From being another "Sunday afternoon nod-off"--as Jeremy Clarkson once called a Sebastian Vettel lights-to-flag victory--the Korean Grand Prix suddenly came alive just past the halfway mark. Nico Rosberg's front wing dropped to the ground and started spraying sparks. Sergio Perez's front-right tire unraveled spectacularly soon after a major lockup under braking. Mark Webber's Red Bull caught fire. Next thing we knew, a Jeep Grand Cherokee was leading the grand prix.
Sure, Seb still won, but at least the chaos behind him provided for an entertaining show. Let's take a look at the key events of the race and how they affected our predictions.
1. Mercedes and Red Bull will again share a front-row stronghold, with the gap between P1 and P2 not exceeding 0.150sec. Lewis Hamilton did line up right behind Vettel on the front row of the grid, but the gap between them on Saturday was just over two-tenths of a second, so only half a point here.
Come Sunday, when the second grid spot had traditionally benefited the guy starting from there the past two years, Lewis was a few meters too far behind Vettel to steal some slipstream down the long straight to Turn 3; in fact, he was the one who lost out when Romain Grosjean overtook him on that corner. Shredded tires near the end of his second stint at mid-race made him vulnerable to his teammate, and as Rosberg pulled out of the other Merc's wake to make the pass, the nose of his car tipped down and sent him scurrying to the pit lane trailing sparks. Lewis was forced to trundle around for another lap as the team serviced the other car first, losing the British champion crucial places.
2. Romain Grosjean will be the higher-placed Lotus on Saturday, but the order will be reversed on Sunday. The Lotus boys qualified P4 and P10 in Grosjean's favor, and both moved a slot higher on the starting grid after Mark Webber's 10-place grid penalty dropped him to P13. And Sunday seemed like it would be Grosjean's day, too, except that Kimi Raikkonen had patiently worked his way through the cars in front and benefited from the appearance of the safety car (for Perez's burst Pirelli), which put him right behind his teammate.
When racing resumed, Kimi took advantage of Grosjean's mistake through the last couple of corners and passed him at Turn 1, knowing the Frenchman couldn't use DRS on him down to Turn 3 because of yellow flags. It prompted a radio call from Grosjean who asked for team orders to retake the position, but he only got some tough love from the pit wall.
3. Fernando Alonso will have made up at least two places by the end of Lap 1, en route to another podium finish. Alonso fans, we're sorry for jinxing your man. It was quite perplexing to see Nico Hulkenberg sailing past him on the opening lap, and Felipe Massa put him in an even more compromised position when he dived down the inside of Turn 3, spun and nearly took out the Spaniard.
We'll get to how Hulkenberg further contributed to Fernando's lowly P6 finish in a bit; it must first be noted that after qualifying, he was already downbeat about his chances. He also publicly spoke out against Pirelli, contending that "the quality of the tires is very on the limit" and the rubber "will not do 5km" if pushed too hard. To which Pirelli responded that he could "ask the soon-to-be-four-time champion how to get the best from the same tires." That was kind of below the belt, if you ask us.
4. Sergio Perez will beat McLaren hopefuls Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta. By virtue of his 10th-place finish and di Resta's DNF caused by driver error, Perez should get the half-point. That said, he twice caught the attention of the race stewards for employing questionable wheel-to-wheel racing maneuvers, so we're not exactly feeling generous toward him.
As for Hulkenberg, he was definitely the driver of the day. The German was a magnet for F1 champions in Korea, with Alonso glued to the back of his Sauber in the first half of the race, and Hamilton (whom he overtook after the safety-car restart) making his life complicated in the second. At one point, he even had three champions hounding him--Lewis, Fernando and Jenson Button. Brilliant defensive tactics and supreme car traction allowed him to keep his fourth place. If McLaren is not interested in him, surely Lotus must now be hankering for that performance.
5. The polesitter still won't be the race winner. For the second race in a row, Seb won from pole while the sister car literally went up in flames. Such is the bad luck of Webber: He'd just pitted and was looking good for a podium finish when Perez's tire exploded and he picked up a slow puncture from the debris. Back in the midfield after pitting again in the safety-car period, he "got harpooned" (as Seb's engineer described it) by Adrian Sutil after the restart. The impact damaged the oil radiator, and the safety car was once again summoned as the resultant fire was dealt with.
Except that a Jeep serving as a course car and fire truck went out in front of the pack before the SLS AMG could bring down the pace. It was about as odd as seeing F1 cars on a US freeway. And we thought we'd seen everything.
Total score: 1.5 out of 5
|KOR||Starting grid||Race results|
|Pos||Driver (Team)||Quali (Start Tire)||Driver (Team)||Time/Gap|
|1||S. Vettel (Red Bull)||1:37.202 (SS)||S. Vettel (Red Bull)||1hr 43:13.701|
|2||L. Hamilton (Mercedes)||1:37.420, +0.218 (SS)||K. Raikkonen (Lotus)||+4.224|
|3||R. Grosjean (Lotus)||1:37.531, +0.329 (SS)||R. Grosjean (Lotus)||+4.927|
|4||N. Rosberg (Mercedes)||1:37.679, +0.477 (SS)||N. Hulkenberg (Sauber)||+24.114|
|5||F. Alonso (Ferrari)||1:38.038, +0.836 (SS)||L. Hamilton (Mercedes)||+25.255|
|6||F. Massa (Ferrari)||1:38.223, +1.021 (SS)||F. Alonso (Ferrari)||+26.189|
|7||N. Hulkenberg (Sauber)||1:38.237, +1.035 (SS)||N. Rosberg (Mercedes)||+26.698|
|8||E. Gutierrez (Sauber)||1:38.405, +1.203 (SS)||J. Button (McLaren)||+32.262|
|9||K. Raikkonen (Lotus)||1:38.822, +1.620 (SS)||F. Massa (Ferrari)||+34.390|
|10||S. Perez (McLaren)||1:38.362, +1.160||S. Perez (McLaren)||+35.155|
|11||J. Button (McLaren)||1:38.365, +1.163||E. Gutierrez (Sauber)||+35.990|
|12||D. Ricciardo (Toro Rosso)||1:38.417, +1.215||V. Bottas (Williams)||+47.049|
|13||M. Webber (Red Bull)||1:37.464, +0.262 (SS)||P. Maldonado (Williams)||+50.013|
|14||A. Sutil (Force India)||1:38.431, +1.229||C. Pic (Caterham)||+1:03.578|
|15||P. di Resta (Force India)||1:38.718, +1.516||G. van der Garde (Caterham)||+1:04.501|
|16||J. Vergne (Toro Rosso)||1:38.781, +1.579||J. Bianchi (Marussia)||+1:07.970|
|17||V. Bottas (Williams)||1:39.470, +2.268||M. Chilton (Marussia)||+1:12.898|
|18||P. Maldonado (Williams)||1:39.987, +2.785||J. Vergne (Toro Rosso)||retired|
|19||C. Pic (Caterham)||1:40.864, +3.662||D. Ricciardo (Toro Rosso)||retired|
|20||G. van der Garde (Caterham)||1:40.871, +3.669||A. Sutil (Force India)||retired|
|21||M. Chilton (Marussia)||1:41.322, +4.120||M. Webber (Red Bull)||retired|
|22||J. Bianchi (Marussia)||1:41.169, +3.967||P. di Resta (Force India)||retired|
Notes: M—medium compound; SS—supersoft compound. Listed qualifying laps 17-22 set in Q1; 10-12 and 14-16 in Q2; and 1-9 and 13 in Q3. M. Webber originally qualified P3 but was given a 10-place grid penalty after receiving his third reprimand of the season during the Singapore GP; J. Bianchi originally qualified P21 but was given a three-place grid penalty for impeding another driver
|1||S. Vettel||272||Red Bull||402|
|6||N. Rosberg||122||Force India||62|
|8||R. Grosjean||72||Toro Rosso||31|
|10||P. di Resta||36||Marussia||0|
|21||G. van der Garde||0|
Photos from Infiniti Red Bull Racing