2010 Korean Grand Prix Preview: A New Track Can Change The Course Of a Season

Robert Ivaniszyn@@robsquaredoneCorrespondent IOctober 19, 2010

Mark Webber will be looking to protect his standings lead on the fresh tarmac of Yeongam Circuit
Mark Webber will be looking to protect his standings lead on the fresh tarmac of Yeongam CircuitClive Mason/Getty Images

With just three races left on the Formula One calendar for the year, the race for World Champion has becoming increasingly tight. The Constructor's Championship will seemingly go to RBR-Renault for the first time since finishing second last season.

However, the question on everyone's minds is whether or not Mark Webber can do something that he has never done before. Can the Aussie pull of the unbelievable and become the World Champion?

The Korean Grand Prix this weekend sets a very interesting stage, as it has quickly become a turning point for the season—before practice has even been held on the circuit. With elements of Sepang, Suzuka and Silverstone in Yeongam's freshly laid tarmac, the circuit promises to be challenging on drivers and their setups.

It will force drivers to race cars on the limits of downforce in to achieve the high speeds needed on the long straights, while also maintaining grip around it's fast and sweeping corners such as corners seven through nine, and the final left-right-left complex leading to the start finish line.

No one knows how this course behaves. In fact, the only thing we do know is that Bernie Ecclestone and his crew have okayed it for the inaugural Grand Prix this Sunday. However, there is a likely favorite and a surprising underdog for this week's Grand Prix on what promises to be a fast and demanding track.

The favorite to dominate the whole weekend seems to be the McLaren-Mercedes of Jenson Button. Though he is not likely to receive any help from his teammate—who is lucky to finish a race currently—he is coming off strong finishes in his last three GP. He also has had multiple successes at courses similar to Korea, with a total of four podium finishes and 14 top-fives at Sepang, Suzuka and Silverstone combined in his career.

Jenson Button is still racing for a repeat of last year's world championship, and though it is fast getting to be out of reach, his desire to win back-to-back Driver's Championships may be enough to fuel him to victory on an untested track.

On the other side of the coin is Robert Kubica of Team Renault. After an unfortunate tire loss in the opening laps of the Japanese GP, Kubica will no doubt be looking to drive hard on a course where he is likely to thrive. He also has had decent success on similar courses—minus the two retirements from Silverstone in the past three years.

After a dismal 2009 season with BMW-Sauber, Kubica moved to Renault as their No. 1 driver and has shown great potential. He has snagged three podiums this year, and was poised to make a run for a fourth at Suzuka before his wheel came off during a Safety Car lap after the Senna-Prost reminiscent first-turn incidents.

Kubica has been racing hard as of late, and has finished in the points in all but four races this season, three of which were due to retirements, twice for mechanical failures and once more for a pit lane incident involving himself and Force India's Adrian Sutil at The Hungaroring. Cap off his recent success with his six-position romp through the last 16 laps at Singapore, and Kubica is on the move to finish the season strong and cement himself as one of the drivers to watch for the 2011 season.

The importance of Korea is twofold, with all the pressure lying with the two Red Bulls. They are both in strong contention for the championship with Webber leading with 220 points and Vettel tied for second with 206. First off, if Webber wants to make this his year, he is going to need a strong showing at an unproven track to maintain his lead over the surging Ferrari of Fernando Alonso and the RBR-Renault of his teammate Sebastian Vettel, who is fresh off a win in Japan.

However, he cannot afford to get caught up in a dogfight for position on an unknown track, as finishing lower or out of the points could easily drop him to third in the standings overall.

At the same time, this opens the door for the two McLarens who, with three races left, have little to lose and everything to gain. Hamilton has been atrocious in the last five Grands Prix, a fact made even worse by his win at Spa and fifth place finish at Japan in that span. He has fallen to fourth in the standings, just three points ahead of his teammate and reigning champ, Jenson Button.

A win, or even a one-two finish for McLaren could open the door not only for either one of them to be legitimate contenders with two races left, but would also open the possibilities of spoiling RBR-Renault's run at their first ever Constructor's Championship.

These opportunities give both Hamilton and Button license to drive the wheels off their McLarens—though hopefully not like Kubica—in search of the top spots in the first ever Korean GP. That is assuming of course that Hamilton can even cross the finish line.


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