Fernando Alonso took his fifth victory of the season at the inaugural Korean Grand Prix, taking the championship lead by winning in a wet and delayed race at Yeongam.
For Red Bull Racing, this was a disastrous day with Mark Webber crashing out from second position, with Sebastian Vettel suffering an engine failure while leading from the beginning.
Lewis Hamilton kept his title hopes alive with a superb drive in tricky wet conditions to come home in second, but the same cannot be said to McLaren team-mate Jenson Button. The reigning world champion had a difficult race struggling for pace and finished in a lowly P12.
The racing didn’t actually start until nearly one hour and three quarters after the scheduled time. The rain forced the original start to delay by ten minutes and after four laps behind the safety car, it was red flagged.
The wet conditions made it impossible for the 24 drivers to race with fear of visibility. After a pause of nearly an hour, and then a further 13 laps behind the safety car, the race got going to the delight of Lewis Hamilton. The McLaren driver was quite vocal over the radio about the improving conditions.
Once the race started Vettel immediately pulled out a 2.8-second gap over Webber on the first proper lap of racing. Then it all went hideously wrong for the pre-race championship leader next time around.
The Australian ran slightly wide at Turn 12 and spun into the opposite wall damaging his car before rebounding back onto the track and collecting the passing Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes, who just overtaken Hamilton for third at Turn 3 a lap earlier.
With two wrecked cars to collect from a narrow section of the circuit, the safety car returned for a few more laps before racing finally got underway once more. Vettel made a break once again, establishing a three-second cushion over Alonso until another safety car interruption on lap 30. This time when Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi – who had already tipped Heikki Kovalainen’s Lotus into a spin – crashed into the side of Timo Glock’s Virgin at the end of the long straight.
Buemi was among those who had already taken on intermediates, and everyone else running on the full wets decided to following suit during the safety car period.
Vettel and Alonso had passed the pits when the yellow came out so had to do another lap, but Vettel retained his lead after his tyre change. A problem with the right-front wheel change on Alonso’s car let Hamilton into second position, but not for long as the McLaren ran wide at Turn 1 at the restart and handed the position straight back.
Unlike his previous restarts Vettel could not make a break with Alonso and Hamilton close behind. Despite that, the German had the race under control until his Red Bull’s Renault engine erupted at the start of lap 46.
After inheriting the lead Alonso then edged away from Hamilton to clinch his fifth victory of the season, opening up a 11 point lead over Webber. As for Hamilton, his second place finish moves the McLaren driver to third in the standings, only ten points adrift.
Felipe Massa completed the podium for the Scuderia after a consistent race, while Michael Schumacher produced his best performance of the year by taking fourth.
Renault’s Robert Kubica was fifth having passing both Williams as their tyres faded in the closing stages. Tonio Liuzzi followed him through to take sixth for Force India.
Sauber got both cars in the points again with Kamui Kobayashi in eighth ahead of team-mate Nick Heidfeld.
As for Jenson Button, finishing in P12 was a major disappointment. Initially he was running in sixth after making an early pit stop for intermediates but that change of tyres dropped him down to the midfield. Jenson lost even more ground after being forced off the road while battling with Adrian Sutil’s Force India. Struggling with the McLaren’s handling and tyre wear, Jenson had a late spin and came home 90 seconds after the race winner.
Other drivers to slip up included Renault’s Vitaly Petrov, who had a massive crash at the final corner when running seventh on lap 40. Adrian Sutil, who had a series of wheel-banging incidents and excursions while battling with the Saubers, was out after breaking his suspension against Kobayashi’s car. As for Lucas di Grassi, he spun his Virgin Racing car into the barrier while trying to pass Sakon Yamamoto’s Hispania.
Heikki Kovalainen was top new team driver for Lotus, despite a pitlane speeding penalty, while his team-mate Jarno Trulli had a spin, a clash with Bruno Senna’s Hispania and eventually a race-ended hydraulic problem.
So it was an eventful Korean Grand Prix. Neither Red Bulls made the finish despite locking out the front row. Alonso’s race victory has promoted the Spaniard to the top of the drivers’ championship with two races left.
But the biggest issue will be made to the drivers and race officials for not racing in the early stages and at the sport governing body for approving the circuit despite the late completion.
Race results from Yongam after 55 laps:
1. Alonso Ferrari 2h48:20.810
2. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes +14.999
3. Massa Ferrari +30.868
4. Schumacher Mercedes +39.688
5. Kubica Renault +47.734
6. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes +53.571
7. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth +1:09.257
8. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari +1:17.889
9. Heidfeld Sauber-Ferrari +1:20.107
10. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth +1:20.851
11. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1:24.146
12. Button McLaren-Mercedes +1:29.939
13. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth +1 lap
14. Senna HRT-Cosworth +2 laps
15. Yamamoto HRT-Cosworth +2 laps
Fastest lap: Alonso, 1:50.257
Sutil Force India-Mercedes 46 laps
Vettel Red Bull-Renault 45 laps
Petrov Renault 39 laps
Glock Virgin-Cosworth 31 laps
Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 30 laps
Di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 25 laps
Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 25 laps
Webber Red Bull-Renault 18 laps
Rosberg Mercedes 18 laps
World Championship standings, round 17:
1. Alonso 231
2. Webber 220
3. Hamilton 210
4. Vettel 206
5. Button 189
6. Massa 143
7. Kubica 124
8. Rosberg 122
9. Schumacher 66
10. Barrichello 47
11. Sutil 47
12. Kobayashi 31
13. Liuzzi 21
14. Petrov 19
15. Hulkenberg 18
16. Buemi 8
17. De la Rosa 6
18. Heidfeld 6
19. Alguersuari 3
1. Red Bull-Renault 426
2. McLaren-Mercedes 399
3. Ferrari 374
4. Mercedes 188
5. Renault 143
6. Force India-Mercedes 68
7. Williams-Cosworth 65
8. Sauber-Ferrari 43
9. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 11
Next race: Brazilian Grand Prix, Interlagos. November 5-7.