Sebastian Vettel is heading towards his fourth world championship after taking his 34th career victory in a race featuring some spectacular racing and bizarre incidents.
The Red Bull Racing driver was joined on the podium by Lotus duo Kimi Raikkonen – charging forward from tenth on the grid – and Romain Grosjean.
As Vettel stormed away into the lead at the start, Grosjean passed Lewis Hamilton for second into Turn 3.
In their wake, a late-braking move from Felipe Massa ended with the Ferrari spinning across the corner apex and scattering the pack behind. Everyone avoided Massa, but Jenson Button and Adrian Sutil picked up wing damage in the chaos.
The first half of the race featured Vettel pulling away from a closely-matched Grosjean and Hamilton, with Nico Rosberg behind and then Nico Hulkenberg fending off Fernando Alonso and a pack of cars.
Raikkonen jumped ahead of this pack after making his second pitstop earlier than his rivals.
Further up, Hamilton began to suffer extreme tyre degradation in his second stint and tumbled away from Grosjean towards Rosberg – only for the German’s front wing to partially fail in a shower of sparks as he overtook his struggling team-mate.
With both Mercedes delayed, Raikkonen gained two more positions, just before the first safety car when Sergio Perez’s right-front tyre dramatically blew on the long straight.
Mark Webber, who had made good progress from P13, was immediately behind and picked up a puncture from the resultant debris.
With the McLaren’s tyre carcass in the middle of the straight, a safety car was required.
Vettel stayed clear of the Lotus pair at the restart, with Raikkonen passing Grosjean with a spectacular Turn 1 move a lap later.
Another safety car was imminent, though. Sutil had spun into Turn 3 on the restart lap and hit Webber, causing the Red Bull to catch fire in the run-off area.
A fire vehicle eventually appeared on track to deal with the blazing car, forcing a frantic safety car deployment as the leaders caught sight of the fire truck.
After that mess was resolved, the race ran green to the chequered flag, with Vettel edging away from Raikkonen and Grosjean to win.
Behind them, an impressive performance from Hulkenberg earned him and Sauber fourth position. He had pounced on Hamilton at a restart to take the spot, and then clung on under huge pressure from the Mercedes and Alonso’s Ferrari, who were having a thrilling wheel-to-wheel scrap of their own.
Rosberg joined this battle by the end, followed by Button, Massa and Perez, who just denied the Mexican’s countryman Esteban Gutierrez by a single point.
Williams ran in the top ten for a while after a brilliant first lap from Pastor Maldonado, but the Venezuelan ultimately fell to P13 behind team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
Paul di Resta crashed his Force India and both Toro Rossos also retired, Daniel Ricciardo having got as high as seventh in the first stint.
So an eventful Korean Grand Prix featuring sparks, tyre blow-out and an appearance from a Jeep fire truck. And yet, the end result is that Sebastian Vettel has increased his lead in the championship with his eighth victory in the sport.
Which means, the Red Bull driver will become world champion next weekend at Suzuka, one of his favourite circuits. Can Fernando Alonso stop him? We shall find out in seven days time at the Japanese Grand Prix.
Korean Grand Prix, race results after 55 laps:
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1h43:13.701
2. Raikkonen Lotus-Renault +4.224
3. Grosjean Lotus-Renault +4.927
4. Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari +24.114
5. Hamilton Mercedes +25.255
6. Alonso Ferrari +26.189
7. Rosberg Mercedes +26.698
8. Button McLaren-Mercedes +32.262
9. Massa Ferrari +34.390
10. Perez McLaren-Mercedes +35.155
11. Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari +35.990
12. Bottas Williams-Renault +47.049
13. Maldonado Williams-Renault +50.013
14. Pic Caterham-Renault +1:03.578
15. van der Garde Caterham-Renault +1:04.501
16. Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth +1:07.970
17. Chilton Marussia-Cosworth +1:12.898
18. Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari +2 laps
19. Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari +3 laps
20. Sutil Force India-Mercedes +5 laps
Fastest lap: Vettel, 1:41.380
Webber Red Bull-Renault 41 laps
Di Resta Force India-Mercedes 29 laps
World Championship standings, round 15:
1. Vettel 272
2. Alonso 195
3. Raikkonen 167
4. Hamilton 161
5. Webber 130
6. Rosberg 122
7. Massa 89
8. Grosjean 72
9. Button 58
10. Hulkenberg 31
11. Di Resta 36
12. Sutil 26
13. Perez 23
14. Ricciardo 18
15. Vergne 13
16. Maldonado 1
1. Red Bull-Renault 402
2. Ferrari 284
3. Mercedes 283
4. Lotus-Renault 239
5. McLaren-Mercedes 81
6. Force India-Mercedes 62
7. Sauber-Ferrari 31
8. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 31
9. Williams-Renault 1
Next race: Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka. October 11-13.