What a race it was! Fernando Alonso won his first ever wet race at the Yeongam circuit in Korea as the dominant Red Bull team suffered a double DNF. Lewis Hamilton finished second to reignite his title challenge while Felipe Massa completed the podium for a happy Scuderia. Jenson Button must surely be out of the title race after managing only 12th place.
It didn’t look good at the start, when TV images showed gloomy skies and rain that delayed the start of the first ever Formula 1 race in Korea by 10 minutes. When the grid finally took off behind the safety car, the race was stopped after just three laps due to dangerous conditions – slippery surface and near zero visibility – as reported by the drivers. For a moment, it looked as if there won’t be any action and the hard work to complete the track would be wasted.
After one hour and five minutes from the scheduled start, the cars were fired up again, circling the 5.621 km track behind the safety car. This boring procession continued till lap 17, when pole sitter Sebastian Vettel pulled away to serve us some real racing. As expected, we didn’t have to wait long for action. Lotus’ Jarno Trulli collided with Bruno Senna at turn 1, before having an incident with the same man on lap 24. The Italian retired as a result.
Championship leader Mark Webber made a driving error on lap 20, crashing against the wall and bouncing back on the track to collect poor Nico Rosberg, who had nowhere to go. It was a pity for the Mercedes GP driver, who earlier overtook Hamilton for fourth place. By now, it was still slippery and the spray from cars didn’t help visibility.
Virgin’s Lucas di Grassi spun out on lap 27, the same lap when a fired up Michael Schumacher took Button for fifth place. Lotus’ Heikki Kovalainen then spun in the battle for 11th place on lap 30. He later received a drive through penalty for speeding in the pit lane and was classified 13th. On lap 31, Seb Buemi’s Toro Rosso banged into Timo Glock’s Virgin and the safety car was called out. Everyone dived in the pits for intermediate tyres to replace their full wets.
Alonso, who was second behind Vettel, endured a slow stop (wheel nut problem) and was jumped by Hamilton, who went wide at the restart to hand the position back to the Spaniard. This proved to be decisive, as Alonso was in the perfect place to benefit from Vettel’s retirement from a blown engine on lap 46. It was tough on the young hotshot, who led comfortably from the start.
There was plenty of other drama, including Vitaly Petrov’s huge crash at the final corner on lap 41, and Adrian Sutil’s string of clumsy moves which deservedly led to him retiring on lap 48. Fortunately, the man he speared into, Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi survived score points. He was eighth, followed by teammate Nick Heidfeld and Williams’ Nico Hulkenberg with the final point. Schumacher, Kubica, Liuzzi and Barrichello was fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh respectively.
Other than Button dropping out, today’s result did nothing to dampen the excitement of the title fight. With two races to go in Brazil and Abu Dhabi, Alonso takes over as championship leader with 231 points, followed by Webber on 220 and Hamilton with 210. Vettel is fourth with 206 points. In the constructors’ standings, Red Bull still leads with 426 points over McLaren’s 399 despite a nightmare race. Ferrari is further behind with 374 points.
Alonso to be three-time world champion looked like a long shot earlier in the season, but he looks well placed to clinch it now. Will Red Bull bounce back in Brazil or will Hamilton spoil the party? Answer in Sao Paolo on 7 November!