The destination of the respective Formula One 2013 world championship may well be a formality, but that does not mean it arrives in Korea with little at stake.
There are plenty of scores still to be settled this season, and Yeongam’s own politics provide an interest backdrop to a pulsating battle for second in both the drivers’ and team’s championships.
Another on-track battle is far more generic—the midfield scrap, in which there are one or two rookies that are hitting their stride just as it matters.
In short, while it may not be the swankiest event on the calendar, this weekend’s Korean Grand Prix has a lot to offer. Here are five key storylines you should be following over the next few days.
Will Vettel's smile be wiped off come Sunday?
One thing that we will be on edge to see develop over the weekend is whether or not there will be a lead battle on Sunday that lasts for longer than the first few corners.
Sebastian Vettel’s dominance in Singapore was crushing, but will he repeat that in Korea? Probably not, as it happens. He may well win, but it is unlikely to appear so dominant.
There was a perfect storm at Marina Bay that flattered Vettel somewhat. He was magnificent, the car equally so—that’s not taken away from them.
But he was on brand new super-softs after the safety car with the majority of the rest on used boots, and the person heading the queue behind him (Nico Rosberg) had rubber in his front wing, compromising his performance and limiting his pace (and therefore that of those behind him).
The safety car had also negated the need for Vettel to conserve fuel, and so these myriad reasons meant he was able to unleash the full hell for the first time this season. His rivals fear it will be repeated, Red Bull insists otherwise.
The other element of this to note, and watch with interest this weekend, is Giancarlo Minardi’s allegation of cheating. Is Red Bull using a trick engine mapping setting to mimic traction control, or off-throttle exhaust blowing? Dr. Helmut Marko laughed it off, but will the F1 paddock be convinced so easily?
The scrap for second in the constructors' standings is very important
With Vettel and Red Bull equally as dominant at the head of the drivers’ and constructors’ championships, the fight for second has never been so important. Both the battle between Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, and the scrap between their respective employers Mercedes and Ferrari, has taken on added significance now.
Red Bull has been a class apart in recent races, and Vettel will likely claim a fourth consecutive crown. If there is a crumb of comfort to be found, it is for those behind to finish best of the rest and maybe find solace in the “Red Bull just had the best car” argument. Second may be first of the losers, but in the world of F1 both the financial reward and general recognition that comes with finishing runner-up is substantial.
Both parties want second place for different reasons. Alonso wants it to prove that he is F1’s top dog, resilient and relentless in a poorer car. Hamilton wants it to vindicate even further his switch from McLaren to Mercedes and cap off a debut season with the Silver Arrows that’s exceeded all expectations.
What about the teams? Ferrari needs to win this battle to motivate it for 2014. They have fallen back, a likely legacy of wind tunnel problems, and are without a title for several years. Gone are the days when the Prancing Horse was the benchmark. That must change. For Mercedes, it would be another positive step forward, especially after the progress of 2013, as they seek to reach the top rather than return to it.
Would a repeat of 2010 be good this weekend? Err, probably not
Rain is coming.
That’s if you believe some forecasts for this weekend, which predict a monsoon to hit the South Jeolla province.
A severe weather warning has been issued this weekend, although it is predicted the Typhoon, which is sweeping through the East China Sea, will just miss the region.
Given what happened during the inaugural Korean Grand Prix, we’ll wait until the weekend before we believe that too readily.
Bottas, di Resta and Gutierrez have something to prove
Formula One’s ever-enthralling midfield battle has extra edge in the closing rounds of the season.
The likes of Nico Hulkenberg (Sauber) and Paul di Resta (Force India) are still trying to convince bigger teams to take them on board, while the plight of Hulkenerg’s rookie teammate Esteban Guttierez and his counterparts, Valtteri Bottas and Giedo van der Garde, of challenging their more experienced teammates in difficult cars while learning Grands Prix tracks continue.
Nonetheless, all three of these rookies have stepped up their performances in recent races. Gutierrez made it into Q3 for the first time in Singapore and will want to continue that trend this weekend. Bottas, who has done an admirable job alongside Pastor Maldonado this season as Williams has toiled, will hope just to make Q2, while van der Garde will want to once again edge Charles Pic at Caterham, something he has managed in some fashion of late.
This is particularly interesting because all three will be under intense scrutiny as their teams, and others, plan for 2014.
That’s where Hulkenberg and di Resta come in, too. The former’s done just about all he can to prove he is deserving of a top seat, while the latter has been error-prone just as his car has slipped down the pecking order; a concerning combination if the Scot is to relieve himself of midfield machinery.
For all these drivers, Korea will likely not define their careers—but it could play a big part in where they end up next season at least.
Korea needs these grandstands to be full on race day, but it doesn't happen
And speaking of futures in doubt, what of that of the Grand Prix itself?
Korea has, as this website commented yesterday, been unsuccessful in both delivering on its promises and establishing itself as a good addition to the F1 calendar.
The track itself is good and the races have been entertaining. But it’s not the whole package; in fact, and while what you’d consider to be a Grand Prix’s core components (quality of the track and its ability to promote good racing) are solid, the rest of it is found considerably wanting.
The race seems to attract minimal interest from both politicans and fans. If the former party was truly supportive, surely promises of a city build around the facility would have been kept and the costs (which were agreed well in advance) wouldn’t have been considered a shock!
That’s all very concerning for the race’s future. After all, even a great Grand Prix circuit cannot survive if it doesn’t satisfy the appetite of its backers and its locals.
Just ask Turkish Grand Prix organisers.