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.
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?â?ńikk?â?Ânen.
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.
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.
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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