By Philippe Defechereux
Photos by Ferrari Media and Planet F1
Coming four days after a strong performance in Suzuka the previous weekend, and in parts thanks to a new “Double DRS” device, the Red Bull team arrived in Korea on Thursday as the favorites. Fans of the three other leading teams, especially Ferrari and McLaren, were hoping for a magic aero trick out of the proverbial magic bag. It was not to be. Still, the Korean race had plenty of intense moments.
The grid was telling: Webber was on pole, with Vettel next to him. Behind were Hamilton and Alonso, then Räikkönen and Massa. Button, once again off form, was 11th after failing to graduate to Q3. Now, the additional factor in Korea is that the grid for some reason is inverted left to right. In that, the lead driver of each pair is on the right side of the track, therefore on the outside line, as the first corner is a left-hander.
Behind the leaders, it was soon mayhem just beyond second crossing of the start-finish line. Kobayashi, perhaps over-thrilled by his first podium ever in Japan, turned into a kamikaze. First, he banged Rosberg into a wall before turn one, forcing the unlucky German into yet another early retirement. Shortly thereafter, on the same lap at turn 3, it was Button’s turn, and though he hit no wall, his front left suspension was broken by Kamui’s left rear tire, which shredded on impact; game over for the hapless Brit. Same verdict for Kobayashi a number of laps later, but probably including his hopes of keeping his F1 seat with Sauber.[/caption]
At the front, meanwhile, it remained an all-Red Bull affair; memories of 2011. Vettel kept his lead until the end – even though in the last ten laps he had to very carefully nurse his right front tire at the urging of his (for once) very nervous pit crew. Webber easily finished second, as Alonso could never quite make up the difference between his prancing horse and the charging bulls, in spite of his ace driving. In fact, Massa – yes, Felipe Massa – was right behind the Spaniard during the last dozen laps and coming so close he had to be told in no uncertain terms by his engineer to “keep a distance of at least two seconds at all times” between his car and Alonso’s,” which the dutiful Brazilian did. This very strong performance in Korea, following visibly improved showings in the previous three races, now confirm a true renaissance of this able and loyal driver and – breaking news – has officially guaranteed him one extra year with Ferrari.
Behind these four drivers, Raikkonen did the best his car could and finished fifth, followed by a revived Hulkenberg who might very well end up in Kobayashi’s seat next season. What about Hamilton, you now ask. He had a miserable race, and his car never seemed to be right for him – in fact he had a broken anti-roll bar, which tortured both his tires and pace. He was the only top driver who had to change tires three times. During the last five laps, he was even seen lamentably vying to keep the two Toro Rossos behind him, while his McLaren was trailing what appeared like a long green scarf on its right side beneath the radiator pod – actually a piece of astro-turf caught in a wide corner. The strange flapping of this green swath made his final stint look even more sullen, as Jean-Eric Vergne first, then Daniel Ricciardo both passed the McLaren, leaving Hamilton with P10.
This earned the Woking team just one single driver point for the weekend and allowed Ferrari to grab the second spot in the Manufacturers Championship from them – 290 to 284 points. The humiliation!
On that last topic, Michael Schumacher finished in P13, after a fully undistinguished race, except that he avoided another spectacular mistake. Pete Gill called the German’s 2012 season “a squalid long goodbye.” P13, some will find that number symbolic. It was clearly bad luck to attempt a come back. And the people in Stuttgart are not smiling. Messrs. Brawn and Fry? Step forward, please.
And so with four races left – India is next – Vettel has now regained the lead in the driver championship over Alonso by 6 points. Red Bull is rising into the clouds. Unless Maranello can bring a wild stallion of a new trick out of its red magic bag by October 25, this season ending can be labeled “Advantage Vettel” in Red Bull Day-Glo.
Before we leave, there was a “Breaking News” announcement that concerns all American fans: F1 Management announced that it will not renew its long-running association with Speed TV after the 2012 season ends. People in the know told me that NBC Sports has the new multi-year contract. While it is sad for the always-entertaining Speed TV anchors, it marks a clear commitment by Ecclestone and the F1 teams towards expansion of their coverage in North America, where they will have three races next year between the North Pole and the Rio Grande. It’s about time.
||Force India-Mercedes||+ 45.3s|
|12||DI RESTA||Force India-Mercedes||+ 84.4s|
|16||PETROV||Caterham-Renault||+ 1 lap|
|17||KOVALAINEN||Caterham-Renault||+ 1 lap|
|18||GLOCK||Marussia-Cosworth||+ 1 lap|
|19||PIC||Marussia-Cosworth||+ 2 laps|
|20||KARTHIKEYAN||HRT-Cosworth||+ 2 laps|
|21||DE LA ROSA||HRT-Cosworth||+ 39 laps, throttle|
|22||KOBAYASHI||Sauber-Ferrari||+ 39 laps, accident damage|
|23||ROSBERG||Mercedes||+ 54 laps, accident|
|24||BUTTON||Mercedes||+ 55 laps, accident|
NOTE: Pic dropped 10 grid spots for unscheduled engine change; Ricciardo dropped five for gearbox penalty. Karthikeyan failed to set a Q3 time within the 107% requirement – raced at stewards‘ discretion.
Driver’s Championship Standings
|12||HULKENBERG||Force India-Mercedes||45 Points|
|13||DI RESTA||Force India-Mercedes||44 Points|
Constructor’s Championship Standings
|7||FORCE INDIA-MERCEDES||89 Points|