F1 Korean GP: Yes, It Actually Happened

It wasn’t until twelve days before the Grand Prix that we actually knew that there would be a Korean Grand Prix. It turns out that saying that was relative, really. It seemed like driver that led the most laps was Bernd Maylander who drives the safety car. Rain mixed with a lack of adequate drainage of the track meant a pair of starts behind the safety car. It was Sebastian Vettel that was scored as leading the most laps until his Renault engine grenaded. That let Fernando Alonso through to win and take the Drivers’ Championship lead.

The race needed two attempts to get underway. The first go was behind the safety car which lasted all of four laps before it was decided that the conditions were too treacherous to continue running and the race was halted. Fast forward an hour and we’re back underway behind the safety car. They stayed behind it for another 13 laps before the race went green for the first time. However, it wasn’t green the rest of the way or for very long. It was only couple more laps before Mark Webber crashed from second when he ran wide, spun and collected the wall on the other side of the track. Along the way, he got Nico Rosberg who was running fourth after passing Lewis Hamilton. That brought out the race’s second safety car.

That safety car lasted for six laps and we got seven laps of green flag running before the next deployment of the safety car. This time, Sebastien Buemi lost control while attempting to overtake Timo Glock and got beached at the edge of the track. Under this safety car, everyone changed tires but the deployment of the safety car allowed Hamilton by Alonso for second place. That lasted until the restart when Lewis ran wide in Turn One and Alonso went back by.

The top three continued in that order for the rest of the way until we got to ten laps to go. Vettel was slow coming out of Turn One and Alonso stormed by into the race lead. Then, Vettel’s Renault engine expired in a giant plume of smoke which dropped out of the race and potentially out of the championship. From there, Alonso checked out as he had taken care of his tires far better than the rest of the pack. He was lapping as much as four seconds faster than Hamilton late in the going en route to fifth win of the season.

Further back, Hamilton came across the line second ahead of Felipe Massa who had a relatively uneventful run to third. Michael Schumacher came home with his best finish since Spain with a fourth place finish. Schumi had a pretty good day in which he passed Robert Kubica and Jenson Button and well outpaced his pursuers. Robert Kubica rounded out the top five and passed Rosberg for seventh in the Drivers’ Standings.

So with both Red Bulls falling out, Alonso’s win and Hamilton sneaking into second, the Drivers’ Championship standings have been shaken up once more.

  1. Fernando Alonso 231 pts.
  2. Mark Webber 220 pts.
  3. Lewis Hamilton 210 pts.
  4. Sebastian Vettel 206 pts.
  5. Jenson Button 189 pts.

With two races to go, it certainly looks like there are only three drivers left in the championship battle. Alonso is in the driver’s seat with Ferrari having stolen all the momentum. They’re also going to a traditional strong spot in Interlagos in two weeks. Mark Webber went from 14 points up to 11 points down in the span of one race. However, his teammate is 25 points down now so Red Bull should throw their support behind Webber rather than Vettel. Lewis Hamilton finds himself 21 points out which will be a tough gap for him to make up since he tends to lose points over the last races of the season (see 2007 and 2008). Defending champion Jenson Button finds himself 42 points out with two races to go and 50 points available. It’s very unlikely that he’ll make that gap up but I suppose that Kimi Raikkonen made up 17 points over the final two races in 2007 so anything is possible.

•••

The car-to-pit radio transmissions were especially good this week. There was a definite dichotomy between drivers up front in the race and championship and a certain one further back who needed a big result to get back into championship contention. Vettel, Webber, Alonso and Robert Kubica all said that the conditions were miserable under the second safety car start. Lewis Hamilton said that the conditions were fine. He even suggested that the track was set for a switch to intermediate tires. Of course, Lewis was very unwilling to put his money where his mouth was and stayed on his monsoon wet weather tires. And then he was promptly passed by Rosberg on the restart.

Fast forward to the end of the race. The sunset was scheduled for 5:45 PM local time. About five or ten minutes before then,Vettel radioed his crew to say that visibility was dangerous at Turn 1. Naturally, Lewis’ two cents was that the visibility was fine. About 20 minutes after Vettel’s discussion about light, the race ended and there was almost no light to be seen. On-board cameras showed visibility was like driving in the dark without headlights. You couldn’t really see anything. You could see the track ahead of you but when flashes from cameras in the stands were lighting up the track, it might have been a bit dark to go racing.

•••

For all the talk about the track not being ready for the race, people seemed to forget about the accommodations for the teams away from the Korean International Circuit. The closest hotels to the tracks were what the locals call “love hotels” and what the rest of the world call “brothels.” Media and teams are okay with the conditions for the most part. Some of them are actually clean. Some even have large TVs and free wi-fi. Meanwhile, Sauber did have as good a draw. Team members found piles of used condoms under their beds. One team member was asked if he wanted a girl for the week. And one of Sauber’s hospitality girls thought her room was rented out while she was at the track. Constructors’ Championship leader Red Bull Racing had a more amusing experience at their brothel love hotel. They found a dildo vending machine in the lobby of theirs.

•••

At times, this race more closely resembled a demolition derby than a Formula One Grand Prix. Over the course of the race, seven of the 24 starters were listed as retiring from the race because of an accident (or contact, if you prefer). Webber and Rosberg collected each other on Lap 18 when Webber spun across the track. A lap after the restart for the Webber wreck Lucas di Grassi found his way into the barrier. Buemi retired immediately on Lap 30 because of his contact with Glock but the German retired after driving back to the pits with damage. On Lap 39, Vitaly Petrov spun in the final turn after the back end stepped out on him and he backed it into the wall in front of pit lane entry. Adrian Sutil was the last driver to wreck out of this on Lap 46 when his ironic kamikaze move on Kamui Kobayashi went wrong and he damaged his car in the resulting contact. It sure was an expensive race yesterday.

•••

Bernie Ecclestone is adding new Grands Prix to the schedule like it’s going out of style. Coming in 2014 is the Russian Grand Prix. Apparently, Bernie has been trying to add a race in Russia to the calendar since the end of the Cold War. Since the Russian government is pouring scads of money into the Black Sea resort village of Sochi, now was the perfect time to build a track there. Like the Korean GP track, this track is supposed to include a dedicated racing circuit portion with an extended street circuit which F1 will use. Basically, there will be a year-round race track but the track can extend out onto the roads for the Olympic Park. Naturally, this is a Hermann Tilke design. It’s interesting to note that the Russian GP’s contract has a clause to push the inaugural event back a year as the track will be low on the priority list compared to the Olympic venue construction and may not be completed in time.

•••

Recent reports have suggested that a brand of the Volkswagen group could be entering Formula One when the engine rules are expected to change in 2013. According to German motorsport legend Hans Stuck, VW brass will be meeting in November to discuss a potential entry into F1 in the near future. The November meeting will be a corporate strategy planning meeting and VW’s motorsport plans will be part of that strategic discussion.

Currently, VW is in Le Mans protoypes through Audi and Porsche, FIA and Le Mans GT racing through Porsche and touring cars through Seat to name some of their more prominent motorsports ventures. They’re also looking to make bigger splashes on North American turf. Volkswagen is rumoured to be entering NASCAR (likely in the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series) as early as 2011. IndyCar is trying to get a VW group engine for its new engine formula being introduced in 2012. With the potential of F1 entry in 2013, you would have to think that at least one of these rumours wouldn’t be true. The F1 rumour has been around the longest. NASCAR would make sense given VW’s seemingly renewed focus on making in-roads in America. IndyCar would seem like the odd one out but it would also be the most cost-effective venture they could undertake.

However, folks in the know suggest that Williams’ recent technical liason with Porsche on hybrid flywheel technology means that they could have the inside track for a deal with a new VW effort. No word if it would be like their deal with BMW where it had plenty of factory support and money or if it would just be an engine deal.

•••

The next round of the Formula One World Championship sends the teams to the Western Hemisphere. It’s back to Sao Paolo for the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos. Despite the fact that this was the penultimate round of the championship last year, it was the championship decider as was the case for the previous four championships before that. Granted the championship was decided early in the 2005 and 2008 Brazilian GPs but they were still clinched there. It would only be appropriate that the title is secured on the outskirts of Sao Paolo but it’s unlikely to happen unless Hamilton, Webber and Vettel fail to finish and Alonso wins. Okay, that’s not the only way it’ll happen but you get the idea.

The Interlagos circuit features a long fast section with a series of slow, sweeping and undulating corners in the middle. It’s half McLaren and half Red Bull. So who do I like? Ferrari. These boys just have a knack for getting around this place. Fernando Alonso thought he could win the championship he could win the title back in the summer and can taste the World Drivers’ Championship right now. I would expect history, experience and desire combine to push the Spaniard to the front of the pack in this race. That would deprive us of a dramatic final race in Abu Dhabi but the last ten years have shown that Ferrari prefers domination to drama.

3 thoughts on “F1 Korean GP: Yes, It Actually Happened

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