Sunday, 16 October 2011

Korean GP Report: Vettel's perfect 10

So, was Sebastian Vettel going to ease up with his second title in the pocket, and four races remaining? Not a bit of it.

Sebastian Vettel won in fine style, clinching
the constructors' title for Red Bull as he did so
Credit: Morio / CC
It never was going to happen. Seb, more than most drivers, knows his place in history, and is a big fan of records. But more than all that he loves to race. He won again today - his 10th victory of the season (only Michael Schumacher has won more in a single year) and 20th ever (and it's sobering to think that Schumi at Vettel's age had only won once).

But today wasn't a shoo-in. Vettel really had to go out and win this one, and his performance was a masterful display of controlling a race from the front. Unusually, he didn't claim pole, and for much of the weekend the McLarens looked the class of the field, over a single lap in any case. But Seb managed to outbrake Hamilton into turn four on the opening tour after nice use of his loaf in KERS usage and forcing Hamilton into a sub-optimum line at the previous corner, and Seb employed his usual strategy from there. He scampered out of the DRS zone, didn't put a wheel wrong, and eased clear while letting those behind squabble. This has to be one of the best of his score of wins, even by their high standards. And not for the first time this season Red Bull had the confidence to commit to an unorthodox strategy from early in the weekend and make it work. It wraps up their second constructors' championship: richly deserved for an operation that has been as sweet as a nut this year and absolutely on top of their game.

Lewis Hamilton bounced back today, finishing second
Credit: Alex Comerford / CC
And Lewis Hamilton continued his rehabilitation, started with yesterday's pole, with a rapid, determined and disciplined run to second. He managed his tyres well, an area that he has been criticised for being deficient in, and held off an extremely feisty Mark Webber for most of the way. This was mainly achieved by his not making mistakes, getting through the traffic well, and on occasion positioning his car in the best places to defend. At one point Webber did leap frog Lewis at turn 1, but Lewis didn't panic and breezed back past almost immediately using the DRS.

It was great to see at the end of the race a smile on Lewis's face for the first time in a long time. His road completely back to where he was will be a long one, but hopefully this weekend represents the first steps on the journey.

Webber's drive to third was worthy though, making it two pretty good performances in a week, and it helps him in the chase for second in the table ever so slightly. Jenson Button followed them home fourth, perhaps a slightly subdued run in comparison with his excellent recent drives. Fernando Alonso finished fifth, with second through to fifth in close company at the end.

Fernando Alonso's afternoon was compromised
Credit: / CC
But Ferrari showed today precisely why F1 teams employ team orders. Alonso's afternoon was seriously compromised by having to run behind team mate Felipe Massa for two thirds of the distance, with no call seemingly for them to switch positions, and Alonso pitting later both times. Alonso struggled to get on terms, as he tended to be not as quick through the first sector, where most of the overtaking happens, plus Massa was usually able to employ DRS as well as Alonso due to a car in front of him.

Alonso eventually made it ahead after putting a spurt on after Massa pitted for the second time, and he immediately started to drop Massa and close on the fight for second. He was right with them by the end, but had no time to make places. But with an early Alonso-Massa call it's reasonable to think that Alonso would have finished ahead of Button at least (very helpful in his fight for second in the championship table, which impacts both team money and prestige) and could have been even higher than that.

Yes, their not employing team orders will have satisfied the purists, and avoided upsetting Felipe, but F1's a tough business and difficult decisions have to be made for the sake of points and competitiveness. Plus I'm growing a little tired of the 'poor Felipe' talk. As I said, F1 by its nature is brutal and it's hardly a secret that Ferrari use team orders, and have done since the team's very inception. Plus Felipe has benefitted from team orders in the past. I don't remember him complaining after China 2008, when team mate Kimi Raikkonen stopped on the track virtually to let him past. And ultimately, if he doesn't want the team to ask him to let Fernando go then the best way of guaranteeing this is by being consistently quicker than him, and let's face it he hardly ever is.

And for all of the doom and gloom on the life span of the Pirelli tyres (including from bloggers who should know better), it turned out to be a fuss over not very much, not for the first time this year. Both compounds lasted for a long time, and two stop strategies were the norm throughout the field, including from the front runners.

And well done to Toro Rosso who, unexpectedly, were best of the rest here. Jaime Alguersuari put in a great drive to come seventh, including a pass on Nico Rosberg on the last lap, while Sebastien Buemi came home ninth. Both showed good pace throughout, and all this is bad news for Daniel Ricciardo, who is after a Toro Rosso drive for next year and it's not immediately obvious which of the two incumbents deserves to be stepped down. This all puts Toro Rosso only three points shy of Sauber in the constructors' table. Paul Di Resta completed the scorers in tenth, which edges Force India closer to Renault in the table, but probably not by enough if they want to usurp them by the end of the season.

But of course, both Vettel or Red Bull are much much harder for everyone to usurp.

Race results

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