Korea GPR Race Recap: Vettel wins, but excitement reigns supreme

Sebastian Vettel won the 2013 Korean Grand Prix, a race marked by two Safety Car periods and serious scrapping behind the leader. Kimi Raikkonen forced his way into second over teammate Romain Grosjean, with Nico Hulkenberg providing quite a show to finish fourth. He spent mush of the race defending from Lewis Hamilton or Fernando Alonso, who finished fifth and sixth in that order, scrapping between themselves.

Though Vettel streaked away from the start, the first lap saw quite a bit of minor contact, with a spin by Felipe Massa that dropped him to last He finished ninth. A number of drivers provided much racing entertainment throughout, with Raikkonen and Alonso usually in the midst of the fray. Sergio Perez caused a Safety Car period when the tread of his right front tyre unraveled itself. Mark Webber caused a second safety car, after his Red Bull caught fire after being tagged by an oddly spinning Adrian Sutil. Just before the SC, Raikkonen had shoved his way through on teammate Grosjean into T1 for second position. Nico Rosberg, Jenson Button, Massa, and Perez rounded out the top ten.

Vettel (1:37.202) won pole at the end of Saturday’s qualifying sessions, fending off an attempt at a challenge from Hamilton, who could only manage second fastest in Q3. The British driver had led both Friday practices, only to lose ground as Vettel improved on Saturday. Webber joined them in the fastest positions all through the weekend, only to have disappointment continue, as he qualified on third and dropped down the starting order after his third reprimand of the season garnered him a ten place grid penalty for this weekend’s race.

Webber’s penalty moved Grosjean up to start third, alongside Rosberg. Alonso and Massa continued their middle of the road qualifying, starting next to each other on the third row of the grid. Hulkenberg and Gutierrez showed some speed in their Saubers on Satuday, eclipsing both Raikkonen and the McLaren drivers. Raikkonen managed only tenth fastest at the end of qualifying, though Perez would join him on row five of the starting grid.

Saturday was again disappointing for Williams, with both drivers knocked out in Q1. di Resta was disappointed, too, having been impeded by Bianchi on his fast lap. Though the Scot moved on to Q2 (and would qualify fifteenth), Bianchi received his own reprimand and a three place penalty. He swapped placed with teammate Chilton on the last row of the grid. Through the practice sessions, Hamilton, Vettel, Webber, Rosberg, Button, Massa, and Alonso all took their turns as members of the fastest five.

Race Start:
On the formation lap, it became clear that only Ricciardo would start on the medium tyres. Vettel leapt away when the lights went out, with Hamilton losing time behind him. Alonso attempted to get through on Rosberg, only to be balked and unable to make the move. He lost position to Hulkenberg. The Briton came under attack from Grosjean for second into T3 while. Contact bunched up the field at T3, resulting in a spin form Massa, dropping the Brazilian down to last and scattering carbon fiber shards across the track.

Alonso had gone a bit wide out of T1, causing a bit of a jumble behind him. The drivers attempted to go five wide along the straight into T3, with Massa taking the most inside of lines, tapping Rosberg and spinning. In the mêlée to avoid the wrong-way-around Massa, Sutil and Button sustained front wing damage.

At the end of L1, Vettel led Grosjean by more than two seconds. Hamilton, Rosberg, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Maldonado, and Button completed the top ten. Despite the spinning and contact, all drivers managed to complete the first lap. Vettel continued to sweep away at the front. Maldonado made the best first lap, gaining nine places from his abysmal starting position to get to ninth.

Webber managed to gain a position on the start, moving by di Resta and worrying Perez for eleventh. Webber made the pass and set off after Button. Button, by that point, had been complaining of front wing damage. He would pit on L5 for a new wing. Raikkonen made things exciting on L4, squabbling for seventh with Ricciardo. He made the pass but could not make it stick.

Sutil had also pitted for a new front wing after his damage on L4, dropping to last. Button fell to twenty-first, making it possible for each to try a two stop strategy. Back on the track, Webber continued to push his way through the field. He passed Maldonado for ninth on L6.

First Pit Stops Begin (L7 of 55):
Massa pitted from sixteenth on L7. By that point, the top five were well spaced, as Vettel had nearly three seconds on Grosjean. Maldonado, di Resta, and Gutierrez all pitted on L8, switching to the mediums. Button had set a new race fast lap on his fresh set. Force India also told di Resta that he could pass Perez with the stop.

Race direction soon announced that van der Garde and Bianchi were under investigation for forcing a car off the track. Bottas joined the pitters on L9. Just after, Raikkonen made his move on Alonso for sixth. Alonso attempted to fight back down the straight, but Raikkonen maintained the inside line and the position. Hamilton and Alonso pitted on L10, as did Pic. Van der Garde, who was up to thirteenth, received a drive-through penalty for the earlier incident with Bianchi.

End L10 of 55:
Grosjean pitted as L11 began, with Rosberg, Hulkenberg, Perez, and Bianchi. Van der Garde served his penalty, but the greater drama came on track. Grosjean barely stayed ahead of Hamilton when exiting the pits, but came under attack when both were back on the track. Hamilton took any moment to pass the Frenchman, but Grosjean cleanly kept position and made his Lotus as wide as he could.

Vettel and Raikkonen pitted on L12, handing the race lead over to his teammate. Webber, Ricciardo, Vergne, and Chilton were the only drivers yet to pit at the end of L12. di Resta and Perez fought over thirteenth, squeezing each other. Their spat would also come under investigation for forcing a car off the track, with no position changed in the battle. The stewards would investigate it after the race.

After a lap in the lead, Webber pitted and dropped to ninth. Vergne and Chilton also pitted on L13. Only Ricciardo had not pitted at the end of L13. Vettel then led Grosjean by just over two and a half seconds, with Hamilton, Ricciardo, Rosberg, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Raikkonen, Webber, and Button rounded out the top ten. Alonso had made up his lost position on Raikkonen during the pit stops, though his Ferrari continued to step out underneath him.

Raikkonen, though, was heading for more trouble, with Webber creeping up behind him. Raikkonen was close behind Alonso, but Webber was right behind, as they all sat behind Hulkenberg in sixth. A bit further back, Perez managed a clean pas on Maldonado for eleventh. That put him four and a half seconds behind his teammate and the final points paying position.

The train fighting over sixth continued to swap tenths between themselves. Back in sixteenth, Sutil complained, “I can’t go faster. It’s a piece of sh*it.” Force India had suggested that he should increase his pace. Ricciardo finally pitted from fifth on L19.

End L20 of 55:
Vettel’s lead over Grosjean was four seconds at the end of L20. Hamilton had clean track, a second and a half behind Grosjean and safely over twelve seconds ahead of teammate Rosberg. Hulkenberg sat another five seconds back, coming under attack from Alonso. Raikkonen, Webber, Button, and Perez completed the top ten. Alonso spent a lap nosing around Hulkenberg’s rear, but could not make a pass, The Spaniard’s tyres had grained, but cleared. Hulkenberg worriedly told Mercedes that his tyres could not hang on, but learned that it was then too early to stop. Alonso continued to make Hulkenberg nervous.

Halfway (End L28 of 55):
Meanwhile, Hamilton continued to complain about his tyres, frantically telling Mercedes to let him pit. He did so on L29, as did Massa. Vettel had five seconds on Grosjean as the second pit stops jumbled the field. Webber pitted on L31.

Safety Car (L32 of 55):
Perez lost the tread off his right front, with the tyre exploding on the straight just as Webber passed Hamilton behind him. He went down the escape road and managed to keep from damaging anyone else’s car. Vettel, Grosjean, Bianchi, Chilton, and van der Garde all pitted. Ricciardo, Webber, Gutierrez, and Perez all pitted on the second lap of the SC, the last having made his way back to the garage. Webber pitted with a puncture on his fairly fresh set of Pirellis, switching to options as Red Bull had not other tyres remaining for the Australian. Before his tyre failed, Perez had a dramatic lockup on his right front, leaving room for Raikkonen to get through a few corners before Perez’s tyre tread left the tyre.

Under the SC, Vettel led Grosjean, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Button, Rosberg, Maldonado, and Ricciardo as the top ten. Webber, Sutil, Gutierrez, Massa, Perez, Vergne, Bottas, Pic, Bianchi, van der Garde, and Chilton completed the running order. Red Bull told Vettel, “Anything you can do to burn fuel will be good.”

Restart (L36 of 55):
Vettel stacked the field, going quite slowly ahead of Grosjean. Still, Vettel squirted ahead and remained in the lead. Raikkonen looked set to have a look on his teammate, as a few drivers had a look out of the single file line. Hulkenberg made his way around Hamilton, who would soon come under attack from Alonso.

Second Safety Car (L38 of 55):
Sutil spun through T3 catching Webber, then Webber’s Red Bull caught fire. As everyone was distracted by the flames, Raikkonen pushed Grosjean for second, shoving his way through at the first turn. Safety Car had been deployed again. Even so, a fire vehicle made its own way onto the track and stacked up the field.

Behind the second SC, Vettel led Raikkonen, Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Hamilton, Alonso, Button, Rosberg, Maldonado, and Ricciardo as the top ten. Gutierrez, Massa, Perez,  Bottas, Pic, van der Garde, Bianchi, Chilton, Vergne, and Sutil completed the twenty drivers still running.

10 Laps Remaining:
Hamilton continued to press Hulkenberg with ten laps remaining. Vettel had nearly three seconds on Raikkonen, who had Grosjean just over a second behind. Quite a fight had begun over the final point, with Maldonado holding tenth, only to have Gutierrez have a look. Massa shoved Gutierrez, only to make his way through up to tenth as Maldonado went wide. He dropped four positions with Perez and Bottas following Massa through.

Further ahead, Hamilton remained on Hulkenberg’s gearbox. He had a look around the outside at T3, getting even closer for T4. Hamilton could not pass, but also needed to look behind as Alonso also closed. The stewards were busy, announcing that van der Garde and Bianchi were under investigation for speeding behind the SC. Back with the action, Hmailton went though, only to lose the position again in DRS. Hulkenberg got ahead, leaving Hamilton vulnerable to Alonso. The Spaniard went ahead, but could not keep the grip to keep the position and fell back slightly through the sweeping turn.

Hamilton continued to look for any way through on Hulkenberg, but the latter continued to remain fourth. Again, Hulkenberg grained a train of drivers, with Hamilton, Alonso, Button, and Rosberg all behind him. Closer to the front, Lotus told Grosjean to take the fight to Raikkonen. The Frenchman was told he was faster than Kimi, and Eric Boullier got on the radio to tell him that he had to keep racing as it is, to stop complaining about his tyres.

The fighting had settled a bit with five laps to go, as the drivers behind Hulkenberg looked to save tyres for the final laps. Hamilton told Mercedes, “It’s unreal how much traction he’s got,” referring to Hulkenberg. Sutil pitted on L51, retiring from the race.

With all the drivers complaining of their tyres, and all the teams telling them essentially to shut up and get on with it, the final few laps looked to be a bigger fight between the car and garage than on the track. As Hulkenberg went wider through T1, Hamilton closed but could not pass. He asked the team, “has anyone got any suggestions?”

Further behind, Button allowed Rosberg through, only to come back at the German. Button could not make the return move still and shuffled back to eighth. Nearer the lead, Grosjean had just over a half second to Raikkonen ahead. On the radio, Red Bull told Vettel that he needed to be more careful, as he already had fast lap by “quite a margin.” Ricciardo pulled to the side, with teammate Vergne also in the garage.

Vettel began the last lap over five seconds ahead of Raikkonen, who had Grosjean right behind. The real fight came between Hamilton and Hulkenberg, with Alonso behind. Hamilton continued to look for any way around Hulkenberg, only to come under attack from Alonso. They had lost time to Hulkenberg as Alonso looked for any way into fifth. Vettel cruised to the win, with Lotus holding station behind. Hulkenberg safely finished fourth, while Hamilton managed to hold off Alonso for fifth.

Final Positions, 2013 Korean Grand Prix:

 DriverTeamGapStops
1. Sebastian VettelRed Bull2
2. Kimi RaikkonenLotus 4.22
3. Romain GrosjeanLotus 4.92
4. Nico HulkenbergSauber 24.12
5. Lewis HamiltonMercedes 25.22
6. Fernando AlonsoFerrari 26.12
7. Nico RosbergMercedes 26.62
8. Jenson ButtonMcLaren 32.22
9. Felipe MassaFerrari 34.32
10. Sergio PerezMcLaren 35.12
11. Esteban GutierrezSauber 35.92
12. Valtteri BottasWilliams 47.02
13. Pastor MaldonadoWilliams 50.02
14. Charles PicCaterham 63.52
15. Giedo van der GardeCaterham 64.53
16. Jules BianchiMarussia 67.92
17. Max ChiltonMarussia 72.82
18. Jean-Eric Vergne (RET)Toro Rosso 2 Laps4
19. Daniel Ricciardo (STOP)Toro Rosso 3 Laps2
20. Adrian Sutil (RET)Force India 19 Laps5
 Mark WebberRed Bull31 Laps3
 Paul di RestaForce IndiaLaps2
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