Sebastian Vettel has won the Korean Grand Prix ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean following an excellent display of control at the front of the field, persevering in the face of two safety car periods that brought the pack closer together.
Vettel held the lead from the start and enjoyed a healthy lead from Romain Grosjean for the first half of the race only for the safety car to make his job far more difficult. As a result, Raikkonen was able to recover from a fight in the midfield to finish second ahead of his teammate whilst Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton both spent most of the race staring at Nico Hulkenberg’s rear wing as the Sauber driver put in an incredible display to finish the race in fourth.
Off the start, Vettel made a good getaway to lead the field through the tight and twisty first two corners with Hamilton and Grosjean closely following. Fernando Alonso’s good start proved to be ineffective as he was boxed in by Rosberg and he was one of five drivers going side-by-side into turn three. Felipe Massa looked to re-gain some of the ground lost off the line, but his over-zealous move down the inside of his teammate saw him spin and force many drivers to take evasive action. Both Jenson Button and Adrian Sutil were forced to make an early stop for repairs, yet the incident did play into the hands of Grosjean who moved up to P2 ahead of both Mercedes and Pastor Maldonado also benefited, jumping from eighteenth to ninth. Mark Webber began a charge through the field after starting out of position, pulling off some great overtakes on Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo as he moved up into the points.
At the front, Vettel continued to lay down an impressive pace to enjoy a steady lead over Grosjean in second place. However, championship rival Alonso lost time stuck behind Nico Hulkenberg and was eventually passed by future teammate Kimi Raikkonen for sixth. Button’s times after his stop prompted the rest of the field to follow suit and pit with Hamilton closing on Grosjean, but some fine defensive driving meant that the Briton could not make it through. After pitting, Vettel found that his lead had shrunk to less than three seconds, requiring a fastest lap to re-establish the gap to Grosjean to stabilize the gap at around four seconds. Having passed Raikkonen in the first round of pit stops, Alonso once again found himself stuck behind Hulkenberg with the Finn also closing on the Sauber, whilst Mark Webber’s good pace meant that he was also a part of this train running from fifth to eighth.
Despite Pirelli believing that a two-stop race was possible, many drivers encountered problems with graining and general tire wear. In P3, Hamilton was losing as much as 2.5 seconds per lap to Vettel whilst Alonso and Webber were finally released following Hulkenberg’s pit stop. The Australian driver immediately pounced when he was given some free air, moving up to P5. Rosberg took advantage of his teammate’s tire woes to catch his teammate only to suffer from a front wing failure when passing Hamilton, forcing him to pit for a new nose cone. Having pitted earlier, Raikkonen undercut both Hulkenberg and Alonso and also found himself ahead of Hamilton when the Briton finally pitted.
Despite enjoying a healthy lead, Vettel’s dominance came under threat when the safety car was deployed to pick up debris on the straight between turn two and turn three after a tire failure on Sergio Perez’s McLaren. As a result, the field was bunched up, giving the likes of Raikkonen and Hamilton a second chance to catch Vettel at the front. Having run over some of the debris, Webber was forced to pit for the second time in three laps for fresh tires, dropping him out of the points.
Off the restart, Nico Hulkenberg made a great overtake on Hamilton for fourth but a mistake by Adrian Sutil saw him spin into Webber’s Red Bull, causing the Australian driver to pull over and retire from the race due to an engine fire. However, with the marshals failing to put the blaze out, the fire marshal’s Jeep was sent out ahead of the pack seemingly of its own accord, with the safety car being deployed slightly later and therefore coming out behind the pack. Eventually, the fire was put out but the FIA will undoubtedly be looking into the mix-up after the race in a rather embarrassing situation. Just before the incident, Kimi Raikkonen managed to pass his teammate for second place, setting his sights on Vettel at the front with the second safety car period allowing drivers to save their tires and plan to go to the end of the race.
On the restart, Alonso and Hamilton began to scrap over fifth place with the Mercedes driver defending his position valiantly to hang onto the position. Wary of Raikkonen in P2, Vettel immediately set a new fastest lap of the race and quickly set about creating a new gap. Further back, Maldonado, Gutierrez, Perez and Massa were fighting over P10 with some remarkable changes of position in the space of a few corners, with Massa eventually moving ahead as Maldonado lost four places in as many corners. Hamilton finally passed Hulkenberg for P4, only for the Sauber to take the position back in the second DRS zone as Alonso, Button and Rosberg also joined the battle as they looked to take advantage of any incidents.
In P3, Romain Grosjean was told to keep pushing in pursuit of Raikkonen thanks to his fresher tires with the Finn trailing Vettel by around four seconds with five laps to go. Ultimately, the German driver proved to be untouchable at the front of the field, controlling the race from start to finish. With Alonso down in P6, Vettel can now seal his fourth world championship at the Japanese Grand Prix next weekend should he win and the Spaniard retire.
Despite two safety cars, a Jeep leading the grand prix and concerns about tire wear, Vettel once again proved why he is a three-time world champion with a great display. He has now won four consecutive races in 2013 and looks set to clinch a fourth title within the next three weeks.