Sebastian Vettel may have clinched the 2011 World Championship, but it’s not dented his motivation as he again out raced and out thought his opponents, despite the race not working out the way Red Bull had thought it would in terms of tyre strategy. Pole sitter Lewis Hamilton battled with understeer all race and finished second.
It was Vettel’s 10th win of the season, making him the only driver apart from his countryman Michael Schumacher do win 10 or more races in a season. It was the 20th victory of his career and with Mark Webber’s third place it gave Red Bull the constructors’ championship for the second year in a row. It was also Red Bull’s 25th F1 victory. The first was in 2009.
“It’s good to see that the whole team keeps on pushing,” said Vettel. “The car was fantastic, fun to drive. I managed to get a bit of a gap because those guys were fighting. It’s great after last week winning the drivers’ championship now to get the constructors’ championship.”
It was a fantastic fight for the podium places, particularly Hamilton and Webber. It was a race which summed up the season in many ways; without Vettel it would have been a close and thrilling battle between Hamilton, Button, Webber and Alonso.
After five races of finishing behind his team mate Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton was satisfied to get back in front again. It was only his second podium in the last 11 races, while it was Button’s first time off the podium for six races.
And there were some stunning performances from drivers lower down, most notably Jaime Alguersuari who finished seventh, equally his career best.
At the start, Hamilton got the better getaway off the line, but Vettel was intent on passing him and managed to do it at the end of the back straight.
Behind them the other McLaren was also struggling as Massa, Webber and Alonso got ahead of Jenson Button.
Vettel opened up a gap of a second over Hamilton on the remainder of the opening lap but wasn’t able to drive away from him, Hamilton regrouped and stayed just over a second behind.
The opening stint was uneventful, but the worn supersoft tyres lasted longer than anticipated, which required a change of plan for Vettel at the first stop.
Button closed up on the Ferraris and tried the undercut at the first stops, but Mercedes brought Rosberg in at the same time and faster pit work put him ahead. Rosberg made a mistake and lost the place, but then repassed Button at the end of the DRS zone.
The following lap Button used the DRS to pass Rosberg back again.
Schumacher jumped Alonso in the first pit stops, but then a promising race was wrecked by Petrov who misjudged the braking zone and smashed his rear wing. It was the third time this year that the pair have collided.
This brought out the safety car.
At this stage Vettel and the McLarens were on a second set of super softs, while Webber and Alonso were on softs.
Red Bull’s plan to use up new supersoft tyres in Q1 and save soft tyres for the race had clearly not worked out as expected, so they had to make the most of what they had. And this is a good example of how adaptable they are as a team, they still managed to come out on top even though Plan A had not worked. A fast car helps, but it’s also about staying calm and improvising. This is something they’ve done a lot this year.
The race restarted with Vettel leading Hamilton, Webber, Button, Rosberg, Massa, Alonso and Alguersuari. Alonso was still behind Massa at this stage, no easy breeze past as we saw in Japan.
Webber, on the soft tyres, was able to open a gap of five seconds over Button on supersofts and closed in on Hamilton in the second stint. By lap 32 he was looking to pass.
At this stage the top three were separated by less than three seconds, but Hamilton holding Webber up played into Vettel’s hands and allowed him to pull away and took away any possibility of him losing the race and of Webber winning it.
Alonso pushed very hard at the end of the stint on used softs and jumped team mate Massa in the second stop, begging the question why did Webber not try the same thing on Button and run a lap or two longer? “If the strategy had been a bit different we might have had a different result,” said Webber after the race.
It also begged the question about what might have happened if Alonso had been able to get ahead of Massa earlier in the race?
Webber and Hamilton battled all the way to the finish, Webber got ahead briefly on lap 49 as the pair lapped a Lotus, but Hamilton was able to steam back past him on the straight.
They have had some very good races this season, using imaginative strategy and thoroughly deserved the points they scored.
There were three fights to resolve in the closing stages: Webber vs Hamilton, Alonso vs Button and Alguersuari vs Rosberg.
Then on lap 54 Alonso said, “I give up,” possibly a bit of gamesmanship, possibly a message to the Ferrari team that a good result had been jeopardised by him spending so much time behind Massa early on. Alonso said afterwards that this was not the case, that he wasn’t fast enough in the early stages of the race.
Vettel finished the job off with a flourish, setting fastest lap on the final lap.
KOREAN GRAND PRIX, Yeongam, 55 laps
1. Vettel Red Bull 1h30:01.994
2. Hamilton McLaren + 12.019
3. Webber Red Bull + 12.477
4. Button McLaren + 14.694
5. Alonso Ferrari + 15.689
6. Massa Ferrari + 25.133
7. Alguersuari Toro Rosso + 49.538
8. Rosberg Mercedes + 54.053
9. Buemi Toro Rosso + 1:02.762
10. Di Resta Force India + 1:08.602
11. Sutil Force India + 1:11.229
12. Barrichello Williams + 1:33.068
13. Senna Renault + 1 lap
14. Kovalainen Lotus + 1 lap
15. Kobayashi Sauber + 1 lap
16. Perez Sauber + 1 lap
17. Trulli Lotus + 1 lap
18. Glock Virgin + 1 lap
19. Ricciardo HRT + 1 lap
20. D’Ambrosio Virgin + 1 lap
21. Liuzzi HRT + 3 laps