Here’s a brilliant marketing slogan for those in charge of selling Formula One to the world: “For exciting racing—just add water.” That’s certainly what we got when the F1 gods decided that racing on a brand new and very green track in Korea wasn’t going to be difficult enough and decided to throw some heavy rain into the mix.
After a late start under safety car conditions and then a red flag after four laps, it looked possible that the race may not actually get underway and would be abandoned without a lap of real racing.
How Red Bull wish that had happened.
The safety car start was an unexpected bonus for Mark Webber, who has made a complete hash of his last few starts and was likely to have trouble again from a very dirty second spot on the grid. He put his car into the wall on lap 19 and then took out Nico Rosberg on the rebound.
Webber narrowly missed cleaning up Fernando Alonso who, if he was honest, probably would have preferred to take out.
Webber had the decency to admit the driver error and apologise to Rosberg, but it was a dreadful mistake and perhaps the first indication that the pressure of the championship lead is starting to have an effect on the Aussie. Then again, maybe it was just a simple mistake.
The race was even more heartbreaking for Sebatian Vettel, who had the race well under control until we had the relatively rare sight of his Renault engine converting itself into sparks and scrap metal. The mishap meant that Vettel, who was looking to take the lead in the championship, slipped back to fourth, 25 points behind new leader Fernando Alonso.
Ferrari were the big winners of the weekend, with Alonso taking out the win and teammate Felipe Massa taking the final spot on the podium. Alonso simply kept out of trouble and even though a slow pitstop saw him yield second spot (at the time) to Lewis Hamilton, a brake lockup by the Brit in turn one saw him slide wide and allowed Alonso to take back the place.
McLaren’s day was mixed. Hamilton took second place after an almost completely trouble free race—save the one major glitch that allowed Alonso back—and breathed some life back into his championship tilt, still 21 points adrift, but one place better in the standings.
Jenson Button, by contrast, had what could only be described as a shocker. Although brake problems were officially to blame, he didn’t look comfortable at any time and his radio transmissions gave the distinct impression that he didn’t want to be out there. He ended up in 12th place, only beating home the one remaining Lotus and the two HRT cars.
Adrian Sutil, however, apparently feeling like he has nothing to lose, put together what could be charitably called an "interesting" race. After numerous over-ambitious overtaking efforts and an equal number of off-track excursions, Sutil eventually took himself out of the race by running into the side of an uncharacteristically subdued Kamui Kobayashi.
And so, the complexion of the championship has yet again changed. The death grip that Red Bull has had has been shaken. Alonso has put himself in a position to make good his audacious promise to win the championship—a promise that he made at the British Grand Prix, when he was 47 points off the lead.
Webber’s mistake cost him the championship lead, but is still well placed with two races to go. Hamilton has been gifted a second chance that he couldn’t have possibly expected, and although it is still a huge task, the championship remains just within reach.
Vettel’s task is now very difficult, although not insurmountable, while for Jenson Button, any faint championship hopes have finally been snuffed out.
And now, it’s on to Brazil. Red Bull should, if last season is anything to go by, be pretty confident going into these last two races, but this season has made a mockery of such bold predictions. This championship shows every indication of coming down to the last race.
Let’s hope so.