Formula 1 Korean Grand Prix, Seoul, October 2011
Practice on Friday was wet and very wet so little was done for race setup and Saturday morning, although was not enough time for dry running. Qualifying became very frantic and the two Force India cars of di Resta and Sutil managed to get into Q3 with the Mercedes of Schumacher and the two Testa Rossa cars missing out. The front runners were frantic and it was like the old days of qualifying tyres with Button and Webber outgunned by their team mates. Hamilton ended up snatching pole from Vettel making this the first GP of the year that a Red Bull was not on pole. Due to the lack of dry weather practice and the lack of stats on the new Korean track created a problem for the teams in tyre management. Red Bull had saved their harder prime tyres expecting the option to not last so were working to a different plan to that of the other top teams.
Hamilton led Vettel and Button into the first bend but Massa and Webber mugged Button on the third corner and he dropped back. In the meantime, Vettel pressed hard at the third corner and managed to slip stream and pass at the next bend when Hamilton left enough space on the inside of the corner. He then proceeded to pull away so at the end of the first lap it was Vettel, Hamilton, Webber, Massa, Alonso and Button struggling to hold on.
On lap 8 it began to rain making the track slippery and the track temp had dropped to 25C from the normal 35C so the tyres were proving to be different from that expected. Button, who is a rain master, began to recover and coast up to the back of Alonso who was having a problem with his teammate. Although he appeared to be faster, Alonso was unable to pass Massa who was defending well. On lap 13 both Button and Rosberg pitted with the Mercedes crew beating McLaren in getting their car out ahead. The two of them were side by side down the pit road with Rosberg taking the lead then he out braked himself allowing Button to overtake into the first bend. However Rosberg was able to slipstream Button and use his DRS to overtake along the back straight.
On lap 15 Webber, Massa and Schumacher pitted for new tyres and Button was able to pass Rosberg using his KERS and DRS. On lap 16 Hamilton and Alonso pit and when Alonso returned to the track he almost collided with Schumacher as the exit to the pits fed into the first bend which Schumacher was rounding at speed. A couple of bends later Petrov overtook Alonso using his KERS and DFS and arriving at turn 3 quicker than expected as he was worrying about Alonso, Schumacher happened to be negotiating the hairpin and Petrov collided with him putting them both out. Alonso also ran wide to avoid another car as well. The resulting debris necessitated the Safety Car coming out for 5 laps bunching everyone up. This played into the hands of McLaren whose cars had the softer option tyres whereas the Red Bulls where on prime tyres and Vettel’s buffer was now gone. Both the Red Bulls were able to hold off the challenge and Vettel sped away like a scalded cat when the safety car went in.
On lap 22 Maldonado was given a drive through penalty for going the wrong way round a bollard into the pits and the incident with Schumacher and Petrov was to be looked at by the stewards after the race. By lap 28 Webber on the harder tyre was beginning to catch Hamilton on the softer tyres and on lap 33 Hamilton pitted. There appears to be a rare mistake by Red Bull as they called Webber in to change tyres. If he had stayed out for an extra couple of laps he may have been able to undercut Hamilton when he stopped, as he appeared to be faster, but instead he came out behind him. Over the next few laps there was a battle royal between the two with Webber overtaking Hamilton and then him retaking the position with them both running side by side through bends and also on the straights at very high speed. Quite exciting for those watching and giving high stress for both drivers who are both expert at these high speed and risk manoeuvres.
Alonso began to circulate faster than anyone and for three laps running clocked the record on tyres that were nearly 20 laps old. He pitted on lap 38 and came out in front of his team mate Massa into 5th place. Vettel was warned by his crew to save his tyres on lap 47 which was a ploy to slow him down as he was speeding along 12 secs ahead and remembering last year when his engine expired with 10 laps to go. Webber was still having goes at Hamilton and changed position several times whilst Button was cruising up behind with Alonso still flying as fastest on track.
Vettel ended winning his 20th Grand Prix and the 10th for the season whilst taking fastest lap for the day on the last lap. With Webber in 3rd place splitting the McLarens of Hamilton and Button the Constructors points resulted in Red Bull winning the Championship for 2011, back to back, which is a tremendous feat.
With three more Grand Prix to go there are still records to achieve and we look forward to the next race in India at a new track near Delhi in two weeks.