At several stages this year it looked as if the Korean Grand Prix was never going to happen. First, heavy rain delayed building significantly, then the track was only declared safe on October 12, and finally despite qualifying being successfully completed, heavy rain on Sunday nearly dashed the hopes and dreams of thousands of eager Korean fans.
Initially delayed for just 10 minutes it was decided to start the race under the safety car. The drivers tentatively made their way around the track, all complaining that the conditions were too dangerous.
Bruno Senna pitted for new tires just two laps in as his front right had been fitted the wrong way round!?
After a series of radio messages from the drivers the race was red flagged and with more rain expected it was beginning to look as if the Korean GP would fall at the very last hurdle. The problem wasn’t the rain, as many drivers conceded that they had raced in heavier downpours. It was in fact the track itself which was unable to drain water fast enough creating what the drivers believed were far too slippery conditions.
After about an hours delay it was confirmed that the race would restart under safety car conditions at 16:05 local time.
This happened and we were treated to what felt like the longest and dullest procession lap in history. However, this wasn’t simply a procession, it was a vital period for drivers to gather as much information as they could before the race started properly.
This was made most clear by the expert way in which Michael Schumacher pushed his car to the limits, finding the right braking zones and best places to make manoeuvres stick.
After 10 minutes the safety car took to the pits and the race finally began properly… and boy was it a proper race!
Schumacher showed his class by using all of his gathered intel. to easily take Kubica into turn one. Crucially the other Mercedes of Nico Rosberg also made up a place. (Overtaking Hamilton for P4).
Just two laps into the restart Mark Webber’s worst nightmares came to life when the Red Bull man went slightly wide into turn 13. The car was out of control and met the barrier before sliding backwards right back onto the racing line! Alonso made it through safely, but Rosberg had nowhere to run and simply went straight into the floundering Bull.
And that was it, Korean GP over for Webber and what a time for only his second retirement of the season! This brought the safety car out and left the positions as follows:
Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton, Massa, Button, Schumacher, Kubica, Hulkenberg, Barrichello, Sutil, Liuzzi, Alguersuari, Glock, Kovalainen, Yamamoto, Heidfeld, Trulli, Kobayashi, Petrov, di Grassi, Buemi, Senna, Trulli
The safety car pitted again on lap 23 and once again the action picked up where it had left off.
Jarno Trulli, who had been in and out of the pits flirting with the intermediate tyres looked to be retiring with hydraulic issues after a crash with Bruno Senna. The Lotus driver decided to come back out for vital testing time, but only lasted a few laps.
Once again Schumacher showed his renewed class by overtaking Button on lap 27. The McLaren driver had been struggling all afternoon and decided to pit for intermediate tyres. This would prove to be a fatal moment for Button’s chances. It was a desperate decision as the McLaren’s wets were finished, but his stop put him back in P16 and squabbling with back markers.
This went from bad to worse when just a few laps later Buemi collided with Glock ruining both men’s races and bringing the safety car out yet again.
Hamilton, Massa, and Schumacher darted into the pits but Alonso and Vettel stayed out… would this have a significant effect on the standings?
The answer? Yes! Vettel and Alonso pitted one lap later and although the Red Bull man made it out comfortably, Ferrari’s pit stop was delayed by a nut issue (wheel nut you dirty readers!).
This meant that Alonso rejoined behind Hamilton and that the positions were now as follows:
Vettel, Hamilton, Alosno, Massa, Schumacher, Barrichello, Petrov, Hulkenberg, Kubica, Kobayashi, Liuzzi, Button, Heidfeld, Sutil, Alguersuari, Senna
The safety car pitted for the final time on lap 34 and yet again the action started instantly!
Hamilton went wide into turn one struggling for grip and all of Alonso’s pit stop woes were washed away with the drying track.
The race then continued at a tense pace with action from Jenson Button trying, and failing to fight through the pack, and yet another crash, this time from Petrov.
At the front it became a three man showdown between Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton. All had struggled with tyre wear, all were driving to the limit, and all were tantalisingly close!
It was clear that of the three of them, Alonso was fastest and most confident. The race was delayed by well over an hour don’t forget and darkness was rapidly falling. Vettel was desperately radioing in to complain about the light whilst Hamilton was fighting hard to look after his tyres. Meanwhile, Alonso had given a master class in tyre control and was gaining on Vettel like a shark.
On lap 46 Vettel seemed to slow. What’s this? His car is sick? Flashbacks to Bahrain! Alonso and Hamilton cruised past and Vettel did a superb job to cruise to a safe place to stop. The Red Bull man handled himself with professionalism and coolness but none of that will make a difference to his title hopes at this present moment!
A last gasp bit of excitement came from Sutil crashing into Kobayashi, but the suspense was maintained by balding tyres and fading light.
As Fernando Alonso crossed the line his class was clear for everyone to see. The momentum has shifted from Vettel to Alonso and Hamilton’s fantastic drive has kept the McLaren man very much in the fight.
I think it is well worth mentioning how friendly Alonso, Hamilton and Massa looked on the podiums; the more mainstream media will lead you to believe that these three men hate each other!
So Alonso and Hamilton the real winners today, and although Webber will be upset with his DNF, Vettel’s will have eased the pain for the Australian. I think Button’s title hopes have faded now and the fight has morphed into a four man battle. However, the clear winner today was South Korea.
What a great news story for sport. Not only was it great to see the track finished, but how awesome was it to see so many locals there and enjoying themselves. Sure money can buy you flashy paddocks and a higher class of "celebrity guest," but all that really matters is the fans!
The Korean Grand Prix a victory for real F1 fans everywhere!
Drivers’ Championship Top Three
Constructors’ Championship Top Three:
Red Bull Racing: 426
1 Fernando Alonso Ferrari
2 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes
3 Felipe Massa Ferrari
4 Michael Schumacher Mercedes GP
5 Robert Kubica Renault
6 Vitantonio Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes
7 Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth
8 Kamui Kobayashi BMW Sauber-Ferrari
9 Nick Heidfeld BMW Sauber-Ferrari
10 Nico Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth
11 Jaime Alguersuari STR-Ferrari
12 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes
13 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth
14 Bruno Senna HRT-Cosworth
15 Sakon Yamamoto HRT-Cosworth
Ret Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes
Ret Sebastian Vettel RBR-Renault
Ret Vitaly Petrov Renault
Ret Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth
Ret Sebastien Buemi STR-Ferrari
Ret Lucas di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth
Ret Jarno Trulli Lotus-Cosworth
Ret Mark Webber RBR-Renault
Ret Nico Rosberg Mercedes GP