Anyone who thought Sebastian Vettel would ease off after he sealed the 2011 Drivers’ World Championship in Japan were shown on Sunday that he would do nothing of the sort, taking a dominant victory in the Korean Grand Prix.
It was his 10th win of the season and, together with Mark Webber’s third-place finish, was enough to seal the Constructors’ Championship for Red Bull.
It wasn’t as easy for Vettel as it has been in the past though. Lewis Hamilton grabbed pole position on Saturday afternoon, denying the Red Bull drivers of their 16th pole position of the season.
After starting alongside Hamilton on the front row, Vettel made a decisive move on the opening lap to pass the McLaren. The championship may be over, but it seems no one has told the youngest double world champion ever. Make no mistake – the final races of the season will be just as hotly contested as the rest of them.
Once past, Vettel started to pull out a gap to Hamilton, but his work was undone when Petrov took Schumacher out of the race and a safety car was deployed so that the marshals could clear up the debris. Once the safety car pulled in it was once again business as usual for Vettel who built up a big enough lead to mean he only surrendered it during his pitstops.
McLaren have certainly done a great job at closing the performance gap to Red Bull, which was evident when Hamilton put his car on pole. However, the car’s race pace in Korea was still someway off that of the car from Milton Keynes. Hamilton became increasingly aware of this as the Grand Prix unfolded. Not only was he unable to stay in touch with the world champion, but he also had his mirrors full of Mark Webber. Partly to blame for Hamilton’s lack of downforce and therefore speed was his front wing filling up with marbles.
Webber did manage to get past him briefly on lap 34 only for Hamilton to edge back past immediately afterwards with the help of KERS and the DRS. Whatever your views on the technology, you can bet that Hamilton is quite a fan of them at the moment.
In a bid to steal a march on next year’s car Ferrari has admitted that it has already turned its focus onto its 2012 challenger and it is starting to show in the pace of Massa and Alonso at the moment. After qualifying fifth and sixth the pair made a great start, however, it wasn’t long before their pace dropped off. On worn rubber they lost out to Button – who finished fourth in the end – and Rosberg who was putting in a typically strong performance. Massa eventually crossed the line sixth with Alonso 10 seconds down the road in fifth. Ali so may well have been closer to the podium if it wasn’t for being stuck behind his team-mate earlier in the race.
One of the main talking points of the weekend was, unsurprisingly, Lewis Hamilton. Having grabbed pole position on Saturday afternoon, breaking the Red Bull dominance in Q3, he appeared unusually subdued. It was the same after the race, in which he drove brilliantly. The pressure has clearly been building up over the past few months with his team-mate consistently outperforming him and mounting speculation about his personal life and the impact of not having a driver manager. However, he silenced many doubters on Sunday. Let’s hope that the form continues.
As for Vettel and Red Bull, well, it’s quite remarkable what they have both achieved so far in their very short careers. Yes, Red Bull has Adrian Newey’s design genius, but that’s only one reason out of many why they have been so dominant in the last couple of years. What we’re seeing at the moment is more than just a good driver in a competitive car. Many people are already hailing the young German as ‘one of the greats’. I personally think it’s a bit early to put him up there with the likes of Senna, Prost and Fangio, but he’s making a convincing case for it isn’t he?