Round 16 - Korea 12-14 October 2012
Circuit Length: 5.615 Km
Lap Record: 1:39.605 = 202.941 km/h, S. Vettel (Red Bull Renault) 2011
Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes); 1:35.820 = 210.958 km/h
1st: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault) 1:38.01.994 (av. race speed = 188.893 km/h)
2nd: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes), 12.019s behind
3rd: Mark Webber (Red Bull Renault), 12.477s behind
Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault); 1:39.605 = 202.941 km/h on lap 55
‘LIKE A FAST BUDAPEST’: JEKYLL AND HYDE CIRCUIT AWAITS IN KOREA
Okay, the sequence you need is 2 - 5 - 4. No, it’s not the new Da Vinci code, nor is it the key to your South Korean bank account. It means two drivers have five races in which to sort out the four-point gap that separates them in their pursuit of the 2012 title, and you don’t need us to tell you their names are Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel. Realistically, these are the two horses left in the race, even though both Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton might like to think otherwise.
Ferrari’s Fernando has never started from pole position, or even the front row, in the two previous Korean races, but he did make history by winning the first race there in 2010 when Sebastian’s Red Bull expired. Seb has started from the front row both times and was on pole in 2010; he made up for that year’s disappointment with victory last year. But so far no driver has won in Korea from pole position. Will team orders – aimed at Felipe Massa and Mark Webber – raise their unlovely head again this weekend?
As usual, our own Webber has a very succinct way of summing up the venue for the 16th round of the 2012 World Championship. “Like a fast Budapest,” he calls Yeongam, referring to its first flat-out section – three straights, one of which measures 1.2km, with a couple of corners to link them – and its very busy, technical second half. The 5.615km Tilke-designed track packs 18 corners in, 11 of them left-handers, and its 55 laps will place considerable strain on the cars’ braking capabilities.
Pirelli bring their P Zero Yellow (soft) and Red (supersoft) combination and predict that the latter will last 10+ laps, the former 20+, which means a two-stopper is a strong possibility. It’s also anti-clockwise, just to test those neck muscles, and around 60% of it is spent at full throttle, with engines on high-performance duty thanks to the circuit sitting at sea level near the major port city of Mokpo.
Webber, a podium finisher at Yeongam last year, will be hoping for a longer crack at Korea than he got at Suzuka last weekend. The man who ended his race there so prematurely is also promising to be on his best behaviour. “I’ve sat down and looked at things again with the team; for sure it’s still an area we need to improve,” says Lotus driver Romain Grosjean, stating the obvious. “We’re clearly focusing on this area for the next races.” The Frenchman’s team principal agrees: “We understand what has to be done,” says Eric Boullier. “I think in Singapore to an extent and in Suzuka he was almost trying to overcompensate by focusing on staying out of trouble, which in the last race had the opposite effect…”
Raikkonen, third but 37 points adrift of Alonso, has never raced at Yeongam. Obviously he’s been putting in long hours in the simulator, hasn’t he? Oh, no he hasn’t: “I know some drivers work hard in simulators to learn a new circuit, but they are not for me,” says the Finn. “I have never played the Playstation or spent too much time in the simulator and it doesn’t seem to have affected my performance in the past.” So how does he learn a new circuit? Answer: “I drive it.”
Hamilton, fourth but 42 points adrift of Alonso, goes to Korea with high hopes after an encouraging late-race stint at Suzuka. Yeongam yielded Lewis’s only pole of 2011, and so far he has been second on both occasions there. “I think we’ve had the potential to win both Korean Grands Prix in the past, but I’ve never had a race weekend there on which everything has gone quite right for me,” he insists. “We’ve got momentum on our side once again, so I head to Korea determined to fight for victory.”
McLaren team-mate Jenson Button also puts Yeongam in a nutshell: “The Korean International Circuit is quite a demanding place – every time you feel you’re settling into a rhythm, the track changes direction quite unexpectedly. It doesn’t have the flow of some of the other new modern facilities we’ve been to in recent years, such as the Buddh International Circuit or Istanbul Park.” JB may be out of the title hunt but he’s just three behind Mark Webber and a big threat to the Aussie’s fifth place.
While Vettel and Alonso hog the headlines, don’t forget the intriguing tussles going on further back in the field. A stunning podium from Kamui Kobayashi in Japan helped Sauber close the gap on Mercedes to 20 points and the Swiss team have fifth place in the Constructors’ standings in their sights. That would be a throw-back to the heady days of 2001, when they were fourth, and 2002, when they were fifth – although like everyone else they were just picking up the crumbs from the all-conquering Ferraris’ table. One of the drivers who helped them to that 2001 result – their best as an independent outfit – was a young bloke by the name of Raikkonen… By our reckoning, leaving aside their BMW days, this will be Sauber’s 250th Grand Prix in their own right.
Last but not least, Dan Ricciardo heads to Yeongam looking for a third successive points-scoring finish and a fourth in five races. He is currently on seven points and the last of the drivers who have actually scored, but he’s just a single point behind team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne and he has an advantage this weekend – JEV has never been to Yeongam. Both drivers are very hopeful of having done enough already to convince the hard-to-please Toro Rosso hierarchy they should keep their seats for 2013.