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The Fire Next Time: Two In A Row For Mark

ROUND 14 – Korea, October 6, 2013

1st: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault) 1hr 43m 13.701s (av. race speed 179.386 km/h)
2nd: Kimi Raïkkönen (Lotus Renault) gap: 4.224s
3rd: Romain Grosjean (Lotus Renault) gap: 4.927s

Fastest Lap: Vettel 1:41.380 = 199.388 km/h on lap 53

Pole Position: Vettel 1:37.202 = 207.958 km/h

World Championship: Vettel 272 points • Alonso 195 • Raïkkönen 167


THE FIRE NEXT TIME: TWO IN A ROW FOR MARK

The motor racing gods have clearly decided Mark Webber’s final F1 season should finish not with a whimper but a bang – of the wrong kind. For the second race in a row the Australian had to jump out of a Red Bull Renault that was in flames, all his good work in coming through from 13th on the grid undone when he was collected by Adrian Sutil’s out-of-control Force India with 20 laps of the 55-lap race remaining.

Webber had just come out after his second pit stop and was hell-bent on a podium finish when the right front tyre on Sergio Pérez’s McLaren failed right in front of him. Unable to avoid the debris, Webber collected a puncture and had to pit again immediately. Then at Turn 3 he was simply t-boned by Sutil, who was suitably contrite. “He came to see me after the race to apologise, saying he had made a mistake, and you have to accept that,” said Webber. “But the most disappointing aspect of this race was another Pirelli tyre failure.” Two straight DNF’s see Webber marooned on 130 points, now just eight clear of Nico Rosberg in fifth place.

Better news for Red Bull was yet another victory for Sebastian Vettel, his fourth in a row, his eighth of 2013, the 34th of his career and another giant step towards retaining the World Championship – possibly even as early as the next round in Japan in a week’s time. Vettel raced into the lead from his 42nd pole position, stayed calm under two Safety Car periods and came home untroubled to open a 77-point advantage with five rounds remaining. Not that the German would admit it: “It was a very strong performance from the whole team and I’m happy,” he said. “We’re just focusing on continuing to take one step at a time and trying to get the best out of the car at every single race.” Understandably, he added: “I’m just loving what I do…”

The other podium places went to Lotus Renault, Kimi Raïkkönen putting teammate Romain Grosjean in his place with a decisive pass and coming home for his own sixth second-place finish of 2013. “People might say it was good luck with the safety car, but sometimes these things go with you and others they go against you,” the Finn observed. “We made up some places even before that happened, and if we hadn’t had the speed then we wouldn’t have been in a position to take advantage. You could see at the end that we had more than enough pace to keep the others behind, so I think it’s deserved.” This was the third double podium of 2013 for Lotus; Raïkkönen returns to third place overall behind Vettel and Fernando Alonso.

Behind them Nico Hülkenberg produced a fine defensive drive to claim fourth place for Sauber – equalling his career-best, achieved at Spa-Francorchamps last year – to underline the irony in the fact that the young German is by no means a certain starter on the 2014 grid. His physical stature is apparently being used by some teams as a reason not to employ Hülkenberg in a new rules regime that will penalise driver weight severely. “Today I drove one of the best races in my career so far. I have had cars in the mirrors before, but today there were a lot and it was a bit annoying!” said Hülkenberg. “Lewis really put the pressure on at the end, especially in the last sector. I knew I needed to get out of turn one well. The car’s traction was very good today, so that kept me alive against Fernando and then Lewis later on.” Though Esteban Gutiérrez just missed out on a maiden World Championship point the result was good enough to move Sauber past Toro Rosso into seventh in the Constructors’ standings.

On a lacklustre day for Ferrari, Fernando Alonso showed little of his usual fire and finished in sixth place, sandwiched between the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. If Alonso should fail to finish in Japan and Vettel won, the title fight would be all over for another year. Hamilton kept listeners entertained with a steady stream of messages to his crew about the state of his tyres, one of which in the closing stages had to have an expletive deleted. “In my second stint, running the prime tyre, my right front was just destroyed all of a sudden,” the English driver explained. “When that happens, you start losing temperature, understeering and locking up under braking, so it was really hard to maintain the pace in those laps. It was a really difficult part of the race but I had to get to a certain target lap before I made the final stop.”

Still no podium in sight for McLaren in this special 50th anniversary year, but Jenson Button hung on for eighth place while Pérez recovered from his dramatic Pirelli moment to rescue the day’s final point in 10th. “I’m really happy to have picked up those points – four points were about as good as it was going to get today,” said Button, who was forced into the pits only four laps into the race after suffering damage in a Turn 3 incident triggered by Felipe Massa’s ill-advised lunge up the inside in his Ferrari. Team principal Martin Whitmarsh was fulsome in his praise for both drivers: “Jenson drove a scarcely believable 33-lap stint on one set of tyres, effectively turning his race into a one-stopper, and Checo showed great racing spirit to take the battle to those around him after a delamination destroyed his right-front tyre and his front wing,” said Whitmarsh.

There was bitter disappointment for Australia’s other representative, Dan Ricciardo, when he pulled the Toro Rosso off the track with only a couple of laps remaining. After missing out on Q3 Ricciardo had tried a different strategy, starting on Pirelli’s Medium tyre, in the hope of two-stopping his way to the points. He was on course for two of them for ninth place when he braked at Turn 3 and the car turned sharp left with a mechanical problem on its front left corner.

Next race: Round 15,Japan, October 13

“I think it’s the best track in the world,” says Vettel, who has won at Suzuka in three of the last four visits. Can he do it again and wrap up title #4? Find out right here…

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