari)||1:39.114, +0.441 (SS)|
|6||F. Alonso (Ferrari)||1:40.374, +0.744 (M)||R. Grosjean (Lotus)||1:39.226, +0.553 (SS)|
|7||R. Grosjean (Lotus)||1:40.396, +0.766 (M)||F. Alonso (Ferrari)||1:39.444, +0.771 (SS)|
|8||K. Raikkonen (Lotus)||1:40.677, +1.047 (M)||K. Raikkonen (Lotus)||1:39.757, +1.084 (SS)|
|9||S. Perez (McLaren)||1:40.860, +1.230 (M)||J. Button (McLaren)||1:39.774, +1.101 (SS)|
|10||F. Massa (Ferrari)||1:40.880, +1.250 (M)||A. Sutil (Force India)||1:40.006, +1.333 (SS)|
|11||N. Hulkenberg (Sauber)||1:40.899, +1.269 (M)||P. di Resta (Force India)||1:40.007, +1.334 (SS)|
|12||A. Sutil (Force India)||1:41.432, +1.802 (M)||S. Perez (McLaren)||1:40.152, +1.479 (SS)|
|13||P. Maldonado (Williams)||1:41.482, +1.852 (M)||E. Gutierrez (Sauber)||1:40.186, +1.513 (SS)|
|14||E. Gutierrez (Sauber)||1:41.626, +1.996 (M)||N. Hulkenberg (Sauber)||1:40.210, +1.537 (SS)|
|15||J. Vergne (Toro Rosso)||1:41.924, +2.924 (M)||J. Vergne (Toro Rosso)||1:40.446, +1.773 (SS)|
|16||V. Bottas (Williams)||1:42.002, +2.372 (M)||D. Ricciardo (Toro Rosso)||1:40.552, +1.879 (SS)|
|17||D. Ricciardo (Toro Rosso)||1:42.043, +2.413 (M)||P. Maldonado (Williams)||1:41.117, +2.444 (SS)|
|18||J. Calado (Force India)||1:43.008, +3.378 (M)||V. Bottas (Williams)||1:41.289, +2.616 (SS)|
|19||C. Pic (Caterham)||1:43.660, +4.030 (M)||G. van der Garde (Caterham)||1:42.261, +3.788 (SS)|
|20||G. van der Garde (Caterham)||1:43.883, +4.253 (M)||C. Pic (Caterham)||1:42.798, +4.125 (SS)|
|21||M. Chilton (Marussia)||1:44.100, +4.470 (M)||J. Bianchi (Marussia)||1:43.108, +4.435 (SS)|
|22||R. Gonzalez (Marussia)||1:46.810, +7.180 (M)||M. Chilton (Marussia)||1:43.441, +4.768 (SS)|
Legend: M—medium compound; SS—supersoft compound. For first free practice, J. Calado drove in place of P. di Resta in Force India, and R. Gonzalez substituted for J. Bianchi in Marussia