Fernando Alonso Takes Championship Lead with Win in Korea

Conor SwainCorrespondent IOctober 24, 2010

Alonso's third win in four races gives him the edge going to Brazil
Alonso's third win in four races gives him the edge going to BrazilMark Thompson/Getty Images

For the past few months, it was mooted that the Korean Grand Prix wouldn't go ahead. Barely two weeks ago, the 3.5-mile Korean International Circuit in Yeongam was a building site still waiting for the final layer of asphalt to be laid. Many questioned the infrastructure and the safety of the facility, as finishing touches were being made to the track just two days before the race.

Once the racing did get going, it certainly didn't disappoint. The race lived up to many others this season as the title race took another spectacular turn. A low-grip track surface and wet weather provided a huge lottery for all 24 drivers that lined up on the grid.

However, only four laps into the race, the red flag was flown and the race was stopped as many drivers complained that the track was too slippery and visibility was zero, with McLaren driver Jenson Button even telling his team that he "couldn't see his front tyres on the straight."

The ensuing stoppage lasted nearly an hour, and as the cars sat motionless on the grid, many began looking at the time. With the restart being scheduled for 4:05pm local time and sunset happening around at 5.45pm, darkness could potentially have spelt an early end to the race, possibly even leading to half points being awarded.

After another 13 laps under safety car, the race went green. Immediately McLaren's Lewis Hamilton lost fourth place to Nico Rosberg of Mercedes. Further skirmishes happened lower down, with Jarno Trulli spinning his Lotus at Turn 1.

However, next time round under green, it all went horribly wrong for championship leader Mark Webber. The Red Bull ran wide onto the wet astroturf, and spun into the inside wall. The car rebounded into the middle of the track, taking out Rosberg and almost being collected by Fernando Alonso.

With Red Bull team-mate Sebastian Vettel leading the race, it looked like the German would take the lead from Australian Webber, with Alonso moving into second.

The safety made its second visit to the race, and when it pulled in again, Vettel made another break, pulling out a three second lead over Alonso. Jenson Button meanwhile had started to fall back into the midfield, and decided to gamble on a switch to the intermediate tyres—everyone had started on the full wet tyres due to the Safety Car start.

He pulled a similar strategy in Australia and China earlier in the season—the source of his two wins this season. His strategy was foiled, however, when Toro Rosso driver Sebastien Buemi outbraked himself into Turn 3 and speared into the side of Timo Glock. The Swiss driver was out on the spot, while Glock retired in the pits later.

The Safety Car came out again, with the leaders pitting in as it was called out. During these pitstops, Hamilton jumped Alonso after a bungled tyre change by the Ferrari pit crew dropped the Spaniard back to third.

On the restart, that mistake was voided by Hamilton missing his braking point into Turn 1, with Alonso moving back into second ahead of the McLaren.

Further back, the second McLaren of Button was involved in more midfield tussles, being forced off the road at Turn 6 while battling with Force India's Adrian Sutil. With his title challenge seemingly slipping away, he spun a few laps before the end, and eventually finished outside the points in 12th.

Back at the front, the title race took another significant turn, as the Renault engine in Vettel's Red Bull let go less than 10 laps from the end. Alonso assumed the lead from Hamilton, with the other Ferrari of Felipe Massa rounding out the podium.

As the race neared the end, tyres became a big problem for many of the drivers. The "inters" had lost most of their treads, with lots of moisture still lining the track. Darkness was also beginning to roll in, with many drivers complaining that they couldn't spot braking markers or corner apexes.

Even with all this, Alonso managed to avoid any huge mishaps before the end and duly took the win by 15 seconds ahead of former team-mate Hamilton and current team-mate Massa.

Seven-time champion Michael Schumacher had by far one of his best drives of his comeback season and made up for Rosberg's retirement by bringing his Mercedes home in fourth. It was his first top five finish since the Turkish Grand Prix in May.

Schumacher's fourth place now realistically secures Mercedes' fourth place in the constructors' championship ahead of Renault. Their lead driver Robert Kubica managed to bring home his Renault in fifth, while team-mate Vitaly Petrov did his chances of retaining his seat for next year no good by crashing heavily at the final corner.

He had been running in the points but once again left his team with a hefty repair bill, and with a number of drivers being touted to replace him in 2011, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him being ousted out of the team post-season.

Another driver under pressure for next season is Vitantonio Liuzzi of Force India. Big noises are being made about his future, possibly being replaced by DTM driver and current Force India reserve driver Paul di Resta.

Despite almost taking out team-mate Adrian Sutil under the Safety Car, he drove a relatively clean race to take home some solid points for sixth place, his equal best finish in Formula One. Sutil meanwhile ended his race in the gravel at Turn 4, after damaging his suspension in a clumsy incident while battling with Kamui Kobayashi.

Tyre troubles destroyed Williams' chances of a big points haul. Fifth and sixth became seventh and 10th, with Rubens Barrichello being passed by Kubica and Liuzzi on the road. Meanwhile, Nico Hulkenberg pitted a few laps before the end with a slow puncture. He managed to sneak ahead of Toro Rosso's Jaime Alguersuari for the final point, but he would have hoped for much more as his future in the team is also on the line.

Sauber achieved their second double points finish in a row. Despite being assaulted by Sutil, Kobayashi kept it on the road for eighth, with team-mate Nick Heidfeld following 2.2 seconds behind with a quiet run to ninth.

As for the new teams, Heikki Kovalainen took top honours in 13th despite a pit lane speeding penalty, although the top "B-team" honours could so easily have gone to Timo Glock in the Virgin Racing car, who was of course taken out by Buemi.

And so with two races to go, the driver championship standings have been turned completely. Fernando Alonso now leads Webber by 11 points, with Lewis Hamilton now third, a further 10 points back. Vettel's engine failure means he's now fourth, rather than first, 25 points behind Alonso. Button meanwhile is all but out of the title scrap. He's now 42 points behind Alonso with only 50 left to take from the final two races.

Despite a double retirement, Red Bull still maintain their constructor championship lead, although their gap to McLaren has now been slashed to 27 points. Ferrari lie 25 points behind McLaren, and could still take the title with 86 points still up for grabs.

The Formula One fraternity now moves on to Brazil in two weeks time, with the Interlagos track almost certainly waiting to throw up another memorable race and possibly another twist in the title battle.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.