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

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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.


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…


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.

2010 Korean Grand Prix

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

  1. 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)

    1. 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.

    2. “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.

    3. 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)

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

    2. 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

      1. 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. 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

    1. I c poor webber is missing and Petrov sixth from his grid position of 20 that could make for some good racing :)

      1. He got 9th from 23rd in Belgium …

    2. Hulkenberg and Petrov in 5th and 6th … dont make laugh

    3. You actually think that only one Bull will be in the top six and that Hulkenberg and Petrov can make it as well?

    4. …Laughing… You must have insider info!

      Hulk & Petrov are about as likely to finish in the top six ahead of their team mates as MS is going to be racing next season.

    5. Come on! Replace Huikenberg and Petrov my Kubica and Rosberg, and add Webber somewhere and it might be possible…

    6. That would leave the championsip like this:

      Alonso 231
      Webber 220
      Vettel 218
      Hamilton 210
      Button 189

      The RBRs would still have a chance but the Vodafones might as well forget it. I bet Alonso would like it. Highly unlikely though.

      1. The Vodafones? Haha, thanx for a good laugh ;-]

    7. strange guessing its very odd that a fan likes Ferrari and mclaren at the same time

    8. Well, lots of people laughed yesterday, but credit where it’s due: Sameer got the top three right and correctly identified that Webber would not finish in the top six!

    9. Wow, you almost nailed it! The podium was spot on

  5. 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).

    1. 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.

    2. 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. 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.

    1. 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

      1. Lewis needs to be VERY aggresive, and the track is VERY slippery. So…

      2. Mark is running a new engine here, and Vettel isn’t. Don’t rule out Webber making a move on his team mate on one of these long straights.

        1. The enw engine doesn’t deliver a boost of exrtra power …

          1. In theory that’s right. But he won’t have to nurse it at the end of the race as much. He has one more engine available too, so if he senses a chance he can run this one at full tilt and not worry.

        2. Well Vettel seems to have higher top speed with his setup, so I don’t think Webber will be faster down the straights.

  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. 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.


    1. just keep dreaming… :) too much changes

    2. It would be:

      Webber 232
      Vettel 224
      Alonso 221
      Hamilton 217
      Button 189

      An even tighter WDC, except fot Button… he would be 99.9% out

    3. Vettel, slow of the line will take Webber and Alonso out in 1st corner when trying to compensate:



      1. Haha, we can only hope!
        (for the championship obviously, I’d never suggest I’d like to see a crash for my own amusement! :P)

    4. Heavy rains starts thenend up like this;



  9. lol @ BrianT

    I’m going to bet on –

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

    1. Then it would be

      Webber 232
      Alonso 231
      Vettel 221
      Hamilton 210
      Button 189

      Really tight at the top!

    2. I’ll also bet on this

    3. that’s my bet also, but I’m afraid Rain will change this.

  10. 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. 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. 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

    1. 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!

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

    2. 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. 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)

    1. 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.

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

      2. 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.

  16. Keith, why you always say that Red Bull doesn’t have the same advantage in race trim as in qualifying? I remember that in Hungary Red Bull were faster by 1 second than their closest rival in quali and in the race the advantage was the same or even bigger. I think you should analyse it before claiming that Red Bull are not as fast in race trim as in quali.

    1. Red Bull advantage in most cases cuts down on a race day, you should get your facts straight too. Hungary is rather an exception.

    2. Because usually, they don’t.

    3. I remember that in Hungary Red Bull were faster by 1 second than their closest rival in quali and in the race the advantage was the same or even bigger. I think you should analyse it before claiming that Red Bull are not as fast in race trim as in quali.

      I think we have to accept Hungary was a bit of an exception. Red Bull’s performance margin there was on a different scale of magnitude compared to what we’ve seen at other tracks this year.

      Having said that, the 1.2s/lap advantage they had in qualifying was only notable occasionally in the race, though we can’t rule out the possibility ‘conserving the car’ played a role in that.

      But taking the season as a whole I think it’s fair to say Red Bull’s race pace has not been as fast as their qualifiyng pace: Silverstone, Hockenheim, Spa and Istanbul are all good examples.

      That’s consistent with what we know about the design of the RB6 – it’s had an exhaust-blown diffuser since the start of the year and it was clearly designed with the concept in mind, as well as the technique of alerting the exhaust gas flow in qualifying to gain the maximum benefit from the diffuser – something which can’t be sustained for long periods in races.

      All of this has been mentioned on the site before but I’d be interested to hear your reasons for disagreeing.

      1. But how about Singapore and Monza? I think Red Bull have been working very hard on their race performance in the second part of the season.

  17. It is raining quite hard at the moment, according to J.A. twitter feed.

    1. You mean the tweet

      “Drizzle in Mokpo, nearest city to Korea gp track. Meant to continue all night. Turn 16 was being repaired again tonight”

      Raining quite hard????

      1. Just checked Mopko in The Weather Channel.

        Mopko: light rain at present. 22 Celsius
        Forecast for tonight: Showers ending at dawn. 14 C minimum

        So, it’s raining now, not very hard, and more rain is expected during the night. The track will be probably dry tomorrow by the time the race begins. But both the rubber and the dust will be washed out, reducing the difference between the dirty and the clean sides. Good news for Mark.

    2. From the source I’m using it says it’s raining right now with quite a bit expected to fall(though not exactly a downpour, it should be enough to clean the track), but just as importantly it predicts drizzle right up until the start of the race and with a 72% chance of mild rain during the race itself.

      Probably not going to be a wet one but the track is going to be slippery and the more rubber that gets washed away, the greater tyre wear increases (hooray) and the less speed is available from cornering performance (bad news for Red Bull).

        1. It might be the downfall of my personal hopes for the outcome of the race, but god I hope it turns out that way…

          1. You may get your wish. Everywhere I can find forecasts for the day they’ve increased the chances of rain from their original forecasts.

  18. Flying back to the US from Germany during the race tomorrow but I just programmed my DVR remotely to record the race. I hope. Got to love technology!

    Seems there’s little chance of rain during the race but I’m excited by the possibilities of lap 1. Not sure if a dry, safety car-free race will lead to many lead changes thereafter so I remain a little concerned about a procession.

    Scenario 1: Red Bull cars maintain L1 lead and pull away: they may be uncatchable after pit stops if these all happen within a lap or 2 for the top 10. Pit lane is pretty short.
    Scenario 2: ALO, HAM, ROS or another faster straigh-line speed car gets ahead of the Red Bulls. They will be hard to pass on the track for the Red Bulls even if the Red Bulls can catch up is S2 and S3.
    Scenarios 3-100: Rain, a safety car, a turn 1 incident, an unusual and unusually successful strategy or track problems put a cat among the pigeons and we get some fun. Hope for the this!

  19. I suppose it’s illegal for anyone to be on the track to sweep ahead of Webber’s spot once the cars are on their reconnaissance lap?

    Webber’s best strategy will be to aim right at Vettel’s rear on the start in hopes of blocking Alonso because there’s no way he’ll beat Vettel to T1. I also think Webber should start with his car cocked to the R so Alonso knows right where he intends to go.

    After that, it’s Major Wreck L1, T2.
    Finishing order: Kobayashi, DiGrassi, Senna. :-)

    1. I’m not sure about what you think Webber should do, remember he’s only allowed to make one move and while what you’re saying is logical if hes much slower off the line than Alonso if he’s only slightly slower it will prevent him from defending it to the first corner and Alonso can dive down the inside. It will really depend on how well he pulls away tbh.

  20. I think Hamilton should strike back at Webber as soon as he gets the chance. Webber must cede. Otherwise he’ll lose ground to both Vettel and Alonso. He knows that.

    All Hamilton has to do is put a wheel inside of Webber and ask “you wanna crash, or score some points”?

    Lewis has nothing to lose after this stage.Pay back time.

    1. All Hamilton has to do is put a wheel inside of Webber and ask “you wanna crash, or score some points”?

      Given how his McLaren fared in his previous contact with Massa (Monza) and Webber (Singapore) I’d say that’s the last thing he should do!

    2. I think Webber should stay out of Hamilton`s way if possible , because ultimately a Hamilton win is less damaging to him than Vettel / Alonso win ! :) I am so disappointed with Mclaren !!

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