Since 2010, the Korean Grand Prix has been something of an enigma on the Formula 1 calendar. Originally intended as the first piece of a large development project near the coastal city of Mokpo, it never gained the same prestige or the audience as other contemporary events in Singapore and Austin. The Korea International Circuit produces a similar brand of racing we’ve become familiar with from other Herman Tilke tracks and its location, 400km south of Seoul, has made it a difficult destination for spectators.
The decision to hold a Formula 1 Grand Prix in Korea has always been a puzzling one. The country has little to no motor sports pedigree and the event has largely gone under the radar with local fans. In its earlier days, there were reports of year-old food being left to rot in the fridges of hospitality suites and a general lack of upkeep to the multi-million dollar facility. While this year’s turnout was significantly better than in years past, it’s very likely the Korean Grand Prix will suffer a similar fate to Turkey and be bumped from the calendar.
The Formula 1 media at large would have us all believe we’re watching a fantastic style of racing, but that would be a massive oversight. In what has become another season of total domination from Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing, the sport’s recent Grands Prix have been uninspired and for the most part boring exercises of tire management.
If Vettel victories with 30 second gaps are your idea of Formula 1 at its best then maybe you disagree, but until the other teams step their games up significantly or Vettel experiences catastrophic levels of unreliability, we’re all witnessing another uncontested World Championship.
Rounding out the podium with Vettel was a Lotus 2-3 of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean. The latter has been particularly quick in recent weeks and put on a strong showing today in Korea. While Ferrari didn’t have the best of luck, they were surely pleased to see their future driver (Raikkonen) maintain business as usual with another podium finish.
Grosjean is making a strong case for himself as Lotus’ leader in 2014 and it will be interesting to see who they sign as his teammate.
Mercedes were favored throughout the weekend with Lewis Hamilton starting in P2 and his teammate Nico Rosberg in P5. Unfortunately for Hamilton, the race was an uphill battle after starting from the dirty side of the track and spending most of the day holding off Fernando Alonso and looking at the back end of a very quick Nico Hulkenberg. The Mercedes driver didn’t hide his frustration over the team’s tire strategy which lead to one of the best radio transmissions of the season: “When are you gonna call me in man? These tires are fucked!” While Hamilton’s frustration with the way this season has played out is understandable, consider this is the same driver who was willing to call this season a bust just 12 months ago.
Meanwhile, Rosberg suffered his own issues while attempting to overtake his teammate. The W04’s nose cone detached and forced an unscheduled pit stop. The time in the pits ruined any chances of Rosberg fighting for a podium.
The Mercedes drivers finished in P5 and P7 respectively, with Hamilton ahead of his teammate.
After offering his friend a lift in Singapore 2 weeks ago, Fernando Alonso was highly critical of Pirelli’s tires following a difficult qualifying session on Saturday.
Alonso’s growing frustration with all aspects of the sport could be attributed to yet another season of watching his World Championship hopes slip away. Alonso has given everything he can on Sundays, but the F138 just isn’t on par with the RB9.
His teammate Felipe Massa went off the track early in lap 1 but managed to keep his car in the points, ultimately finishing in P9 with his teammate ahead in P6.
McLaren’s Sergio Perez suffered his second on track blowout of the season, causing the first safety car of the day. Pirelli received a lot of criticism throughout the weekend for high tire degradation and a lack of rear grip.
The buildup of tire debris was exceptionally high compared to other recent Grands Prix. Much of the criticisim has come from Mark Webber who suffered a puncture following Perez’s blow out: “I got a Pirelli puncture from a Pirelli tire so… impressive.”
For the second race in a row, Webber was unable to finish after being t-boned by Force India’s Adrian Sutil. The collision started a fire on the RB9 which Webber presumed was from the KERS. It’s become a frustrating final leg of the season for Webber and not the way he would hope to leave the sport.
On a brighter note, Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg continues to make his case for a drive with a top flight team.
Hulkenberg was outstanding after starting from P8 and making a charge past the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton into P4. He spent most of the race fending off Hamilton who’s W04 was no match for the Sauber coming out of the turns. Why Hulkenberg has continually been overlooked by the likes of McLaren, Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Ferrari is one of the sport’s great mysteries. If Martin Whitmarsh has any sense, he’ll highly consider swapping the underperforming Perez for Hulkenberg – the driver McLaren should’ve signed all along. It was a great result for Sauber who are making their way into uncharted territory with the potential signing of Sergey Sirotkin, the 17-year-old son of a Russian billionaire.
Another Korean Grand Prix is in the books. With a positively stacked preliminary schedule for 2014, it may be Formula 1’s final visit to Yeongnam. The last of the sport’s truly great races is just a week away as the teams head to Suzuka Circuit for the Japanese Grand Prix.
Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.