Red Bull have front row but no easy path to victory (Korean GP pre-race analysis)

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Korea, 2010

Red Bull may have locked out the front row of the grid but their advantage is measured in hundredths of a second instead of tenths.

Their performance advantage on race day has seldom if ever been as great as it is in qualifying, so Ferrari and McLaren have to consider this a race they can win.

All the elements are falling into place for the Korean Grand Prix to be a cracker.

The front two rows are filled with championship contenders, it’s slippery off-line and not much better on it, and the first sector was just made for first-lap jostling for position.

And there’s even a few drops of rain forecast.

The start

Cast your mind back to 2003. The Hungarian Grand Prix, lap one, turn one. Fernando Alonso gets there first, followed by Mark Webber, Rubens Barrichello and Kimi R??ikk??nen.

Those four drivers had started from first, third, fifth and seventh places. That’s what can happen when the different in grip between the ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ sides of the grid is as pronounced as it is expected to be at the start of tomorrow’s race:

Unfortunately, starting eighth also means that I will start from the dirty side of the grid. This morning, in the dry, there was a huge difference between the two sides.
Robert Kubica

The shortage of grip in general at this track has been a theme of the weekend. Those starting on the right-hand side of the grid have the benefit of a surface that has been run over hundreds of times by F1 cars this weekend, while the left-hand side has been largely untouched.

Webber and the drivers behind him better hope the track sweepers are pressed into service again overnight. He’s had a difficult enough time getting off the line in recent races, losing a total of 13 positions on the first lap in last six starts.

The consolation for the even-numbered starters is that the run from the start/finish line to the first corner isn’t very long, so any disadvantage pulling away shouldn’t cost them too dearly. Even so, expect them to angled their cars to the right in their grid boxes.

Once they’ve rounded the first corner they have two long straights where we can expect a lot of jockeying for position. The highest six speeds in qualifying were all achieved by Mercedes-powered cars.

This obviously represents McLaren’s best opportunity to get something out of the race weekend. But keep an eye on Nico Rosberg too: he is starting from the clean side of the grid, directly behind Alonso, who was 7kph slower than him in qualifying.

Strategy

All the drivers in the top ten are starting on the soft tyre. In practice the tyres were ‘graining’ and losing performance very quickly. If that happens in the race they may have to make an early stop – possibly the first of two – to change them, as Bridgestone’s Hirohide Hamashima explains:

The track surface condition is still not the same as we would generally see heading into a race and this is our first ever time here meaning that everyone will be very reactive to the developing situation. I am very interested to see how the track surface changes tomorrow afternoon.

The top ten drivers start with their qualifying tyres, so the number of laps they completed today is a factor, especially as they will start with a full fuel load with the softer option tyre. Because of this we would expect relatively early stops from them.
Hirohide Hamashima

Starting on the hard tyre may prove more popular than usual given the track conditions. Who outside the top ten will risk starting on the hard tyres in the hope of making one stop instead of two?

Kamui Kobayashi seems a safe bet as it’s been a habit of his this year. This weekend he’s 12th on the grid, behind the typically slow-starting Williams drivers, so he’s got a solid chance of scoring more points.

The unpredictable track surface isn’t the only big variable giving strategists headaches. The enclosed final sector of the lap means a spun car could easily provoke a safety car deployment. Sakon Yamamoto dropped his car at turn 16 in second practice, causing the session to be stopped.

Passing lapped cars here will be tricky, too. And then there’s the question of the weather…

Weather

Although the forecast for the weekend was originally dry they are now expecting overnight rain at the circuit ahead of race day.

It is forecast to stop before the race but it remains to be seen whether the track will have chance to dry fully before then. Air temperatures in recent days haven’t been very high, meaning the damp could linger a while.

On the whole the slippery surface probably wont be improved by the addition of water. However by taking some of the dust off the ‘dirty’ side of the grid, it may even things up a bit at the start.

How do you think the Korean Grand Prix will unfold? Have your say in the comments.

Don’t forget to join us during the race for the live blog and keep an eye on how the championship standings may change using the F1 Fanatic Championship Calculator.

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95 comments on Red Bull have front row but no easy path to victory (Korean GP pre-race analysis)

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  1. beanzoo said on 23rd October 2010, 13:56

    With over night rain the track will be as green as it was on friday moring and the soft tyres my start to grain very early indeed maybe first pits within 10 laps, i’m gettin very excited. (i’m in oz now instead of ireland and i miss the bbc pre race shows but at least i get the bbc comms)

    • Austin said on 23rd October 2010, 18:55

      According to the BBC weather forecast for this race, its going to be heavy rain all day, so I can see them starting on wets or intermediates which means the race is going to be a spray fest, but if it stops raining and a dry line forms it could get very interesting. I can see a couple of retirements of the front runners and maybe a big shunt at turn 1 and 2. Its going to be very tricky if its bucketing down as the surface is quite slippery in the dry already. I hope it doesnt come to a postponed start.
      As for the championship, Hamilton and Button are out if they dont finish ahead of Webber, Alonso and Vettel which will be a big ask. I believe this is Webber’s championship as he is the most consistent driver on the grid and probably the most laid back.
      As for the this race I can see Vettel leading going into the long straight and Alonso getting a better start than Webber into second place. Rosberg could be a suprise 3rd or 4th after lap 1 if Hamilton starts bad or goes off at turn 1 and Webber has wheelspin. Anyway thats my take. I hope its going to be a great race as i’m getting up early for this one.

    • Daniel said on 23rd October 2010, 22:28

      “i’m in oz now instead of ireland and i miss the bbc pre race shows but at least i get the bbc comms”

      As an Australian I feel the same way.

    • Skett said on 23rd October 2010, 22:45

      If it rains overnight but is dry at the start of the race there won’t be much grip but it shouldn’t be as bad as friday morning (though it may only be by a marginally better).

      If you saw them when they went out in fp1 they couldn’t control the cars at all because there was so much dust on the track

  2. I can see an Alonso or Hamilton win but more likely a RBR win with the other RBR split by either Alonso or Hamilton.

    I would be surprised if its not Hamilton in the top 2 places or nothing (meaning a DNF again)

    • Calum said on 23rd October 2010, 14:40

      Most likely Alonso, given he has the best side, this will be the track that is significant for grip.

    • spectator said on 23rd October 2010, 18:59

      like Keith said the clean side of the track may give the mercedes powered the edge rosberg who is directly behind Alonso may pass him but i know we dont like alonso much but its much more likely to see alonso on the right side of the grid jumping the 2 redbulls and ham aswell although he isnt on the right side of the grid

      • Skett said on 23rd October 2010, 22:48

        What worrys me is the possibility of Rosberg jumping Alonso thanks to his straight line speed and holding up the championship contenders behind him, allowing the red bulls to pull away for another formation finish.

        Whilst I have to problem with red bull winning, it could turn it into a boring race

  3. Red Andy (@red-andy) said on 23rd October 2010, 14:01

    I think the overnight rain, if it comes, will reduce the difference between the two sides of the grid as you point out. That could make for a good fight between the Bulls into turn one, followed by everyone else getting in on the action once we get down towards turn three.

    As for what happens after that – I’ve no idea. Here’s hoping for a great race!

  4. I Think We Are Set Fort Cracking Battle With Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton

    1. Alonso
    2. Hamilton
    3. Massa
    4. Vettel
    5. Hulkenberg
    6. Perov

  5. Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 23rd October 2010, 14:17

    How far is the start line from the first turn, Keith? The clean side of the grid might have had the advantage, but I remember Martin Brundle saying that Budapest has one of the longest runs down to the first corner in the championship. It’s also worth noting that the racing line sees the cars run along the grid diagonally as the exit to turn 18 and the entry to turn 1 are on opposite sides of the circuit, unlike the Hungaroring where cars exit the last corner on the left-hand side of the circuit and enter the first from the same side. And unlike Hungary, Korea won’t be as rubbered in on the actual racing line because there are no feeder series running this weekend (or national/international meetings throughout the year).

    • I thought there was some Hyundai touring cars this weekend? Even if there is it won’t make much of a difference.

      Rain before could equal a good fight between the Bulls but if not then Mark should get a poor start that might be good for the title for about a lap until he pulls of a Hungary again so I’m not sure how I want the weather to play out.

    • invoke (@invoke) said on 23rd October 2010, 15:42

      To my eyes it appeared the angle at which the cars come out of turn 18 sees the racing line move very quickly over to the right before straightening out down the right hand side. Perhaps they do cross the last few grid boxes on the left though I can’t see any of the front runners starting on the left getting any benefit.

      Also, I thought there was a feeder series running here, Hyundai championship or something?

  6. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 23rd October 2010, 14:20

    Overnight rain would be a nice leveller, but if it’s cold the McLarens will struggle. If it’s still raining, however…

    Martin Whitmarsh said they were trying to go for two laps so if that’s true Hamilton’s lap time might have been a tenth slower than it should have been, not much but encouraging for a close fight tomorrow. Red Bull’s advantage is virtually zero and especially with that start Alonso is my favourite for the win.

    I have a hunch that the softs will last long enough and we’ll see the usual one-stop race, mind you if that rain comes and washes rubber away we could be in for the second two-stop race of the season, which will make things very interesting.

    As a side note I can’t believe we still have this situation where at most circuit qualifying ahead of someone is a disadvantage because you’re on the wrong side of the grid. The grid boxes should be more flexible, with the odd and even grid slots adjacent to each other instead of staggered like they usually are (maybe have pole slightly ahead, but 4th/6th/etc. should be just as far ahead of 5th/7th/etc. as the positions in front of them).

    Webber will be the one to watch at the start tomorrow. If he gets a good start he can try to draft Vettel into Turn 3 and fend off Alonso, could be a tight fight there. If his start is bad he could lose out to Alonso, Hamilton and even Rosberg. But if Vettel makes a bad start instead/as well, there could be even more consequences.

    And that’s if it doesn’t rain. If it does, Hamilton will be grinning like a Cheshire cat. Don’t count out any of them in any condition, though.

    • Webber loses more places at the start than any driver currently on the grid (about 10+ places in the last six races).

      Lewis has nothing to lose, so I expect crazy and possibly brilliant moves from him.

      Rain = Jensons last chance.

      Vettel or Alonso win in my book with Webber bringing up the rear

  7. I think Fernando Alonso will win because RBR arent the best in a straight line; Alonso will fly past them after the first corner in the straight line of the first lap and go on to win the World Championship

  8. BrianT said on 23rd October 2010, 14:57

    Naturally, Webber will be slow off the line. Hamilton into 2nd at the first corner, then proceed to overtake vettel with that superior straight line speed.

    HAM
    VET
    ALO
    WEB
    KUB

  9. Alexi (@alexi) said on 23rd October 2010, 15:00

    lol @ BrianT

    I’m going to bet on –

    Alonso 1st
    Vettel 2nd
    Hamilton 3rd
    Webber 4th

  10. BrianT said on 23rd October 2010, 15:18

    sorry Alexi, u might be betting on the wrong driver. Or we could be lucky and see Vettel up to his usual teenage stunts and take Webber out before the first corner! And dont write Button off either. Tyre choica and management might see him earn a podium spot.

  11. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 23rd October 2010, 15:21

    Incredibly unpredictable…

    Im bitting my nails (as I always do, sadly) because of Webber… my god. On the other hand, I cannot wait for the race! So exciting!

  12. DaveW said on 23rd October 2010, 15:28

    Keith really combs the archives for these things. I don’t remember that 2003 race but it’s a good example of how it could go down.

    The key dynamic will be how and whether Webber can efficiently block Alonso into turn 1. If he and Alonso are grappling through turn two I can see Hamilton and Rosberg blowing by them like they are tied to the ground well before turn 3. Most likely though is Alonso goes zooming by Webber before he even selects 2nd gear, followed by Rosberg. With Rosberg’s trap speed and clean side position he has an excellent shot at being 2nd by the end of lap one.

  13. If Vettel survives to the end of the second straight without being passed (I think turn 4) and then he does that title little complex then he can breathe a big sigh of relief. A lot can happen with strategy etc but if he can keep ahead then Fernando or whoever shouldn’t get a chance to be so close coming into sector 1 again so he should be safe ish for a while I think. Although as you point out Fernando could have his hands full with Rosberg anyway.

    I really can’t call this one but great insight Keith. I feel I understand what could happen tomorrow a lot more

    • invoke (@invoke) said on 23rd October 2010, 15:52

      So you think the Red Bull’s have the raw race pace to keep the others out of their slipstream in S1 after lap1 Steph? There looked to be a trend that some of the others had massive advantages (up to half a second for the McLaren’s) in S1, then the Bull’s pulled back a couple of tenths in each of the last two sectors.

      Unless they can get enough of a gap to avoid them getting a tow I feel we could have a very exciting race on our hands!

      Here’s hoping for close lap times and a slipstream-fest!

      • Skett said on 23rd October 2010, 23:00

        And lets not forget how the Red Bull has had a bigger advantage in quali than race trim all season long!

    • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 23rd October 2010, 16:58

      Given how small his qualifying advantage to Alonso was (and that was with the benefit of an extra lap), I don’t think Vettel should feel relieved at all if he has Alonso still tucked up behind him after Lap 1. I actually think Alonso is favourite for a dry race win, he clearly has the pace.

  14. Nathan said on 23rd October 2010, 15:43

    I’m already starting to get nervous and excited about the race, in the way I usually do on the formation lap. I have the butterflies in my stomach already.

    This just isn’t normal! I won’t be able to sleep at this rate!

    I really hope Hamilton can pull something magical off here. If there’s anyone who can do it, it’s him. Also hoping for Kobayashi to do well, and pick up some points.

    Great article Keith, really looking forward to it.

  15. According to my sources (read: a guy who is in contact with people there), rain is at the track right now. I can’t confirm, so I may be wrong, but I believe it has started raining. This should equalise the grid rather more and make it rather interesting in pit stop stratergy terms.

    Especially noting that Webber and Vettel are both up the front and so if they follow the same stratergy then one will suffer massively. THe Mclarens are a few places apart and so have the 10 seconds or so by 10 laps in to be able to pit both in one lap with no queing (just) if need be. Ferrari is easy and Alonso gets it.

    Might be interesting. Webber did 4 laps on his tyres (1 in 1 out and 2 flyers) rather than 3(1 in 1 out and 1 flying). So he could jump for a new set sooner while setting off the others. A new set of tyres could jump him a place or two if (remembering its a long lap over around 100 seconds), the tyres go off near the tart of the lap.

    Another idea was, Webber using his increidble conserve and then banzai the laps in like in hungary.
    Button with his greater calmness could also tkae a risk and might win (if its as crazy as it could be, not hard to believe).

    Alonso isn’t good in slippery conditions, but is near the front, hamilton just behind is better.

    And thanks to close walls and the fcat that a few rookies are about to lose seats it isn’t hard to imagine a hulkenberg or a petrov or a digrassi or either hrt or so on finding itself implanted in a wall bring out a saftey car.

    Anyway, this could all be rather interesting. So really, almost any driver in the top 3 teams + maybe kubica couold win…… even Massa (if alonso is too far behind)

    • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 23rd October 2010, 17:01

      Very nice analysis, of course Vettel also used an extra lap on the tyres he’ll start the race on, so that could be another factor. If the tyres start going off early and fast whoever’s in front will get preference and if that’s Vettel then Webber could really suffer.

      Another thing is at the start we could see quite a few go wide into Turn 1, if there’s a battle for position going into there someone is going to come much worse off.

      • Interesting idea of unoc. yes this thing might happend. Go Webber! not a dirty side anymore

      • THanks.

        my sources were correct about the track ,James Allen has confirmed that it is raining on his twitter feed and that by morning (now) it should have stopped and the trcak starts to dry out. I can’t confirm from my sources, but JA is there so… it’ pretty easy to trust him on that. According to JA, the oils in the track combined with the lack of rubber could make it extra slippery.

        About the start, I have a feeling that even if Vettel gets away in 1st, unless he has a big gap he wont be able to keep it. He is lacking in the first sector, the ferraris can out brake him, and the mclarens have more power down the straight + a better Fduct. So even if Vettel does start infront I think it may be only something like a 20% chance of him being ahead into the 2nd sector.

        Going back to Webber, he doesn’t have that good of an fduct, but behind another car he doesn’t need to worry about that as much so being a Webber fan I’m slightly happier that he ISN”T on pole as he will be way faster behind a car down the straight in terms of defending and attacking than if he was out infront.

        We also can’t forget about Massa, he has the same car as Alonso but no WDC of his own to care about, he is playing teammate and as such he could easily outbrake and move well into the front pack and then slow cars down. He is good under brakes so any passing of a ferrair has to be done on the straight itself rather than in the braking zone. The opposite holds true for the McLarens.

        A very early saftey car could also play interestingly into the mix. Several drivers have shown throughout the year that with smart driving you can last a race on the same softs you qualified on. THe tyres wont last anywhere near that long here, so the usual quick pit at the start or end and then just stick with it isn’t going to work that well, and as such may require a 2nd pit to finish the race.

        An oily track weeping may prefer ahrds to softs and softs may go off too soon, so even if 2 stops are in place, they may have to go from soft > hard and then to whatevr in order to ensure that they don’t end up having made 2 stops with 2 wrecked sets of tyres and still half a race to go.

        I wouldn’t put money on this race, but I believe it could easily go webbers way (especially if vettel flinches under the conditions and lets through a following webber), alonso (if it ain’t as slippery as we expected), hamilton he can jump while others faulter (i.e. I don’t believe he can win this, but instead be left the only one standing after red bull favour vettl over webber, webber falls back, vettel crashes under stress and alonso spins), vettel if he can make a good start and make it stick with a bit of luck or button if he can pick the tyres.

        So I guess what I’m really trying to say is. It could be any one of the five and depending on how it goes, it could go any way.

        Interesting to note that Webber wasn’t angry in the press con after quali, it seems he has something about his sleeve.

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