Vettel wins the Korean Grand Prix

Sebastian Vettel; Kimi Raikkonen; Romain Grosjean; Tim Malyon (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) Deep in the heart of Korean ship-building country lays F1’s most under-used track.

The circuit in Yeongam only sees action once a year, on F1 race weekends, and it elicits very different reactions from the drivers on the grid.

For starters, it’s in the middle of nowhere – quite literally, as the track is surrounded by wetland that’s yet to be developed. And you only have to look at all the empty seats in the grandstands to see that it clearly lacks atmosphere.

Ticket sales were reportedly up 40 per cent this year, and there were certainly a lot of Korean fans lining up to meet their F1 heroes in the weekend’s autograph session. But will it be enough to secure a place on the 2014 calendar for the Mokpo circuit?

What the drivers do enjoy, however, is the challenge the track offers them. There are some opportunities to overtake in the first sector, which is a good thing for both fans and drivers. And parts of the track are also a bit like a street circuit, with the walls closing in on the racers – so there’s a high price to pay if they let their car fall off the track.

For the third race in a row, Vettel was in pole position. And for the third race in a row, he got a blistering start off the line and ran away with the lead into the first corner, eeking out a two-second lead by the end of the third lap.

Sebastian Vettel; Kimi Raikkonen; Romain Grosjean (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images) Behind him it was all go, as there was a big incident on the first lap triggered by Massa. He spun in the middle of turn three, collecting his team mate Alonso at the same time, and sending the mid-field flying in all directions as they tried desperately to avoid any serious contact.

Massa was the big loser of the incident, ending up at the back of the pack once he’d got his Ferrari pointing the right way again. But Sutil and Button were also casualties of Massa’s mistake, and both had to duck in the pits early on for a change of front wing.

Ahead of them, Grosjean had nabbed second place from Hamilton, which was great news for him – but possibly bad news for everyone else. He didn’t quite have the pace of the Mercedes, so started to hold Hamilton and Rosberg up to a certain extent, allowing Vettel to extend his lead even further out front.

After pitting for his new front wing, Button changed from the super-softs onto a new set of mediums – and was quickly doing fastest laps, giving the rest of the field plenty to think about.

With that in mind, both Hamilton and Alonso made their first stop on lap 10 to put on the medium tyres. Grosjean pitted one lap later, leading to an epic battle between him and Hamilton when he came back out onto track in front of the Merc.

Despite Hamilton’s best efforts in the DRS zones, he just couldn’t make his way past Grosjean, and was stuck in a net third once again. But at least Vettel’s lead had been cut by this point, so just two and a half seconds covered the top three by the time the pit stops had properly played out.

The real racing was going on just behind the top three though, with Rosberg, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Raikkonen and Webber all running together on track, and desperate to edge that little bit closer to the podium positions.

While Hulkenberg was doing well to run his Sauber in fifth place, there’s no doubt that he was holding up the cars behind him. Alonso was desperate to find a way past, knowing that it could well harm his championship if he stayed stuck behind the Sauber for too long.

He was already lapping half a second slower than Vettel out front, who’d been setting fastest laps in the clear air. And by the half-way point of the race, Alonso was almost 30 seconds behind the triple world champion, still unable to find any way past Hulkenberg’s Sauber.

Lap 26 saw the first retirement of the race, as Di Resta spun his car into the barriers, having just made a stop for fresh tyres – prematurely bringing his afternoon to an end for the fifth race in a row.

Button and Raikkonen also came in for their second tyre stop on the same lap, triggering the pit-stop window to open for many other cars to follow suit. Hamilton was a man who badly needed to stop for new tyres, too, but he’d have to wait a while for fresh rubber…

Rosberg overtook him on lap 28, such was the rate at which Hamilton was losing time due to his tyres. But somehow during the overtake Rosberg’s nose came loose – and sparks began flying from his car as his front wing scraped dangerously along the ground.

Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa (photo by Ferrari)Track action (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) Rosberg pitted at the end of the lap for a change of front nose, putting him out of contention as he came back out in a disappointing 12th place. His stop meant that Hamilton was left out on track far longer than he needed to be, losing even more time to his rivals as his tyres slowed him down.

Hamilton finally pitted on lap 30, coming back out behind Raikkonen – and Webber quickly overtook him, too. However, everything was about to change dramatically…

Disaster struck on lap 31 when Perez suffered a front-right delamination, sending debris flying all over the track. Perez managed to limp his way to an escape road and off the racing line. But there was far too much debris lying around, and the safety car was brought out.

Vettel took the opportunity to duck straight into the pits for tyres, having not previously stopped. His team mate Webber, who’d stopped just a couple of laps before, also headed in for new tyres, having suffered a puncture due to the debris from Perez’s tyre. And as he came back out onto track in 11th place, it was clear this unscheduled stop had hurt his race.

After five laps of running behind the safety car, it finally went back into the pits at the end of lap 36. Vettel controlled the perfect restart as lap 37 got underway, dashing away from second-placed Grosjean – who was soon overtaken by his faster team mate Raikkonen.

But things quickly went awry again as Sutil braked late into the corner, sending him gliding across the track, collecting Webber as he went. Webber must surely win the title of unluckiest man on the grid this season, as his final Korean Grand Prix was brought to a dramatic end with his car spinning off the track, and catching fire to boot.

As Webber made a swift exit from his burning car, it looked as though a second safety car would be deployed again. But rather than the familiar Mercedes AMG, a rogue fire truck appeared from nowhere in front of Vettel, having apparently been sent onto the track without Charlie Whiting or the FIA’s consent.

It was a dangerous move, and it was sheer luck that no serious damage was done. The truck made it to the smoking carcass of the Red Bull, and the safety car came out to pick up the front of the train for what would be another three-lap stint behind it.

Vettel’s lead had been cut to nothing once again, and this time it looked as though he had serious competition from behind. Raikkonen was now in second, and on a charge when the race restarted. He was faster than Vettel in the first sector, but lost time in the last part of the lap – and Vettel had pulled out a two-second gap over him by lap 42.

There was a great scrap shaping up further back, where a train had built up behind fourth place Hulkenberg once again. Hamilton was desperate to overtake and get a sniff of the podium – but the more he tried, and failed, to pass Hulkenberg, the closer Alonso was getting behind him.

Although Hamilton clearly had the faster car, there was nothing he could do to get past Hulkenberg, and the trio were to hold station until the very end of the race.

There was some last-minute drama on lap 54 when Ricciardo spun off track and ended his race – but thankfully there was no need for another safety car, and the drivers were able to race to the chequered flag.

Vettel crossed the line first to win his fourth race in a row, with Raikkonen in second, Grosjean in third, and Hulkenberg finishing an impressive fourth for Sauber.

There were a couple of on-track incidents due to be investigated after the race, involving Di Resta, Perez, Massa, Van Der Garde and Chilton, so penalties could be applied to the provisional results.   By Sarah Ellis

1. Sebastian Vettel Germany Red Bull-Renault 55 laps 1hr 43m 13.701s
2. Kimi Raikkonen Finland Lotus-Renault +00m 04.2s
3. Romain Grosjean France Lotus-Renault +00m 04.9s
4. Nico Hulkenberg Germany Sauber-Ferrari +00m 24.1s
5. Lewis Hamilton Britain Mercedes-Mercedes +00m 25.2s
6. Fernando Alonso Spain Ferrari-Ferrari +00m 26.1s
7. Nico Rosberg Germany Mercedes-Mercedes +00m 26.6s
8. Jenson Button Britain McLaren-Mercedes +00m 32.2s
9. Felipe Massa Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +00m 34.3s
10. Sergio Perez Mexico McLaren-Mercedes +00m 35.1s

11. Esteban Gutierrez Spain Sauber-Ferrari +00m 35.9s
12. Valtteri Bottas Finland Williams-Renault +00m 47.0s
13. Pastor Maldonado Venezuela Williams-Renault +00m 50.0s
14. Charles Pic France Caterham-Renault +01m 03.5s
15. Jules Bianchi France Marussia-Cosworth +01m 04.5s
16. Giedo van der Garde Holland Caterham-Renault +01m 07.9s
17. Max Chilton Britain Marussia-Cosworth +01m 12.8s

18. Jean-Eric Vergne France Toro Rosso-Ferrari 53 laps completed
19. Daniel Ricciardo Australia Toro Rosso-Ferrari 52 laps completed
20. Adrian Sutil Germany Force India-Mercedes 51 laps completed
21. Mark Webber Australia Red Bull-Renault 36 laps completed
22. Paul di Resta Britain Force India-Mercedes 24 laps completed

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