Sebastian Vettel battled through two restarts to continue his run of victories in Sunday's Korean Grand Prix.
It was a much closer race than last time out in Singapore, with two Safety Cars - the first for tyre debris from an exploding McLaren tyre and the second after his team-mate's RBR car caught fire
Kimi Raikkonen used the Safety Cars to stretch out what might have been a three-stop race for him into a two-stopper and finish in front of team-mate Romain Grosjean. Competition from Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso failed to materialize after the Brit lost places at key moments at the start and at a restart, while Alonso's Ferrari didn't have the pace to challenge.
Nico Hulkenberg used his Sauber's superior straightline speed to keep in front of both of them and Nico Robserg to finish in P4, with Hamilton P5, Alonso P6 and Rosberg P7.
Race ReportThe much-anticipated rain failed to turn up in Mokpo but we still had leaden skies and an ambient temperature of 27C with the track at 29C. Everyone would start on the SuperSoft tyres with the exception of Daniel Ricciardo who started on the Medium (Prime) tyre.
Grid: 1.Vettel, 2.Hamilton, 3.Grosjean, 4.Rosberg, 5.Alonso, 6.Massa, 7.Hulkenberg, 8.Gutierrez, 9.Raikkonen, 10.Perez, 11.Button, 12.Ricciardo, 13.Webber, 14.Sutil, 15.DiResta, 16.Verne, 17.Bottas, 18.Maldonado, 19.Pic, 20.van der Garde, 21.Chilton, 22.Bianchi
As the lights went out both Vettel and Hamilton got great getaways, and were followed through Turn 1 by Grosjean. It was behind them that chaos reigned. It was five abreast going down the long straight into Turn 3 in the battle for fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth. Felipe Massa spun his Ferrari around tapping the back of team-mate Fernando Alonso who had been boxed in behind Nico Rosberg's Mercedes off the line. Alonso escaped without damage but Massa's spin put him at the back of the field.
Romain Grosjean had already got the tow from Lewis Hamilton and was able to outbreak him and snatch P2 into Turn 3 on the opening lap. Meanwhile, Jenson Button narrowly avoided crashing into the back of Sergio Perez as he locked up and took the place at the next corner. However it was the Williams of Pastor Maldonado who made the most amazing first lap charge, through from P18 to P9.
Positions at the end of the first lap: 1.Vettel, 2.Grosjean, 3.Hamilton, 4.Rosberg, 5.Hulkenberg, 6.Alonso, 7.Ricciardo, 8.Raikkonen, 9.Maldonado, 10.Button, 11.Perez, 12.Webber, 13.DiResta, 14.Gutierrez, 15.van der Garde, 16.Vergne
Apart from Massa, Esteban Gutierrez went backwards from 8th to 14th and Adrian Sutil's contact with another car sent him back to P18. In the opening melee caused by Massa's spin, Gutierrez had run over Jenson Button's front wing and he would soon need to pit for it to be replaced.
Sebastian Vettel set about opening his traditional gap to the cars behind. By Lap 2 it was 2.6 seconds, but after that Grosjean pegged him back and on Lap 5 it was still only 2.7. Both Mark Webber and Kimi Raikkonen had started out of position for the speed of their cars - Webber through a grid penalty and Raikonen through a mistake in Q3 and they both started to pick off the cars in front. Webber was past Perez for P11 on Lap 3 - which immediately became P10 when Button headed for the pits on Lap 4 to get his front wing replaced.
Webber cruised past Maldonado on Lap 6 and Ricciardo on Lap 8, with Kimi having passed the Toro Rosso driver four laps earlier. By Lap 9 Kimi made a hard-fought pass on Fernando Alonso through Turn 3 to take P7. This was a rarity indeed because now Fernando Alonso was lower than the grid position in which he'd started.
At the end of Lap 10, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso pitted - Alonso had locked up badly on Lap 4 and was making no progress. At the pitlane exit his Ferrari wobbled as it was launched off the ramp that exits between the newly profiled pitlane exit and the track. This stop kicked off a whole round of pit-stops from the front-runners. A lap later and Grosjean, Rosberg, Hulkenberg and Perez were in. A lap after that it was Vettel and Raikkonen - which left Mark Webber in the lead. He then pitted the following lap.
The pit-stops had brought Lewis Hamilton much closer to Romain Grosjean, but the Mercedes couldn't get past the Lotus on the 1km straight. A lap later and there was some heated action between Paul DiResta and Sergio Perez, the Mexican seeming to push the Force India driver off track - something the stewards would take a look at.
Having started on the medium tyres Daniel Ricciardo had been elevated up the order but he was losing time to all the cars around him and on Lap 12 he put in a 1:49 compared to the front runners' 1:45s.
Positions on Lap 13: 1.Vettel, 2.Grosjean, 3.Hamilton, 4.Ricciardo (not stopped), 5.Rosberg, 6.Hulkenberg, 7.Alonso, 8.Raikkonen, 9. Webber, 10.Button, 11.Maldonado, 12.Perez, 13.DiResta, 14.Gutierrez, 15.Massa
The shake-out of the pit-stops had re-asserted Alonso in front of Raikkonen, with Webber in close attendance - these three all got stacked behind the slower Nico Hulkenberg. The Sauber driver was very fast in the opening sector of the lap where all the overtaking takes place and so was able to maintain the place even though he was falling off the back of Nico Rosberg in front of him.
Rosberg was finding it hard to catch up with Daniel Ricciardo in front of him, despite having tyres that were 11 laps fresher, but he finally made his move on Lap 18 after which Daniel pitted and rejoined in P13.
At the front, Sebastian Vettel wasn't sprinting away with it and had only a 4.1 second lead over Grosjean with Hamilton a further 1.5 back. Alonso tried taking a look at Nico Hulkenberg on Lap 20 but couldn't get through. By Lap 21 Hulkenberg was losing a second a lap to the cars in front of him.
Positions on Lap 21: 1.Vettel, 2.Grosjean, 3.Hamilton, 4.Rosberg, 5.Hulkenberg, 6.Alonso, 7.Raikkonen, 8. Webber, 9.Button, 10.Maldonado, 11.DiResta, 12.Ricciardo
Button pitted at the end of Lap 22 having run 18 laps on the Medium tyre and it looked a certainty that he would have to stop again in the 55-lap race.
On Lap 23, all of a sudden Hamilton was 4.0 seconds behind Grosjean having been 2.1 behind on lap 21. He had been 13.0 seconds clear of Rosberg on Lap 20 and by Lap 24 it was down to 8.1 and although he complained that his tyres were going, his engineer told him they were going through the graining phase. Lewis replied: "They've been through the graining phase and they're dead!"
Despite dropping bundles of time Mercedes didn't want to bring him in reckoning that he couldn't last till the end of the race on his next set, so Hamilton started to drop even more time. On Lap 25 Sebastian Vettel set the Fastest Lap at 1:43.986 while Hamilton put in a 1:47.3.
While Paul DiResta was heading off track on Lap 26 for an impact with the barriers, Hamilton was just 3.2 seconds in front of his team-mate, who caught him on the subsequent lap and went to pass him on Lap 28 - however when Rosberg's Mercedes came out from behind the slipstream of the other W04 the nose failed, sending sparks everywhere and Rosberg back for an enforced pit-stop, just when Lewis should have been coming in.
Lewis had to complete a 1:50 lap and come in the following tour.
Behind this action, other drivers were pitting. Raikkonen came in on Lap 25 after just 14 laps on the Medium tyre and Hulkenberg pitted on Lap 26. Mark Webber passed Alonso for what was then P5 on Lap 27. Webbo was showing good pace and reset the Fastest Lap at 1:43.863. Alonso then pitted alongside Rosberg on Lap 28 and Hamilton finally came in the lap afterwards and rejoined in P6.That soon became P5 as Mark Webber pitted for his second time on Lap 30. At this stage it looked like a Red Bull 1-3 with Grosjean in P2.
The race changed entirely on Lap 31 as Sergio Perez locked his tyres going into Turn 1 and caused an explosion of his front right tyre - the one that takes all the strain in Korea - and was at that stage 21 laps old. With bits of tyre belt all over the track the Safety car was dispatched, but the unfortunate Webber ran over the tyre debris and picked up a puncture and was back in for his third stop straight after his second.
Positions on Lap 32: 1.Vettel, 2.Grosjean, 3.Raikkonen 4.Hamilton, 5.Hulkenberg, 6.Alonso, 7.Button, 8.Rosberg, 9.Maldonado, 10.Ricciardo, 11.Webber, 12.Sutil, 13.Gutierrez, 14.Massa, 15.Perez.
Despite driving almost the entire lap without an inflated front right tyre Perez was able to make it back to the pits and rejoin in P15. Vettel and Grosjean immediately pitted for the second time under the SC and were able to maintain their position in front - what's more they now had fresher tyres than the cars behind, unlike in Singapore where the front-runners had been at a distinct disadvantage to the cars behind.
We were racing again on Lap 37 - on the restart Kimi Raikkonen overtook team-mate Romain Grosjean for P2. At the same time Hulkenberg got past Lewis Hamilton for P4 a slip he would regret.
Mark Webber was in the wars again, though. Having been put down the field because of a puncture he was clattered into by Adrian Sutil at Turn 3 after the restart and his car was punted off track. The oil radiator and KERS caught fire and soon flames were engulfing the stricken RBR car - Webber had safely vacated it, but the Fire Car was dispatched and we were straight back into Safety Car running while the marshals took a long time to put the flames out and recover the car.
We were racing once more on Lap 41 and this time Hamilton had to resist a concerted charge from Fernando Alonso who had seen Nico Hulkenberg take advantage of the Brit last time round.
Positions on Lap 41: 1.Vettel, 2.Raikkonen 3. Grosjean, 4.Hulkenberg 5.Hamilton, 6.Alonso, 7.Button, 8.Rosberg, 9.Maldonado, 10.Ricciardo, 11.Gutierrez, 12.Massa, 13.Perez.
The extra laps behind the Safety Car now meant that Kimi Raikkonen and Nico Hulkenberg (who had stopped on laps 25 and 26) could just about stretch their tyres to the end of the race. This was frustrating to Lewis Hamilton who began pressing hard on the back of Hulkenberg who began falling off the back of Grosjean.
Vettel had opened a gap of 2.8 seconds by Lap 44. Ricciardo was soon past Maldonado and that left a South American train of 10.Maldonado, 11.Gutierrez, 12.Massa, 13.Perez. After some opportunistic overtaking from Felipe Massa (taking two cars as Gutierrez challenged Maldonado), then followed through by Perez, this changed round to: 10.Massa, 11.Perez, 12.Gutierrez, 13.Bottas, 14.Maldonado by Lap 46.
In front of them there was a train of Hulkenberg, Hamilton, Alonso, Button and Rosberg from P4 to P8. Hamilton finally got past Hulkenberg into Turn 1 on Lap 48, but the Sauber was able to use its straightline speed advantage and DRS immediately afterwards, and was back past the Mercedes long before Turn 3. Alonso tried to capitalise on Hamilton's failure, but although they battled all the way through Turns 4 and 5, the Ferrari driver couldn't make it stick.
Jenson Button had last been into the pits on Lap 22 and his tyres were just about holding on in front of Rosberg. When the German eventually got through on Lap 53, Button decided to bring his car home and he got more of a cushion when Daniel Ricciardo's Toro Rosso stopped from P9 on lap 53.
Sebastian Vettel had been managing his lead carefully all the while. He had 4.2 seconds on Lap 50 and on Lap 51 decided to go for a Fastest lap, a 1:41.666. When he did it again on Lap 53 - a 1:41.360 his engineer, Rocky, got on the radio. "You already have the fastest lap by some margin, you need to finish the race." That lap put the gap out to 5.7 seconds, but Raikkonen only had 0.7 on Grosjean.
Grosjean was getting conflicting information from his team about whether he should race Raikkonen or not, and had tyres that were six laps fresher. Ultimately he held station.
The drama in the closing laps was whether Lewis could keep his tyres together in front of a determined Alonso. The Mercedes just about held on to the line, getting passed and passing back on his way to P5.
Vettel racked up his eighth win of the season followed home by a fortuitous Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean. Hulkenberg had dropped back by an ocean of time but was fourth ahead of Hamilton, Alonso, Rosberg and Button. Felipe Massa made it through to P9 ahead of Perez in P10.
For the second race in a row the Safety Car had shuffled the order and yet again it had been to Kimi Raikkonen's advantage. But the big story of the Korean Grand Prix was "tyre deg" and the amount of wear on everyone's front right tyre. Pirelli's Paul Hembery when asked in the middle of the race was not convinced it would be a three-stopper for most people, but uninterrupted it could well have been.
There have now been eight Safety Cars in four races at Yeongam, whether we will come back again to see if we can add to that impressive total is almost as likely as Vettel losing his grip at the top.
01 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:43.13.701
02 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus +4.2
03 Romain Grosjean Lotus +4.9
04 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber +24.1
05 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +25.200
06 Fernando Alonso Ferrari +26.1
07 Nico Rosberg Mercedes +26.6
08 Jenson Button McLaren +32.2
09 Felipe Massa Ferrari +34.3
10 Sergio Perez McLaren +35.1
11 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber +35.9
12 Valtteri Bottas Williams +47.0
13 Pastor Maldonado Williams +50.0
14 Charles Pic Caterham +63.5
15 Giedo van der Garde Caterham +64.5
16 Jules Bianchi Marussia +67.9
17 Max Chilton Marussia +72.8
18 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso +2 laps
19 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso +3 laps
20 Adrian Sutil Force India +5 laps
R Mark Webber Red Bull +9 laps
R Paul di Resta Force India +31 lap