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03/04/2016 Bahrain 2016: Stunning Debut.

20/03/2016 2016 Australian Grand Prix Review

Older stories here

2013 Korean Grand Prix

Having led all but twelve laps in the first three Korean Grands Prix, expectations were high for Sebastian Vettel as Formula One headed to the Korean International Circuit in Mokpo this weekend. However, following typhoon warnings for race day and an impressive showing from both Mercedes on Friday, it would not be easy for the world champion-elect.

Red Bull and Mercedes appeared relatively equal in the first qualifying session, and indeed Vettel, Webber and Hamilton were the only drivers able to make it through to the second session without having to use the softer tyres. Rosberg would also have been able to save a set but for a puncture on his first run which forced him to pit and use up a valuable set of super softs.

At the back both Caterhams and Marussias were eliminated as usual, with Bianchi beating Chilton and Pic beating van der Garde, but there were a few raised eyebrows when both Williams car were also eliminated. Di Resta was lucky to progress to the next session after being impeded by Bianchi, but he did so and the Frenchman was later given a three place penalty which dropped him to the back of the grid.

Hamiltonwas the first of the top four to set a time and having beaten Vettel’s benchmark from Q1 looked set to top the session, but the Red Bull driver lapped a further quarter of a second faster on his first run to assert his dominance. Webber and Rosberg fought over third and fourth, but all four chose to stay in the pits rather than go out for a second run.

The rest of the field needed to go out again to secure their places in Q3, and both Saubers did so, with Hulkenberg producing a superb effort to progress in fourth. However, with the Saubers moving forward into the top ten shootout, that left no room for either of the McLarens, with Perez eliminated in eleventh and Button twelfth after complaining of being held up by Raikkonen. Ricciardo finished thirteenth ahead of the Force India pair headed by Sutil and the second Toro Rosso of Vergne.

For the second race in a row pole position was decided on the first runs - but this time Vettel wasn’t confident enough to stay in the pits. His first effort of a 1:37.202 was good enough for pole, and being the last man on track meant that he could abandon his last lap.

Hamilton could only manage second, and while Webber qualified third fastest his ten place grid penalty after his third reprimand of the season demoted him to thirteenth. Grosjean qualified fourth, Rosberg fifth ahead of the two Ferraris headed by Alonso, with Hulkenberg, Gutierrez and an uncharacteristically slow Raikkonen rounding out the top ten.

Come race day there was no sign of the promised rain storms and once the red lights went out Vettel blasted his way from pole position into the lead. Behind, Hamilton - whose aim was to take the lead at the first corner - in fact dropped into the clutches of Grosjean and was then passed on the long run to turn three. There were not many other changes on the run to the third turn until Massa lost control at the hairpin and spun to face the oncoming traffic. He was lucky not to hit team-mate Alonso, who was right in the firing line, but the double world champion spied his team-mate’s car in his mirrors at the last moment and took slight - but important - avoiding action.

In the mid-pack Webber only managed to make up one place, but Maldonado enjoyed the start of the year to grab nine positions on the first lap alone. Button’s race meanwhile was not going quite so well, having narrowly avoided hitting his team-mate in the mêlée after Massa’s spin he then had to pit for a new front wing after a separate incident.

At the front, Grosjean was doing the best job of holding on to Vettel than anyone had all season, and he seemed to be towing Hamilton and Rosberg along too. Hulkenberg was the next car behind, and having been under pressure from Alonso at the start was now seemingly able to pull away slightly as the Spaniard battled to keep future team-mate Raikkonen behind him. Webber was next down the road after an easy pass on Ricciardo.

Alonso was the first of the frontrunners to pit on lap ten and Hamilton also took the opportunity to fit a fresh set of tyres. Grosjean and Rosberg pitted on the following lap, with the Frenchman rejoining just ahead of Hamilton. The Mercedes looked to be all over the back of the Lotus but somehow Grosjean managed to keep the place. Indeed, other than just keeping the place once Vettel had pitted and rejoined on lap twelve, the Lotus was visibly closer.

By the time the first round of stops was over Ricciardo stubbornly remained on his original set of medium tyres but was dropping back all the time. By lap eighteen Rosberg was past and a lap later the Toro Rosso driver finally called time on his unconventional strategy and pitted for a fresh set of tyres. However, it soon became clear that the tyres had not been the limiting factor in Ricciardo’s stop and the team had in fact removed a pigeon from the sidepod of his car.

Come lap twenty-four the positions remained the same but Hamilton was now starting to report a problem with his front right tyre. Team-mate Rosberg began to catch him at two and then three seconds per lap. By lap twenty eight Rosberg was right behind his team-mate and went to make a move on the straight between turns two and three, but as he pulled out of the slipstream his front wing failed spectacularly, throwing sparks out from either side as the wing rubbed on the floor. Mercedes now had two cars in trouble, but Rosberg managed to recover to the pits on the same lap and Hamilton was serviced on the following lap.

Lap thirty one though brought the most spectacular moment of the race, in roughly the same spot as Rosberg suffered his wing failure. As Perez headed down the long straight his front right tyre seemed to explode, and while the carcass remained intact the tread of the tyre now lay in the track for Webber and then Hamilton to run over before the safety car could be deployed.

Vettel and Grosjean both used the opportunity of the safety car to pit for fresh rubber, but the biggest winner was Raikkonen who had just pitted and now held third place ahead of Hamilton and Hulkenberg clinging on to fifth. Webber, who had just left the pits before Perez’ failure, suffered a puncture in the incident and then had to pit a second time in as many laps.

Once the safety car came in on lap thirty six Vettel enjoyed a textbook restart to hold on to his lead, while Hulkenberg gained a position from Hamilton. Further back, Sutil lost control of his Force India and barrelled into the side of Webber at the hairpin, and while the Red Bull was able to drive away it soon caught fire - for the second time in two races - and Webber was out of the race. It will be a huge effort from Red Bull to rebuild the completely gutted chassis before next weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.

The safety car was once again deployed to help in the retrieval of Webber’s smouldering car, but the Lotus drivers raced right until the deployment and Raikkonen left nothing on the table as he passed Grosjean into turn one. Once the race was back underway Raikkonen did a better job of clinging to Vettel at the restart but it was still not enough and the now sole remaining Red Bull increased its lead once again.

After having defended robustly from Alonso, Hamilton was now cruising up to the back of Hulkenberg’s Sauber, which held fourth place, yet the Swiss machine’s superior traction left Hamilton with nowhere to attempt a pass. Lap forty eight offered Hamilton’s best opportunity to take the position, but after having passed the Sauber at turn one he was soon re-passed on the long run to turn three in the DRS zone and Hulkenberg reclaimed his impressive fourth place.

Back at the front Vettel remained unchallenged to take his third straight win in Korea ahead of Raikkonen and an uncharacteristically unhappy Grosjean. Hulkenberg clung on to fourth while Hamilton and Alonso looked to feel short changed by fifth and sixth places despite battling hard all the way until the line. Rosberg recovered from his front wing failure to finish seventh, while Button, Massa and Perez rounded out the top ten despite various dramas from all three.

Gutierrez was close to his first point of the year in eleventh, while Bottas finished ahead of Maldonado and Pic took the new team honours. Team-mate van der Garde was classified fifteenth, with Bianchi and Chilton were the last cars across the line. Neither Toro Rosso finished the race, along with both Force Indias and Webber. Sutil retired a few laps after the Webber incident while di Resta crashed out early on in another unusual off which left a number of puzzled faces in the garage.

The teams will now head to Suzuka, where worryingly Red Bull have shown strong pace in recent years.


Jonathan Whitney

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