A Very Lotus Korean Grand Prix

Rise of “The Hulk”

To absolutely no one’s surprise, Sebastian Vettel once again stormed to victory in his RB9 on Sunday in Korea, however his pace and distance between the rest of the back did seem less dominant than in his previous victories (won 5 in the last 6 races). That being said, he did lead every lap of the race, start from pole position, and record the fastest lap – so who’s to say that isn’t dominant.

Teammate Mark Webber wasn’t so lucky. Webber qualified P3, but due to his reprimand in Singapore, would start 13th on the grid. He systematically hacked away at the field up to second place before pitting. Immediately after the pit, Webber suffered a puncture following a massive blowout from Sergio Perez’s right front tire. He pitted onto his remaining set of tires, the undesirable super soft compound, but a few laps later was punched off the track by Adrian Sutil, and the RB9 subsequently burst into flames. All hell ensued as the track officials released the safety car behind the pack, and a “fire” Jeep in front. I doubt the FIA is going to let that one slide.

Unexpectedly, Lotus filled out the podium with Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean. Lotus’ pace in practice and qualifying was good, but not consistent. Grosjean would start from P4, with Raikkonen all the way back at P9. Perhaps the long-run speed of the team was due to the use of the longer wheelbase chassis that saw its introduction in Raikkonen’s car in Italy. If that’s true than it’s quite a development, because Raikkonen’s performance with that chassis a month ago was ruddy awful (finished 11th).

Both Ferrari and Mercedes looked to be outpaced by an unlikely young driver. Nico Hulkenberg in the Sauber tied his best ever result (Belgium 2012) to finish 4th infront of Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, and Nico Rosberg. This race result combined with the few weeks left in the season should at least give “the Hulk” a chance for a better ride in 2014. Rumors recently surfaced that Ferrari had been seriously considering Hulkenberg for 2014 before deciding on Raikkonen. Shame, they would be saving quite a lot of Maranello’s money.

At Mercedes all is certainly not well. Hamilton complained of poor tire performance beginning around lap 10, and could do nothing but wallow in the Sauber’s wake as the laps ticked away. Rosberg, who at one point was lapping 2.5 seconds faster than Hamilton, encountered a fantastic front wing failure in the midst of overtaking his teammate. Sparks flew everywhere as the diffuser scraped the ground; if you missed it check out this bizarre malfunction.

Fernando Alonso seemed to have great trouble with his F138 on Sunday. Instead of bouncing up to the front, Alonso’s start pushed him back behind Hulkenberg, where he would remain for the duration of the race. Felipe Massa struggled once again this weekend, displaying this at Turn 2, opening lap. Massa spun his car, taking cascade elements off of Adrian Sutil and Jenson Button. With this type of performance it will be quite hard for Massa to prove to Lotus or Sauber that he is the right fit for one of their 2014 seats.

Further down the grid the action stayed lively up to the final few laps. The pack of Sergio Perez, Esteban Gutierrez, Valteri Bottas, and Pastor Maldonado committed some extraordinary passes between safety car stints. Both Toro Rosso‘s and Force India‘s retired in the last third of the grand prix. It’s been disappointing to see how far these two smaller constructors have fallen since the Pirelli tire switch following the British Grand Prix.  The effect of the change is evident. Paul di Resta had finished top 10 in all but one of the first eight races. Since the change, di Resta has finished out of the points or retired. The jury is still out on that ruling.

The action resumes once again in five days as the teams head to Japan, where the reigning world champion could clinch the title if Fernando Alonso finishes no higher than 9th. What a season, hopefully Ferrari keeps it interesting for us as we delve into the last five grand prix.

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About zdoell

Graduate of Ithaca College, rowing coach, car fanatic.

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