Sunday, 24 October 2010

Alonso wins as Red Bull falter in Korea epic

Rain, safety cars, crashes, mud and a red flag, it was a marathon inaugural Korean Grand Prix...

Race Control get 100%: It was a difficult day for the drivers but also for race control and Charlie Whiting. He had to deal with rain and the condition of the new surface. His first call was to delay the start by 10 minutes. I presume this was done as a lot of rain was coming in on the radar. The conditions before the race looked ok for a normal start and i was disappointed when they did but when things did get underway it was clear that the track was very wet and a red flag soon followed which was the correct decision. When the race resumed almost an hour later it was still a soaked surface but eventually the water cleared. There was a bit of psychological warfare going on as Mark Webber was quite reluctant for the safety car to come in but Lewis Hamilton was demanding that the race go green. I feel Whiting was a few laps too cautious in this situation. Still he managed to get a full race distance in though this was another tight call as darkness fell in the final laps. Again, another difficult decision as a red flag could have caused controversy in itself with the standings going back 2 laps. A red flag a lap after Sebastian Vettel retired would have meant the German would have been given the win so you can see the knock on effect of a decision but the last couple of laps were perhaps a bit too much.

Red Bull crash and burn: Saturday seen them take a dramatic 1-2 but it all went wrong on race day for Webber and Vettel. The Australian looked understandably edgy on the grid and perhaps in hoping the race would be stopped or not be a full points event got into too much of a negative mentality. He struggled compared to his team mate and then dropped it. His car then ended up taking out Nico Rosberg, who was unhappy with what Webber had done. I was a bit curious at the incident but looking back on it i think Webber was trying to back his car off the track rather than stop in the middle of the track so it was simply bad luck for the German. For Vettel it had been a great drive from pole but engine failure condemned him to a third DNF of the season. Whether Alonso, who was closing, could have passed him towards the end will never be known but it was still a mighty blow to Vettel's title hopes. The German can point to reliability costing him the title and its an intriguing argument, on one hand he has had the most unreliability of the title rivals but also the fastest car of the lot. Which is the best overall package is of course the big question.

Here's a rough idea of what drivers have lost through reliability, misfortunes and mistakes this season. Not possible to be accurate but interesting nonetheless...

Potential points lost through car problems

Vettel 66
Hamilton 32
Button 2
Alonso 2
Webber 0

Of course it's hard to define exact points and there has been plenty of indirect effects of reliability (Webber and Hamilton have suffered grid drops for gearbox changes) Jenson Button and Webber can also cite being hit by Vettel this season as well as Alonso suffering some misfortune. Everyone's had their moments, good and bad, and all remain in the hunt with 2 races remaining

Sauber at the double again: Another good day and vindication of the teams decision to bring in Nick Heidfeld as he scored good points for the team. He survived being passed 3 times by Adrian Sutil. The Force India had brake issues and eventually his day of banzai moves came to a end by hitting Kamui Kobayashi, the Japanese driver surviving the collision. Good stuff from the Swiss squad who will hope Kobayashi can spearhead a strong 2011 with the finances coming in from North America. The strategy was quite interesting, pitting both cars very early for inters but like Ferrari, the car keeps the tyre wear low in comparison to others and both drivers came through the field well and kept their cool.

Sutil received a 5 place grid penalty for his antics and Toro Rosso driver Sebastien Buemi was also given the same punishment after smashing into Timo Glock, putting both men out of the race. The Swiss driver was on the inside but not close enough to pass. I think he was caught out by how wet that particular corner was and under braking lost it. He hit Glock hard and thankfully the tether kept the wheel from flying loose and avoiding what could have been a very nasty incident. Team mate Jaime Alguersuari was unfortunate as he lost a point on the last lap, frustratingly saying 'not fair' on Twitter afterwards.

Mercedes shrewd but Nico denied: Its been a year of disappointment for Mercedes after high expectations but as in China, they showed the potential they had in the wet. During the red flag period, they reverted both cars to a full wet setup, taking advantage of Perc Ferme rules not applying. Both Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher attacked from the moment the race went green but when Webber spun, Rosberg went left to avoid the Red Bull but was wiped out. He was understandably frustrated afterwards. He could have went on to win his first race thought the Mercedes works the tyres hard, meaning he could have been vulnerable towards the end. It was still a shame after looking good throughout the weekend. Can he show what he's worth in 2011? Schumacher took a joint best result of the season in 4th but has now been beaten by a team mate over a full season for the first time in his career.

Petrov downbeat as Liuzzi delivers: Oh Vitaly, you had switched early for tyres, made your way through the field and looking set for a massive result and then snap... offline a touch and a huge impact with the barriers. The Russian has simply crashed too much and only his bank balance will keep him at Renault next season. Eric Boullier is considering Sutil and Heidfeld so talent or money, which will win? Meanwhile there was a joint personal best result for Vitantonio Liuzzi as he tries to cling on at Force India. Sadly its a performance which has been too rare from the Italian.

In other news, Pastor Maldonado is getting a test day with Williams after the season finale in Abu Dhabi. The team have confirmed Valeri Bottias as test driver so it certainly heightens the prospect of the Venezuelan replacing Hulkenberg for 2011. Patrick Head talked positively of the German at the weekend but also seen to hint that the decision was not down to him. Williams were looking set for big points towards the end of the race but the tyres went for both drivers, Barrichello slipping to 7th with an off and Hulkenberg crippled by a slow puncture which forced a late pitstop. A last lap pass on Alguersuari earned a point. Barrichello is one of 5 drivers with a fresh engine left so expect that to be utilised in front of his home crowd in two weeks.

Hispania's plan to sneak 10th?: It was a decent outing for Hispania, Sakon Yamamoto had a solid weekend, out qualifying Bruno Senna by almost a second. The Brazilian scored a personal best result of 14th, putting him ahead of the Virgin drivers in the championship. Hispania remain 11th in the championship which like Virgin in 12th means no prize money. Both teams need a 11th place finish, which on raw pace is pretty unlikely, to jump Lotus. It's hard to see an attritional race occuring in Abu Dhabi so basically the last opportunity is some Sao Paulo madness which is not out of the question. Colin Kolles has not ruled out getting 10th and i do wonder whether he is considering drafting Christian Klien in for the next round. The Austrian has only raced at Singapore but was much faster than Senna and he could be the best chance of pulling a top 11 finish off. It's hard to see Yamamoto being dropped with the finances he brings but with Senna heading to his homeland it would be a ruthless decision to drop the rookie. Collin Kolles can be ruthless though, so watch out for the possibility of yet another change at the Spanish team...

So Fernando Alonso heads to Brazil knowing he could seal a third championship in Sao Paulo. Mark Webber needs to bounce back and repeat his win from 12 months while Sebastian Vettel remains in the hunt but needs Alonso to have some difficulties. Lewis Hamilton kept his hopes alive with a battling second but with his car still the third quickest, he'll need plenty more twist and turns up ahead to take the title. He may however have the support of his team mate Jenson Button now, the Brits title reign now nearing the end barring an incredible turnaround.

It's incredible to think Alonso could do it earlier in the season but the Spaniard insisted that the upgrades were coming for the Prancing Horse and he has duly delivered. Six days of Formula 1 action remain and 5 still stand in the title race, roll on Sao Paulo!

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