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.


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.

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

  1. 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.

    • Leftie (@leftie) said on 23rd October 2010, 17:02

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

    • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 23rd October 2010, 17:04

      Because usually, they don’t.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 23rd October 2010, 18:03

      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.

  2. Leftie (@leftie) said on 23rd October 2010, 16:59

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

    • AgBNYC said on 23rd October 2010, 17:22

      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????

      • Hyoko said on 23rd October 2010, 17:32

        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.

    • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 23rd October 2010, 18:39

      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).

  3. Scalextric said on 23rd October 2010, 17:27

    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!

  4. My2cents said on 23rd October 2010, 17:51

    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. :-)

    • Skett said on 23rd October 2010, 23:14

      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.

  5. Shrieker (@shrieker) said on 23rd October 2010, 17:59

    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.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 23rd October 2010, 18:05

      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!

    • Serifo said on 23rd October 2010, 18:17

      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 !!

  6. Interesting how Red Bull drivers had a number of scrappy laps vs Alonso’s relatively consistent fast laps. I think his second best Q3 time was within 0.05? of his best. Vet & Web’s 2nd best times were way off – I think several 10ths. Even if RB are 1 & 2 in the race, if there is the opportunity for FA to go long with his tyres & wait for RBs to pit, then whack in 5 or so consistent qualifiers he could leapfrog them & win.

  7. Electrolite said on 23rd October 2010, 19:12

    Tomorrow is going to be SO exciting. Considering everything that can happen with the start, the first few corners, the graining of the option tyre, the dust (causing numerous crashes), the championship at stake and of course Kobayashi in 12th like you point out Keith…aww man!

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 23rd October 2010, 19:15

      Yeah I’m really relishing this one. Just hope we get the exciting race we’re all expecting!

      • US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 23rd October 2010, 19:37

        With rain coming down now, if it dries out before the race I think the grip on the even side of the grid should be fairly comparable which means Hamilton ought to have a pretty good shot of overtaking Alonso and Webber at the start. My prediction is Alonso and Hamilton will both jump Webber at the start and Hamilton will take Alonso into turn three. Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso, Webber after the first lap.

        • Skett said on 24th October 2010, 0:06

          My prediction is Alonso and Rosberg jumping Webber at the start, then Rosberg jumping Alonso down the long straight. He’ll then hold everyone up and we’ll have a boring race.

          What can I say, I’m a pessimist :/

    • xtophe said on 23rd October 2010, 19:35

      I’ll have whatever you have sir. A good race would boost Yeongam’s status among fans beyond a lot of the new tracks. Who cares about the environment not being flashy? Spa is in the middle of the woods :D

  8. Keith – Can you throw some light on the comments Vettel made in the post qualifying conference which read as follows “Obviously we have the possibility inside the car to check how fast we are actually going, so I saw that maybe it is not enough and I speeded up in the last sector”

  9. Mike B said on 23rd October 2010, 20:43

    @Hyoko – The “Vodafones”? LMAO…

  10. DaveW said on 23rd October 2010, 20:50

    My weather websites say rain throughout the day—sustained 60-70 percent chance. This is going to be good.

    I am surprised that I have heard nothing from the teams about a a possible wet set up gamble taken for Q3. The Q3 times give no evidence that any one has taken that chance, but Renault may come under suspicion given their fall off.

  11. giorgio said on 23rd October 2010, 20:51

    My thoughts are:
    Alonso will overtake Webber down to turn 1-2, slipstream behind Vettel and late break down turn 3 to take P1..
    But now with all the rain, overtaking Webber might be harder since the grid will be equally “gripped”..
    Sadly i’ll be on bus to university when the race starts :(

  12. bradley13 said on 23rd October 2010, 21:31

    It is raining in Korea right now, chucking it down (courtesy of adamcooperf1 on twitter), has been for 4 hours now and shows no sign of letting up soon, looks like a wet race start at least and the track will be slippy, turn one could be funny :D

  13. John Booker said on 23rd October 2010, 21:55

    yep, definately a drizzle in Mokpo which should also extend to the track (there’s only a small mountain range in between. Turn 3 is going to be a prime passing spot (depending on grip levels) as you could easily see those who enjoyed a fast run up the straight. Sorry I haven’t posted much, but nothing much has been happening other than what is already being reported. There is a larger list (and getting larger) of things to be improved for next year but none should affect the race track except the ripple strips that are begining to breakup in some areas, which is normalish. The list has things like photographers access in fences and other small niggly things. Should be a good race, particularly if wet.

  14. wasiF1 (@wasif1) said on 24th October 2010, 2:11

    If it rains before the start the start of the race then the even drivers won’t be too worried but it it rains during the race it will be spectacular to watch.Webber starting on the dirty side will help Alonso to take P2 by turn 2 & with his straight line speed advantage he may also take the lead from Vettel in turn 3-4 by the end of first lap.Hamilton & Button both have to drive one of their best race is years.

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