Korean Grand Prix: Hulkenberg’s Race

The “unstoppa-bull”* Sebastian Vettel took out his eighth win of the season today at the Korean Grand Prix. After yet another controlled drive, the German is now one win away from securing his fourth consecutive World Championship title. The second and third step of the podium was taken out by the Lotus duo of Raikkonen and Grosjean. Despite the possibly predictable win, the Korean Grand Prix was one of the most confusing and interesting races so far this season.

Grosjean truly earned his spot on the podium today. The Lotus driver, was bold getting off the grid immediately laying a challenge on Hamilton, and quite a good one at that. Grosjean spend most of the race cruising in second, and I say cruising because he really was. Most of the field were reporting graining issues on their tyres, resulting in a noticeable lack of grip, though the Lotus had an incredible amount of traction throughout the race. Possibly Kimi has been sharing some of his “Tyre God” wisdom with his team mate. His position didn’t go unchallenged, as he had to work hard to keep the door closed on the Mercedes, and Kimi. His team mate eventually was in a position to make a move on lap 38, and passed Grosjean on the straight to take second.

Perez brought our the first of two safety car periods with a front right tyre blowout on lap 31. The McLaren’s trye tread came to rest right on the racing line. Webber and Hamilton, who were following Perez were lucky to escape serious debris. Webber did pick up a small puncture himself causing him to dive back into the pits, only one lap after his scheduled pit stop. It took five whole laps to clear the tyre, and allow the back markers unlap themselves.

It was a double DNF for Force India today, when first Paul di Resta threw his off track at turn 12 on lap 27. For the fourth race running, the Force India failed to finish due to driver error. Sutil didn’t see much of the race restart from the safety car as he gave a huge shunt to Mark Webber on lap 37. Webber became an instant retirement, and brought out a Jeep (and the second safety car). The contact saw Sutil retire with damage shortly after the second restart.

Webber had been having a great race, despite his ten place grid penalty, the Australian had worked his way back up the field. One of Webber’s more spectacular battles for position was against Alonso. I really enjoy watching Webber and Alonso challenge each other, because you know that their strategies will be clean and controlled. Nothing goes wrong between those two, because they have a mutual level of respect and trust. It just makes sense. It was therefore unlucky for the Australian to be in the wrong corner at the wrong time. His contact with Sutil immediately transformed his car into a BBQ, and the RB9 immediately pulled over to the side. It did make for some spectacular footage of Webber casually getting out of his car, leaning down and switching off the engine as the fire roared behind him. Possibly more spectacular was the Jeep that ventured out on track before the safety car had been deployed, it was quite comical.

Sauber’s Gutierrez was unlucky to finish just outside of the points in eleventh. Starting from eighth, Gutierrez got off the line quickly to pull himself ahead of his team mate and Massa to run in sixth. Gutierrez did fall back several places throughout the race, though he had a good drive in the middle of the field battling Massa. Unfortunately on lap 45, Maldonado made a move on the Sauber to take tenth position, and his hopes of a point. Gutierrez didn’t go down without a fight, and briefly regained his position a few turns later.

Though driver of the day would undoubtably have to go to his team mate, Nico Hulkenberg. Starting seventh on the grid, Hulkenberg go off to a strong start, avoiding contact from the rest of the field into the first corner. The Sauber held off various manoeuvres from Alonso, Hamilton, and  The German proved his worth on the grid in the final leg of the race as he delivered a perfect balance between defensive and offensive driving to hold off Hamilton to maintain his fourth position. The Sauber-Ferrari’s had a much quicker pace than the Ferrari Ferrari’s.

The scuderia had an unfortunate race today, Massa was too ambitious going turn two and had to brake hard to avoid contact with Rosberg. A lack of grip on cold tyres meant he lost the back and gave his ‘team mate’ a little shunt. Alonso emerged unscathed, though Massa (facing the wrong way) had to wait for the rest of the field to pass before playing catch up. Not exactly what I meant by seeing some mid 2000s Massa on track. Alonso’s race wasn’t much better, despite no real issues with the car, the Ferrari just didn’t seem to have the pace when it was needed.

Mercedes finished the race with Hamilton fifth, and Rosberg seventh. Rosberg put on a spectacular display as he made a move on his team mate on lap 28. Not so much because his attack was brilliant, but rather his front wing failed to drag along in front and rain sparks. Unbeknownst to Rosberg as to why he suddenly had a less than cruisey pace, his challenge to over take did not stick for long as he was called into the pits. Quite the amusing radio message from the pit wall; “Front wing looks to have failed, Nico, front wing looks to have failed”.

In the final stint of the race, Grosjean was urging the team to let him pass Kimi. While he was lapping quicker than Kimi, the team wouldn’t release him. Instead he was told to race him. Most likely the smarter decision, building Grosjean’s confidence in his driving ability (and hopefully his skill), and preparing him for next season when he won’t be able to ask to have Kimi out the way.

Say what you want about Sebastian Vettel winning from pole, but he did have to work today. He survived two restarts, harsh tyre degradation, and a runaway Jeep. Today’s win was no walk in the park.

– Alex

*I’m really sorry for the terrible pun, but I couldn’t resist.

Qualifying Pole Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Podium Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus-Renault)
Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Renault)
Fastest Lap 1:41.380 Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
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