I’m not sure how to approach my review of the 2011 Korean Grand Prix.
I was conscious that not a lot was happening as I watched the action unfold, I can’t remember the last time I wrote so little about a race in my notes, and yet somehow I don’t feel as disappointed as I would have expected with so little to talk about.
This certainly was no classic, the DRS zone made the racing far worse, and Vettel led all but three laps. However, I guess there was enough tension bubbling under the surface to keep fans interested.
Qualifying one in Korea was pretty similar to every other Q1 this season. However, there were some notable incidents that kept me interested during the 20 minute opening session.
First, there was the clear fact that Red Bull were certainly going to have to work hard for a pole as the McLarens clearly had the greatest pace early on.
Secondly, we were left scratching our heads when both Red Bull drivers took to the circuit on super soft tyres (this is completely unheard of for the top teams since the advent of Pirreli. This is because the super softs are very precious and are usually not needed for a top six team to survive Q1).
It was thought that the Red Bull team were looking to preserve as many of the harder compound as possible as recently their car has struggled with harsh tyre ware. Whatever the reason it was interesting to see a team acting on such a different strategy.
Of course the new teams all fell by the wayside in Q1, and they were joined by Rubens Barrichello who simply didn’t have the speed needed in his Williams.
Qualifying two had its moments but was again rather predictable. By now it was clear that only four cars could seriously challenge for pole, as Ferrari and Mercedes just weren’t cutting it.
There was some last minute excitement when the two Force India cars just made it through at the expense of Michael Schumacher, but otherwise the guys you’d expect to see go through….went through.
Qualifying three fell down to a straight fight between McLaren and Red Bull. Unfortunately for Mark Webber, this quickly developed into McLaren vs Sebastian Vettel.
Don’t get me wrong, Webber was fast, but he never really threatened the top three positions. In the end Hamilton held on to pole after an initial super fast time. Button looked as if he had locked out the top two places until a last gasp time from Vettel meant that the 2011 World Champion had clear road ahead off him on the run to turn one.
After such limited running in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix last weekend, Korea didn’t have to do much to seem like an improvement. Ultimately, we saw few shocks, but the result was enough to keep us excited. Perhaps the biggest shock from Saturday was Lewis Hamilton’s reaction after securing F1 2011’s first non-Red Bull pole. The troubled McLaren man could barley bring himself to smile…very odd.
Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button, Mark Webber, Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso, Nico Rosberg, Vitaly Petrov, Paul Di Resta, Adrian Sutil, Jaime Alguersuari, Michael Schumacher, Sebastien Buemi, Kamui Kobayashi, Bruno Senna, Pastor Maldonado, Sergio Perez, Rubens Barrichello, Heikki Kovalainen, Jarno Trulli, Timo Glock, Jerome d'Ambrosio, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Daniel Ricciardo
At first it looked as if we were in for a dull start.
The front of the grid moved away in pretty much the positions they started and, although there were fights in the midfield and towards the back, nobody parted company with any car parts.
However, by the time we had got to turn three…all hell broke loose!
Vettel was all over Hamilton and took the McLaren driver going into turn four. Further back Massa had gone all the way up to P3 after a fantastic performance around turn three, but Webber took third back from the Ferrari as Button slipped down behind Alonso.
Here were the positions after the first few crazy corners:
Vettel, Hamilton, Webber, Massa, Alonso, Button, Rosberg, Petrov, Di Resta, Schumacher, Sutil, Alguersuari, Kobayashi, Maldinado, Barrichello, Buemi, Perez, Kovalainen, Senna, Glock, Ricciardo, Trulli, D’Ambrosio, Liuzzi
I’m afraid after this early promise of overtakes the race began to cool significantly.
Vettel began to pull away and although Hamilton did close in a little, the Red Bull man was comfortably out of the DRS target zone.
There was a close fight between the Ferraris and Button, but I couldn’t help but feel that Massa was simply holding up two faster cars.
There wasn’t any significant action until Lap 14 when Button and Rosberg pitted together for a pit lane drag race.
Mercedes released their man first but both Rosberg and Button were side by side as they exited the pits. Rosberg made a small error taking the first corner and Button was able to slip past. However, Rosberg wasn’t giving up and pushed his way back past the McLaren as the two took to turns three and four.
This was all in vein though, as Button was able to cruise past just one lap later after a push of his magic DRS speed boost!
The other front runners soon pitted after this, Button was able to benefit from his stop, but little else changed.
The action picked up again on lap 17 when Petrov pilled into the back of an unsuspecting Schumacher going into turn three. Both cars were terminally damaged and the debris caused the safety car to be deployed.
The safety car stayed out for three laps and on the re-start very little changed. There was a nice battle between Button and Webber going through turns three and four, but Webber was able to hold and after this initial fight Button seemed to fall back.
The top 10 at this point were:
Vettel, Hamilton, Webber, Button, Rosberg, Massa, Alonso, Alguersuari, Di Resta, Sutil
The next position changes happened on lap 27 when Rosberg locked up letting both Ferraris through.
After this the main interest was around the fight for second as Webber closed in on Hamilton.
Now I personally hate DRS, but those who defend it seem to argue that it’s best contribution is that it allows a faster car to overtake a slower car without wasting much time. The thing is, Webber was faster than Hamilton. Sure, it wasn’t like Red Bull vs HRT, but over the whole lap Webber was being slowed by the McLaren.
It seemed to me that one of the best places for cars to pass was going into turn one. However, thanks to the 'wonderful' DRS system, overtaking into turn one was actually useless.
The issue Webber was facing was that Hamilton had better traction from the corners. I believe that if the Red Bull could have passed the McLaren, Webber would most likely have pulled away and Hamilton’s corner speed may not have been enough.
The big problem was that when Webber was able to pass Hamilton going into turn one, the Mclaren was able to cruise past with DRS as the two cars took to the straight down to the next few corners.
I know a lot of people may argue that if Webber couldn’t pass Hamilton anywhere else, the McLaren was faster right?
Well, I’d say to that, the circuit set up gave Webber very limited options to get through. Ironically his perfect pass spot fell just before the DRS zone, so whatever Webber did…DRS cancelled out! This didn’t just happen with these two drivers, it was a problem for others too!
So Webber and Hamilton battled it out for the remaining laps but, as I say, the DRS issue led me to believe that nothing would come of the battle. This just left us with a charge from a very resurgent Alonso.
Say what you like about team orders, but being stuck behind Massa for most of race had ruined Alonso’s chances and greatly hindered the overall show for the fans.
Alonso was able to pass Massa on a pit stop undercut, and once he was through he began to lap faster than anyone else and looked as if he may take a fight to Button, Webber and maybe even Hamilton!
In the end, he didn’t have enough time and eventually had to concede defeat after running too low on fuel. It went largely unnoticed, but the drive of the day probably belonged to Alguersuari who was able to fight his way up to P7, having overtaken Rosberg on the last lap.
And there it was… Red Bull’s finishing positions were enough to secure their second Constructors’ Championship after a relatively quite race.
Though I wasn’t really disappointed, I must admit I had hoped for a bit more of a show to grab F1 by the collar and show everyone that it is still worth watching.
Of course I’ll continue to watch this season, but you can’t help but feel that with both titles over, everyone is now fully concentrating on 2012.
Drivers’ Championship Top Three
Vettel 349 (Champion)
Constructors’ Championship Top Three
Red Bull Racing 558 (Champions)
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault
2 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes
3 Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault
4 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes
5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari
6 Felipe Massa Ferrari
7 Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari
8 Nico Rosberg Mercedes GP
9 Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari
10 Paul Di Resta Force India-Mercedes
11 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes
12 Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth
13 Bruno Senna Renault
14 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault
15 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber
16 Sergio Perez Sauber
17 Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault
18 Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth
19 Daniel Ricciardo Hispania-Cosworth
20 Jerome d'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth
21 Vitantonio Liuzzi Hispania-Cosworth
RET Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth
RET Vitaly Petrov Renault
RET Michael Schumacher Mercedes GP