Alonso takes victory in rain-interrupted Korean Grand Prix

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

Not classified/retirements:
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.

Vettel leads Red Bull front row in Korea

Sebastian Vettel heads another Red Bull Racing front row in the Far East by taking pole position in the inaugural Korean Grand Prix. Championship leader Mark Webber lines up in second, ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.

Vettel’s ninth pole position of the season came in dramatic fashion as the resurgent German stole the top spot from Alonso after the chequered flag had fallen.

The double world champion’s lap around the 3.492-mile track was one minute, 35.766 seconds, which looked quite impressive, but Vettel’s lap was even more spectacular with a time of one minute, 35.585 seconds. A clear demonstration of the superior pace from the Renault-powered RB6.

To rub salt into the wounds for the Scuderia driver, Webber recovered from his poor first attempt to take second position and lock out the front row. However, the Australian will doubtless be concerned that he must start on the dirty side of the track.

After setting some impressive straight-line speed in the first sector on the new Yeongam thanks to the F-duct and powerful Mercedes engine, the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button could only manage fourth and seventh, with the latter struggling with grip.

For Lewis Hamilton, this was a disappointment. He shown flashes of speed throughout the qualifying session but in the all-important top ten shootout, he missed out on pole by a margin of half a second. It could have been much worst, as entering that controversial pit lane entrance, Lewis lost control of the car and just missed the barrier as he trundled over the grass at high-speed.

Nico Rosberg will start fifth for Mercedes GP, ahead of a subdued Felipe Massa in the second Ferrari. The Brazilian has been complaining all weekend about the lack of balance in the F10 and yet team-mate Alonso is right at the sharp end of the grid…

Jenson Button struggled for tyre temperature through all three sessions and ended up a distant seventh ahead of Robert Kubica’s Renault, Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes and the Williams of Rubens Barrichello.

Kamui Kobayashi outqualified his Sauber team-mate Nick Heidfeld to go P12, while Adrian Sutil could only manage P14. As for Vitaly Petrov, who will be demoted down five places following his start-line crash at Suzuka, the Russian set the fifteenth fastest time but will start twentieth on the grid.

In the battle of the new teams competing in Formula One, Jarno Trulli took the honours for Lotus with P18 ahead of Virgin Racing’s Timo Glock, who spun in Q1. Behind Petrov will be Heikki Kovalainen followed by Lucas di Grassi, Sakon Yamamoto and Bruno Senna.

Sunday’s Korean Grand Prix is going to be fascinating. Not only for the championship contenders but also in terms of the tyres. Bridgestone has commented that the 24 drivers will face a big challenge to conserve their tyres as they did in Canada if track conditions do not improve. In that race at Montreal, the varying tyre strategies made it an exciting Grand Prix. Hopefully it can provide that on race day at Yeongam.

Qualifying times from Yeongam:

1.  Vettel         Red Bull-Renault      1:35.585
2.  Webber         Red Bull-Renault      1:35.659
3.  Alonso         Ferrari               1:35.766
4.  Hamilton       McLaren-Mercedes      1:36.062
5.  Rosberg        Mercedes              1:36.535
6.  Massa          Ferrari               1:36.571
7.  Button         McLaren-Mercedes      1:36.731
8.  Kubica         Renault               1:36.824
9.  Schumacher     Mercedes              1:36.950
10. Barrichello    Williams-Cosworth     1:36.998
11. Hulkenberg     Williams-Cosworth     1:37.620
12. Kobayashi      Sauber-Ferrari        1:37.643
13. Heidfeld       Sauber-Ferrari        1:37.715
14. Sutil          Force India-Mercedes  1:37.783
15. Alguersuari    Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:37.853
16. Buemi          Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:38.594
17. Liuzzi         Force India-Mercedes  1:38.955
18. Trulli         Lotus-Cosworth        1:40.521
19. Glock          Virgin-Cosworth       1:40.748
20. Petrov         Renault               1:37.799*
21. Kovalainen     Lotus-Cosworth        1:41.768
22. di Grassi      Virgin-Cosworth       1:42.325
23. Yamamoto       HRT-Cosworth          1:42.444
24. Senna          HRT-Cosworth          1:43.283

*Five-place grid penalty

Vettel leads Red Bull one-two at Suzuka

Sebastian Vettel took a commanding victory at the Japanese Grand Prix leading a Red Bull Racing one-two at Suzuka, with Mark Webber extending his championship lead to 220 points, 14 ahead of race winner Vettel and Fernando Alonso.

This was the perfect weekend for the German. Fastest in both practice sessions on Friday, taking his eighth pole position of the season on Sunday morning followed by his second successive victory on this unique figure of eight circuit a few hours later.

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso finished in third while Jenson Button took fourth for McLaren after take a gamble in starting the race on the prime Bridgestone tyre.

As for his team-mate Lewis Hamilton, he put on a brave fight following a row four grid slot due to the team changing the gearbox, but ironically had a problem with a loss of third gear and came home in a disappointing fifth position.

Most of the incident in the race was compacted into the opening minutes – although the destruction began even before the start of the Japanese Grand Prix, when Virgin Racing’s Lucas di Grassi had a massive crash at the 130R on his way to the grid.

Then when the race got underway, the fast-starting Renault of Vitaly Petrov clipped Nico Hulkenberg’s Williams and slammed into the barriers on the pits straight, moments before Ferrari’s Felipe Massa took to the grass going into the first corner and speared into the side of Tonio Liuzzi’s Force India.

The safety car was immediately brought out, and one of the race’s most intriguing possibilities was removed during the yellow caution period. Robert Kubica had split the Red Bulls off the line, but the second-placed Renault pulled off on lap three after shedding its right-rear wheel while cruising around behind the safety car.

Red Bull therefore resumed one-two formation at the restart, with Vettel and Webber easily pulling away from Alonso at around a second per lap initially.

The only time the Red Bull pair were headed was when Button’s alternative strategy allowed the McLaren to lead from laps 25 to 38, as the reigning world champion ran long on his hard prime tyres before changing to the soft option and mounting a late charge.

Button’s targets were his team-mate Hamilton and rival Alonso. A battle between the McLaren pair would have been interesting but alas Lewis encounter a gearbox issue in the final stages of the Japanese Grand Prix, and into the hairpin on lap 44 Lewis allowed Jenson through with ease. As for the possibility of catching and passing Alonso, the time gap was too great and there wasn’t enough laps left.

This was Michael Schumacher’s strongest performance of the season and to finish in sixth for Mercedes GP is a solid achievement following criticism all year long. Michael would have finished beind his Silver Arrows team-mate Nico Rosberg, who had pitted under the safety car at the start, until the younger German lost a wheel and had a big shunt at the S curves with five laps to the flag. Earlier, Rosberg escaped a near-miss with Sebastien Buemi in an attempt to pass the Toro Rosso on the outside at the 130R went skew.

Home crowd favourite Kamui Kobayashi provided the race entertainment with some brave and superb overtaking manoeuvres. Running on the same tyre strategy as Button, the Japanese driver dived past Jaime Alguersuari’s Toro Rosso and the Force India of Adrian Sutil at the hairpin in his first stint, but drop back behind both after pitting.

After switching to the option tyre, Kobayashi was flying and once again surging pass Alguersuari at the hairpin, with the Toro Rosso breaking the front wing as Jaime trying to retaliate.

The Japanese gained another place when Sutil’s engine blew, then passing Rubens Barrichello’s Williams and his Sauber team-mate Nick Heidfeld to the delight of the home crowd with a hard-earned seventh.

Completing the top ten was Sebastien Buemi while in the battle between the second division teams the Lotus pair of Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli finished in P12 and P13 respectively ahead of the sole remaining Virgin Racing of Timo Glock.

Korea is the next stop in this dramatic Formula One season and following news reports whether this new event will take place due to the late completion, the latest is that it will take place and it will be fascinating how the teams and drivers adapt to the new circuit.

Race results after 53 laps, Suzuka:
1.  Vettel        Red Bull-Renault           1h30:27.323
2.  Webber        Red Bull-Renault           +0.905
3.  Alonso        Ferrari                    +2.721
4.  Button        McLaren-Mercedes           +13.522
5.  Hamilton      McLaren-Mercedes           +39.595
6.  Schumacher    Mercedes                   +59.933
7.  Kobayashi     Sauber-Ferrari             +1:04:038
8.  Heidfeld      Sauber-Ferrari             +1:09.648
9.  Barrichello   Williams-Cosworth          +1:10.846
10.  Buemi         Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +1:12.806
11.  Alguersuari   Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +1 lap
12.  Kovalainen    Lotus-Cosworth             +1 lap
13.  Trulli        Lotus-Cosworth             +2 laps
14.  Glock         Virgin-Cosworth            +2 laps
15.  Senna         HRT-Cosworth               +2 laps
16.  Yamamoto      HRT-Cosworth               +3 laps
17.  Rosberg       Mercedes                   +5 laps

Fastest lap: Webber, 1:33.474

Not classified/retirements:
Sutil         Force India-Mercedes         45 laps
Kubica        Renault                      4 laps
Hulkenberg    Williams-Cosworth            1 lap
Massa         Ferrari                      1 lap
Petrov        Renault                      1 lap
Liuzzi        Force India-Mercedes         1 lap
Di Grassi     Virgin-Cosworth              1 lap

World Championship standings, round 16:

1.  Webber       220
2.  Alonso       206
3.  Vettel       206
4.  Hamilton     192
5.  Button       189
6.  Massa        128
7.  Rosberg      122
8.  Kubica       114
9.  Schumacher    54
10. Sutil         47
11. Barrichello   41
12. Kobayashi     27
13. Petrov        19
14. Hulkenberg    17
15. Liuzzi        13
16. Buemi          8
17. De la Rosa     6
18. Heidfeld       4
19. Alguersuari    3

1.  Red Bull-Renault          426
2.  McLaren-Mercedes          381
3.  Ferrari                   334
4.  Mercedes                  176
5.  Renault                   133
6.  Force India-Mercedes       60
7.  Williams-Cosworth          58
8.  Sauber-Ferrari             37
9.  Toro Rosso-Ferrari         11

Next race: Korean Grand Prix, Yeongam. October 22-24.

Vettel leads Red Bull superiority in qualifying

Championship contender Sebastian Vettel continued his impressive performance at the Japanese Grand Prix with pole position at the Suzuka International Circuit. After setting the fastest time in both Friday’s practice sessions, the German extended his advantage with his eighth pole this season, his first since Hungary.

In fact, the speed of the Renault-powered RB6 around this figure of eight circuit led to a commanding performance from the Milton Keynes-based outfit with team-mate Mark Webber taking second on the grid. The Australian was within a few hundredths of the flying Vettel to form an all-Red Bull Racing front row.

As for Lewis Hamilton, the McLaren driver claimed the ‘best of the rest’ honours with the third quickest time but due to a gearbox change, he will start the Japanese Grand Prix in eighth position.

This five-place grid penalty means that Renault’s Robert Kubica moves up to third. As for Fernando Alonso, the winner at Monza and Singapore, the double world champion lines up in fourth for Ferrari.

The postponed qualifying session made it a challenge for Felipe Massa, as the Brazilian was unable to find speed in Q2 and the best he could manage with only P12.

For Jenson Button, the reigning world champion made a unique choice on the hard compound tyres for Q3 and recorded the fifth fastest time for McLaren.

The Silver Arrows took sixth and tenth with Nico Rosberg four tenths of a second faster than team-mate Michael Schumacher, with a pair of Williams in between – having been second and fourth in Q1. Rubens Barrichello narrowly beat Nico Hulkenberg in the session that matter.

Nick Heidfeld was within touch distance in making it through to Q3 in only his second race appearance with Sauber. His final lap of Q2 was even faster than Schumacher and Massa, although a late improvement by his fellow countryman pushed Heidfeld back down to P11.

Despite that, he still outqualified his team-mate and home favourite Kamui Kobayashi, who looked set to reach the top ten until a slight error at the chicane left the Japanese in P14, alongside Renault’s Vitaly Petrov.

There was no repeat of Toro Rosso’s strong 2009 Suzuka pace. Jaime Alguersuari back in P16 between the Force Indias and his team-mate Sebastien Buemi did not get beyond Q1.

Lotus F1 Racing dominated proceedings in the new teams’ battle, with Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen nearly a second clear of Virgin Racing, which saw an upset as Lucas di Grassi outqualified team-mate Timo Glock for only the second time all year.

Qualifying times from Suzuka:

1.  Sebastian Vettel    Red Bull     1m30.785s
2.  Mark Webber         Red Bull     1m30.853s
3.  Robert Kubica       Renault      1m31.231s
4.  Fernando Alonso     Ferrari      1m31.352s
5.  Jenson Button       McLaren      1m31.378s
6.  Nico Rosberg        Mercedes     1m31.494s
7.  Rubens Barrichello  Williams     1m31.535s
8.  Lewis Hamilton      McLaren      1m31.169s*
9.  Nico Hulkenberg     Williams     1m31.559s
10. Michael Schumacher  Mercedes     1m31.846s
11. Nick Heidfeld       Sauber       1m32.187s
12. Felipe Massa        Ferrari      1m32.321s
13. Vitaly Petrov       Renault      1m32.422s
14. Kamui Kobayashi     Sauber       1m32.427s
15. Adrian Sutil        Force India  1m32.659s
16. Jaime Alguersuari   Toro Rosso   1m33.071s
17. Vitantonio Liuzzi   Force India  1m33.154s
18. Sebastien Buemi     Toro Rosso   1m33.568s
19. Jarno Trulli        Lotus        1m35.346s
20. Heikki Kovalainen   Lotus        1m35.464s
21. Lucas di Grassi     Virgin       1m36.265s
22. Timo Glock          Virgin       1m36.332s
23. Bruno Senna         Hispania     1m37.270s
24. Sakon Yamamoto      Hispania     1m37.365s

*Five-place grid penalty for gearbox change

Japanese Grand Prix qualifying postponed

Qualifying for the sixteenth round of this dramatic Formula One World Championship has been rescheduled to take place on Sunday morning following torrential rain at the Suzuka International Circuit.

The heavy rain made the conditions for the drivers impossible to go out on track, as fear of losing control due to aquaplaning.

Despite several time delays to try and wait for the weather to improve, the sport governing body (the FIA) decided to postponed the session to Sunday morning.

The qualifying session is now expected to take place at 10.00 am local time to form the 24-car grid for the Japanese Grand Prix – just five hours before the actual race!

This is the second time in five races at Suzuka that qualifying has been postponed to Sunday.

Back in 2004 the approaching typhoon Ma-on led the race organisers to hold qualifying on Sunday instead of Saturday. Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher secured pole position on October 9th followed by a race victory a couple of hours later.