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Winners and Losers: Korean GP

Sunday 6th October 2013

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An exponent of the wide line

An exponent of the wide line

F1's fastest 'fat boy' Nico Hulkenberg may be too bulky for the turbo era, but he's starring in the dying days of the V8s

Star of the Race
Nico Hulkenberg had already set the alert klaxons going on Saturday in Q2 when he put in a 34.3 second time for Sector One. At the time everyone around him using the SuperSofts was posting up 34.6, 34.7, 34.8 and 34.9 in Sector One - the Sauber looked exceptionally quick in the part of the Yeongam where all the overtaking is done. Now aggregate that with the knowledge that in three races in Korea there have been a total of six Safety Cars and thus six great chances to overtake the car in front on restarts and you can see why Sauber's strategy was such a winner. What helped was Nico Hulkenberg's tenacious ability to hold onto a place, and just as last year he made a thrilling pass on Lewis Hamilton, so he managed a similarly thrilling defence in 2013. Without the Safety Car he wouldn't have caught up, but despite the fear (and it was a real fear) that his tyres would turn to bananas, he hung on till the end.

Overtaking Move of the Race
Lap 38: Kimi Raikkonen on Romain Grosjean for P2
Grosjean made the slightest of mistakes at Turn 15 on the restart lap and Raikkonen homed in as quickly as a shark senses blood. His tyres were significantly older than Romain's and as he dived for the inside at Turn 1 he managed to avoid Grosjean coming at him twice. It would have been interesting to see what happened on the following straight, but we already had a family 4x4 course vehicle trundling along the straight by then.

Raikkonen's pass on the outside of Daniel Ricciardo on Turn 4 was also up there, as was Webber's cheeky little squirt past Alonso for P5 between Turns 5 and 6. Alonso was going to try that on the final lap with Lewis Hamilton but Lewis had read his mind.

Winners

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, 1st
With Rocky fretting away on the pitwall about front-rights, like some anxious parent watching their five-year-old from the touchline, Vettel was never going to be allowed off the leash very far. In the closing stages his advantage over Raikkonen (who stopped for tyres some time during the Dark Ages, on Lap 25) grew suspiciously slowly. After they were released from behind the second Safety Car Vettel pushed it out from 2.0 seconds on Lap 42 to 4.2 seconds on Lap 50 - and then with the finishing line in sight he took the handbrake off and went for a fastest lap on Lap 51 - a 1:41.666.

Rocky may fret about front right tyres, but he clearly doesn't have 'Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia' the fear of the number 666, which are often used to invoke an appearance by Satan. He was quite happy for Vettel to stick with his 1:41.666 and radioed "You already have the fastest lap by some margin, you need to finish the race" after Sebastian decided to better it with a 1:41.380.

In four Korean GPs, Vettel has led all but 13 laps. Grosjean might have pushed him towards the end if he'd got the other side of Raikkonen, but if he couldn't get past Kimi on tyres that had done close to 30 laps, he wasn't going to beat a man who could summon the devil at will.

Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus, 2nd
Having spent just 14 laps on his first set of Mediums it wasn't clear that Raikkonen could manage 29 laps on one set of tyres. Once we'd had the single Safety Car it still looked marginal, but then the second Safety Car made it just about possible. So, some fortunate timing after a poor qualifying performance, but Raikkonen was at his car-passing brilliant best in the race and wasted no time behind slower cars. Mercedes can only wish that Nico Rosberg had that ability.

Romain Grosjean, Lotus, 3rd
Grosjean's mistake let Raikkonen through after the restart and he was unlucky not to have the chance to get him back, but he'd already been incredibly strong in practice and qualifying and his opening lap move on Lewis Hamilton exposed one of Lewis's few real weaknesses - poor opening laps. He was asked to smile for the podium and he duly did

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 5th
In the latter stages Lewis Hamilton asked if anyone had any suggestions about how to find a way past Hulkenberg. Ours would be to avoid getting overtaken on the opening lap.

Mercedes seemingly faffed around and failed to bring him in early enough for his second pit-stop but was it a factor in his loss of places? It looked crazy that they didn't get Lewis down pitlane before Rosberg had his front nose changed, but that was their only error. Before that the team were trying to keep him out long enough to make a two-stop strategy work

As soon as Hulkenberg became the car behind Hamilton any time advantage became incidental as the Safety Car negated it. And as we saw the Sauber had immense traction out of Turn 2 onto the straight. The team did suggest that he eased off in Sector 2 to preserve his tyres towards the end, but whether he did or not...

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, 6th
Alonso looked like he was working extra hard to keep the car competitive, locking up far more than usual, especially in the opening stint. He also looked curiously tentative when racing with Lewis Hamilton and allowed him back in a couple of times when you thought that the move had been made. Job done. This isn't going to be like the Americas Cup.

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 7th
Rosberg took a long time to overhaul Ricciardo and at the end Jenson Button. It was more of the same from Singapore.

Jenson Button, McLaren, 8th
Sergio Perez, McLaren, 10th
Button's Lap 4 stop wasn't as disastrous as it looked it might be, just as Checo's P10 was a minor miracle. Perez was probably a bit too lively, moving around a lot in the braking zones on the opening lap and putting his car in jeopardy throughout. Earlier this year Martin Whitmarsh said he wanted to see Sergio with his "elbows out" and we got maximum elbows in Korea. It was great to watch, and it made sense for a car that was only going to get P8, P9 or P10 at best. But when McLaren have a car that is capable of podium finishes, he's going to have to find a new approach that doesn't risk so much.
Losers

Mark Webber, Red Bull, DNF
Mark Webber was only a loser in that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, twice in the same grand prix. Thus a likely podium was translated into a safety training drill for the Korean marshals. The puncture after his second pitstop came about through Sergio Perez's mother-of-all-flatspots which put him into the approximate area of Adrian Sutil who has a habit of messing up in Korea. Statisitically it would be interesting to find out who was the last driver to flame out in two successive grands prix - the immediate thought is Jacques Villeneuve or Takuma Sato when they had Honda units that were traveling incendiaries. Answers on a postcard...

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, P9
Given that he was P21 on the opening lap, to finish just three places behind his team-mate was not a bad result for Massa but the spin into Turn 3 on the opening lap could have been very costly and looked embarrassing. After the race he blamed other cars for squeezing him to the inside, which sounds like an excuse he retrieved from junior karting days. And it probably didn't work then either.

Pirelli
Alonso and his taxi fare, Webber, were critical of Pirelli rubber. Pirelli's Paul Hembery fell back on his familiar line of defence, 'we were asked by the FIA to provide rubber that degraded to provide varying strategies - if you want tyres that don't degrade at all (i.e. like the ultra conservative Bridgestone) you can have them, but don't blame us if it's as tedious as races of old'. It's a line we haven't heard in a while and that's because the "tyre deg" took everyone by surprise. At the start of the race there was talk on the lines of - can anyone possibly do a one-stopper today? That prophecy was parked pretty rapidly. The track in Korea is one of the least used race surfaces with only one support race contributing rubber over the race weekend and so there is quite a bit of guesswork on track evolution. However they had Pirelli data from last year.

What is interesting about a high tyre degradation race is that Sebastian Vettel has to be a lot more wary about going flat out and we had some of the best racing of the year.

Daniel Ricciardo, Toro, Rosso, DNF
Daniel retired from a good points position, after a strong start. It's always a collectors' item when you have to have an animal removed from your car during a pit-stop and the pigeon taken out of the Toro Rosso wasn't in a conditon to be taken out and nailed to its perch

As Ben Edwards said in the driest of dry moments yet heard in a BBC commentary. "It's an ex-pigeon."

The Korean GP
Instead of Yeongam, the Korean GP decided that it was the city of Mokpo's race in 2013. We'd hardly heard the city name mentioned before, but this year it was Mokpo this and Mokpo that and very soon, Goodbye Mokpo. It's hard to understand why a country that is one of the world's leaders in high-tech products fails so abysmally to get behind the World's biggest high-tech sport. Few lucrative GPs can survive a switch that involves scheduling the next race within 6-7 months, but when it's the least successful you have to wonder if Bernie hasn't already administered them into a corner. Judging from the absentees from the pitwall and in the paddock a lot of the F1 circus had already said their farewells. Which is a shame because this and the Ottodrome in Istanbul are great race tracks.

Media Watch
The BBC hadn't broken it to me gently and I was unprepared for the shock awaiting me when I switched the radio on at 5.55am on Saturday morning. One single word. Leggard. They had Leggarded me without any kind of warning. The graphic of Radio 5 Live still had Jenny Gow's photo looking like a 30-something Kylie wannabe along with James Allen doing his best impression of Oliver Hardy.

They could have at least trailed it on the website with - 'James Allen is unwell and will be replaced by...' . I'm sure Jonathan Leggard is a lovely bloke but he's gone to the dark side now. Football. There is no coming back.

Those of you patient enough to stick with this column over the years will know that Jonathan loves to sprinkle his commentary with old school phrases like "that'll ginger up his ideas" and "oh my lord" and he can't use the word 'good' when he can stick 'decent' in there first. We were only seven minutes into the commentary when we got our first: "Lewis Hamilton; this has been a decent performance so far," and all the memories came flooding back. Very soon Esteban Gutierrez had put in "a decent showing", we were away.

Jonathan Leggard: "It's that man with the big first finger doing it again. He puts it up to the camera."

Jenny Gow made the machinations of F1 sound like an episode of Glee. Talking about the destiny of the drivers yet to secure a seat for 2014... "Hopes aren't good enough. You have to turn hopes into dreams into ambition into reality." Cue the song...

And finally Gary Anderson gave us the undeniable: "There can only be ten cars in the top ten." Nobody was quibbling with that.

Andrew Davies

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