Unfamiliar territory for next McLaren-Red Bull showdown

2011 Korean Grand Prix preview

Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Korea, 2010

Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Korea, 2010

Sebastian Vettel’s engine failure while leading the 2010 Korean Grand Prix was a serious setback in his championship campaign.

This year he arrives in Korea with the championship already won. Can he now make amends for last year’s disappointment in this race?

The venue for the 16th round of the world championship remains something of an unknown quantity for the drivers.

Korea’s F1 track was only completed at the 11th hour last year and the combination of freshly laid tarmac and dust from building work made it very slippery.

Race day was hit by a massive rainstorm, so the teams head into this weekend with little more useful data than they did 12 months ago.

Vettel’s misfortune last year meant victory fell into Fernando Alonso’s lap. The Ferrari driver narrowly beat him at Suzuka and may be encouraged to see Pirelli’s tyre choices for this race do not include any of the harder tyres Ferrari has struggled with.

Pirelli’s soft and super soft tyres will get a lot of punishment on a track that includes three high-speed straights and some quick turns. This looks a particularly aggressive choice of tyre given that Bridgestone opted for hard and soft tyres last year, indicating we may see a busy pit lane on Sunday.

As new tracks go, Korea has a little more character than we’re used to. In places the drivers have to cope with limited run-off, particularly in the final sector.

There were no vast expanses of tarmac run-off waiting for Mark Webber or Vitaly Petrov when they crashes in last year’s race – both of them hit walls. Barriers have been moved back in places this year but there is still little room for error around this part of the circuit.

Webber was just seven-hundredths of a second off beating Vettel to pole position last year. He’s rarely been that close to Vettel in 2011 – even so his sixth on the grid in Japan was surprisingly low for him.

Korea International Circuit, 2011 Korean Grand Prix

Korea circuit information

Lap length 5.621km (3.493 miles)
Distance 55 laps (309km/192 miles)
Lap record* 1’50.257 (Fernando Alonso, 2010)
Fastest lap 1’35.585 (Sebastian Vettel, 2010)
Tyres Soft and Super soft

*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix

Korea track data in full

After Suzuka there may now be a realistic possibility that a Red Bull might not be on pole position on Sunday.

Jenson Button was less than a hundredth of a second off beating Vettel to pole at Suzuka. And Lewis Hamilton showed he had pace to beat the RB7 before failing to get his final lap in.

I could probably copy and paste a line about ‘Hamilton needing to bounce back from a disappointing weekend’ from most of this year’s race previews.

Without wishing to add yet more to the reams already written on his current predicament here and elsewhere, suffice it to say that a little luck and one good result can do a lot to resolve a driver’s troubles.

At the very least, he could do with staying away from Felipe Massa on the track.

The intra-team battle at Mercedes intensified in Japan when Nico Rosberg’s weekend was ruined by an hydraulic problem in qualifying. With four races remaining his resurgent team mate is now just three points behind.

Rosberg was bitterly unlucky in Korea last year, being taken out by the spinning Webber having already passed Hamilton. Michael Schumacher profited to claim his best result of the season. This will definitely be a contest to keep a close eye on this weekend.

There will also be a new face on the track this weekend. Jean-Eric Vergne will make his first of three appearances in first practice for Toro Rosso.

Who do you expect to win in Korea? Can McLaren take the fight to Red Bull in Korea? Have your say in the comments.

2011 F1 driver form

Q avg R avg R best R worst Classified Form guide
Sebastian Vettel 1.27 1.6 1 4 15/15 Form guide
Mark Webber 4 3.43 2 5 14/15 Form guide
Lewis Hamilton 3.73 3.85 1 8 13/15 Form guide
Jenson Button 4.8 3.08 1 6 13/15 Form guide
Fernando Alonso 4.53 3.43 1 7 14/15 Form guide
Felipe Massa 5.73 6.62 5 11 13/15 Form guide
Michael Schumacher 10.33 8.09 4 17 11/15 Form guide
Nico Rosberg 7.73 7.92 5 12 13/15 Form guide
Nick Heidfeld 13.36 8.5 3 12 8/11 Form guide
Vitaly Petrov 9.87 10.54 3 17 13/15 Form guide
Rubens Barrichello 14.2 13.25 9 17 12/15 Form guide
Pastor Maldonado 13.8 14.67 10 18 12/15 Form guide
Adrian Sutil 12.33 10.31 6 15 13/15 Form guide
Paul di Resta 12 11.36 6 18 14/15 Form guide
Kamui Kobayashi 13.27 10.33 5 16 12/15 Form guide
Sergio Perez 13.31 11.33 7 17 9/13 Form guide
Sebastien Buemi 15.2 11.33 8 15 12/15 Form guide
Jaime Alguersuari 14.87 12.33 7 21 12/15 Form guide
Heikki Kovalainen 18.13 16.1 13 19 10/15 Form guide
Jarno Trulli 19.29 16.4 13 20 10/14 Form guide
Narain Karthikeyan 23 20.5 17 24 6/7 Form guide
Vitantonio Liuzzi 22.43 19.6 13 23 10/14 Form guide
Timo Glock 20.6 17.73 15 21 11/15 Form guide
Jerome D’Ambrosio 22.07 18.08 14 22 13/15 Form guide
Pedro de la Rosa 17 12 12 12 1/1 Form guide
Daniel Ricciardo 22.71 19.4 18 22 5/7 Form guide
Karun Chandhok 20 20 20 20 1/1 Form guide
Bruno Senna 10.25 13.25 9 16 4/4 Form guide

2011 Korean Grand Prix

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67 comments on Unfamiliar territory for next McLaren-Red Bull showdown

  1. I think it will be a tightly fought affair between Vettel, Hamilton, Button and Alonso for the win – with Webber not so far behind.

    I don’t buy into the suggestion that Hamilton is losing it – it’s a blip in form and there’s no denying that Button has been better this season. Hopefully Lewis can have a solid end to the year with plenty of podium finishes.

    I hope Mercedes can shock and be in the mix as well.

    I predict another Button win from Alonso. The remaining podium spot is up for grabs between the other 3. Probably Vettel again!

    • TribalTalker (@tribaltalker) said on 12th October 2011, 15:56

      Unfortunately, I disagree with your “blip in form” comment for Hamilton. He’s still quicker than Button over a flying lap, but he’s lost his big advantage – sublime overtaking. Now everyone can overtake (DRS and KERS – double whammy) and it makes him look much less special. I still think he’s one of the most exciting drivers, but until the rules change again, I think he’ll struggle to get the very best out of himself.

    • Osvaldas31 (@osvaldas31) said on 12th October 2011, 18:01

      I think Red Bull will walk away with this one. Suzuka was perfectly suited for Mclaren (in all high speed tracks Mclaren were strongest and it’s not Red Bull’s strongest point anymore). Long strights are the area were Red Bull excelled this year and there are few low speed corners, which are also Red Bull’s strong point. But of course, F1 sometimes is unpredictable.

  2. Lachie (@lachie) said on 12th October 2011, 13:43

    After Suzuka there may now be a realistic possibility that a Red Bull might not be on pole position on Sunday.

    This is exactly the sort of line which, against my better judgement race after race after race, will cause me to get my hopes up :(

    • ScuderiaVincero (@scuderiavincero) said on 12th October 2011, 13:55

      @Lachie The sort of line which never comes true should it have been uttered by Murray Walker :P

      I miss him so badly….

    • Fixy (@fixy) said on 12th October 2011, 18:19

      I’d rather Massa was on pole, but I would be a little sad to see Red Bull missing out on such a record.
      Last year Red Bull lost it due to a crash and a failure and surely will battle for the win – whether Ferrari and McLaren will be far behind or not, as Keith says, we have too little data to tell so.

  3. Rucknar (@superted666) said on 12th October 2011, 13:56

    Should be a good race, i hope one of the Mclaren boys can challenge for victory. All i remember from last years race is Lewis running wide through turn one and Webber crashing then (In my opinion) not pushing the brakes as he rolled over the track and collected Rosberg…

  4. Girts (@girts) said on 12th October 2011, 14:11

    Talking about engine failures, I guess there has been only one retirement this season because of engine problems. The reliability is really astonishing although sometimes I think that the cars are too reliable today.

    Every week before an upcoming F1 race I think “Hamilton simply cannot afford another bad/average weekend, he certainly is going to be on the podium this time”. And he fails to achieve the expected results again and again, while Button keeps surprising me. This definitely hasn’t helped me to move up in the predictions championship standings.

    So I believe that Lewis’ losing streak cannot go on forever and predict that he will win the Korean GP and finally silence his critics :)

    That said, the tyre allocation should suit Button…

    • AdrianMorse (@adrianmorse) said on 12th October 2011, 14:38

      Every week before an upcoming F1 race I think “Hamilton simply cannot afford another bad/average weekend, he certainly is going to be on the podium this time”. And he fails to achieve the expected results again and again

      Thank God I’m not a betting man; I wouldn’t bet against my favourite driver, but I would have lost a lot of money this season…

      That said, the tyre allocation should suit Button…

      I hope Lewis can get some life out of the tyres this time. I think Pirelli mentioned that they’ve gone a bit extreme with the tyre allocation this time, to stimulate teams to use all sets of the harder compound. Will we see any drivers genuinely running out of rubber this Sunday?

      • Bigbadderboom (@bigbadderboom) said on 12th October 2011, 15:22

        I think Lewis will get more from the softer tyres this weekend, it was only McLarens over zealous attempts to baalnce the rear after the slow puncture that lewis got that upset his car in Suzuka. I actually fancy Lewis to return to form this weekend, I think Red Bull may have a bit of a hangover from last week, and with most of the pressure off I think Lewis is in a good position, he needs a win to balance the wins with Jenson, although it’s all over for the WDC this year i’m still fascinated about how it will all unfold!!

        • Mike (@mike) said on 12th October 2011, 15:51

          Well, Button was quicker, in fact quickest in all three practice sessions.

          The race for 2nd in the championship is going to be fantastic. I hope Button gets it. Just because I think it will substantiate his claim to being a top driver and show 2009 wasn’t just the car. Or at least show it in the stats.

      • Girts (@girts) said on 12th October 2011, 16:48

        The relatively low temperatures (19c, according to the actual weather forecast) will maybe help drivers to make the tyres last a bit longer. But the degradation should be a big issue anyway. I think many drivers will again sacrifice possibly good qualifying times in order to save one or two extra sets for Sunday. And the teams probably won’t be able to cover each other during the race, they’ll rather need to follow their own strategies. That was the case in Japan and is likely to be even more in Korea.

    • Enigma (@enigma) said on 12th October 2011, 14:55

      That said, the tyre allocation should suit Button…

      Why?

      • AdrianMorse (@adrianmorse) said on 12th October 2011, 15:16

        The soft and super soft tyres might see a lot of degradation at this track, and Jenson is good at managing that.

        • Bigbadderboom (@bigbadderboom) said on 12th October 2011, 15:27

          I don’t think we can make that assumption, it all depends on track position, if you have open road it’s far easier to manage your tyres than if you are caught in a 3 way scrap, and that said Lewis was sunstantially quicker all the way up to Q3 last weekend, so if he continues that form and gets a good launch from pole, there is no reason to believe he will do any worse than Jenson at managing his tyres. Having said that I do agree Jenson is definatley smoother, but it just may not matter.

      • Girts (@girts) said on 12th October 2011, 16:53

        Button has been doing very well and outperforming Hamilton in all those 2011 races where the same tyre choices had been made by Pirelli (Monaco, Canada, Hungary, Singapore). But we’ll see.

        • F1fanNL (@) said on 12th October 2011, 22:12

          But in Monaco, Canada and Hungary Hamilton was obviously quicker than Button.
          Monaco was ruined for Hamilton during qualifying but he had the single lap pace over Button there.

          In Canada Hamilton was A LOT quicker than Button until they came together and Hamilton’s race ended, remember he had already passed Button before Schumacher made him go wide in the hairpin which allowed Button through again.
          Next lap Hamilton was already on Button’s tail again.

          In Hungary we saw a rare spin from Hamilton and then a switch to the wrong tyres. Nevertheless he was quicker than Button the entire weekend.

          In Singapore (as in last week) he looked set to beat Button’s qualifying time until a problem prevented him from running again. His races were then compromised by troubles in the car and with himself.

          • Wooolfy said on 13th October 2011, 3:54

            Thanks for reminding everyone who forgot. Seems like most F1 fans have poor memory. I also want to add that Lewis was actually out performing Button earlier in this season.

        • Enigma (@enigma) said on 13th October 2011, 13:33

          @girts Exactly as @f1fanNL said, Hamilton beat Button in qualy in 3 of those tracks, and he probably would have in Singapore as well without the problems. The races, all four, were very eventful for Lewis, that’s why Jenson beat him. Hence it’s hard to compare and you can’t just say Jenson outperfmored Lewis there because of the tyre choice.

  5. mclaren (@mclaren) said on 12th October 2011, 14:35

    I think we’re in for tight contest between RBR and Mclaren.
    I ceratianly think we’ll see a Mclaren on pole unless Hamilton doesn;t get his final Q3 run in again (SING+SUZUKA).
    I think Hamilton will probabbly win this one and VET,BUT,ALO,WEB contesting for the remaining podium posotions.

  6. sumedh said on 12th October 2011, 14:41

    If you see the form guide, you would think that Webber hasn’t done much worse. His worst finishing position is only fifth. After fifteen rounds in 2010, he had already managed five finishes below fifth place.

    One could be tempted to believe that he has improved from last year.

  7. mclaren (@mclaren) said on 12th October 2011, 14:46

    Is it just me finding it fascinating that despite RBR’s (Vettel’s) Domination, Mclaren can equal RBR’s (Vettel’s)tally of 9 wins this season if they win the remainig four rounds.

    • Adrian J (@adrian-j) said on 12th October 2011, 14:59

      Not just you. I think McLaren are the form team at the moment and just hope they can carry this momentum forward into 2012 the same way RBR carried their end of 2009 form into 2010…

      • BBT (@bbt) said on 12th October 2011, 15:25

        Agree, but without the ‘copied’ RBR exhaust the car was poor (as pre-season and Silverstone showed) so Mclaren supporters must be concerned that their current form might not be valid next season once there are no EBDs. I’m hoping for a four team fight in 2012 RBR, Mclaren, Ferrari and Mercedes I really want to see that happen and how Vettel and RBR cope if their car is 2nd or 3rd fastest for a majority of the season

        • Adrian J (@adrian-j) said on 12th October 2011, 18:12

          I see what you’re saying, but I think the thing you have to remember is that the MP4-26 was built around the EBD concept and does rely on it very strongly.

          But I have no doubt that McLaren can build a strong competitor in the MP4-27 as long as they continue to evolve the concepts they have started with the 26 and don’t start from scratch again.

          Don’t forget that the MP4-21 didn’t win a race, but evolved into the MP4-22 which had the pace to comfortably win both titles if not for the politics that got in the way, but which also became the title winning MP4-23. My point? McLaren know how to build on an existing concept and hone it into a title winning car…they just need to remember that!!

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 12th October 2011, 15:23

      But wouldn’t that just prove RBR is not dominating any more?

      • F1fanNL (@) said on 12th October 2011, 22:17

        Well, Red Bull hasn’t been dominating. It was Vettel in a Red Bull that was dominating and Webber trying hard to even get on the podium.

    • 1 of the 3 said on 12th October 2011, 18:02

      @Mclaren So when you say, “Mclaren can equal RBR’s (Vettel’s)tally of 9 wins this season” you are talking team. My thoughts are that even if McLaren have a better car in 2012 having a great team could potentially hurt them. Vettel will more than likely keep Webber at bay and Alonso the same with Massa next year.

      This will help Ferrari and RBR IMO. Just look at how Vettel pulled off pole while Webber was never going to make it higher than P4 in Japan. We all admire McLaren’s use of democratic thinking in F1.

      But could it hurt their 2012 title hopes? I mean let’s say both Button AND Hamilton are on in 2012 – what if they start taking wins off one another while Alonso and Vettel secure theirs without their teammates cutting into their points.

      • F1fanNL (@) said on 12th October 2011, 22:15

        Then they’ll win the Constructors title which, unlike the Driver’s title, does come with a hefty bag of cash.

      • it’ll be great to see a Constructors Champ given more attention & forgetting the Drivers title. No more #1/2 drivers!

        You always hear from teams, Ferrari & RBR
        that F1 is a team sport.

  8. BasCB (@bascb) said on 12th October 2011, 14:55

    I saw there will be a bit rain again, but nothing like last year is expected. So I hope we will see a normal start and less than 15 laps behind the SC.

    I think both Mercedes might push a lot to mingle with Massa and probalby Webber with the FI and Renault cars right on their backs. Hamilton might get back and do that pole position, or get second at least, but I rather expect Vettel to want to prove a point.
    But for the race the others might be on top as the big straight will make it a tad harder for Vettel to drive away from the field after the start.

    • US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 12th October 2011, 20:04

      @BasCB Although as Red Bull has lost dominance in the corners recently, they’ve also improved massively on the straights as evidenced at Spa and Monza, so while they may not be walking away from McLaren, they might at least be able to hang with them during the race. It’ll be very interesting to see.

      • BasCB (@bascb) said on 12th October 2011, 20:22

        But wasn’t it more their aero efficiency in the few corners at Monza especially that made them the fastest even while being slowest on all straights?

        Still, if Vettel is up front I expect him to be able to get his early run on the pack before any consideration of DRS comes up. Maybe a good start can help that for Alonso, Button or Hamilton. Or we must hope one of those manages the tyres better.

        • F1fanNL (@) said on 12th October 2011, 22:25

          And what about McLaren’s risky fuel strategy. It cost them at Silverstone because there wasn’t a SC there but it paid off at Suzuka.
          I can see them risking it again at Korea, hoping for a SC.
          I think that’s the risk McLaren is going to take every race from now on.

          Misleading results? Maybe, but victories give teams a nice boost and that’s the only thing McLaren can still win this season.

  9. Enigma (@enigma) said on 12th October 2011, 14:59

    I wonder how good a choice the DRS zone being on the second straight is. It’s the easiest part of the track for overtaking and I suppose it’s relatively easy to overtake there, compared to other tracks. DRS zone should be on the pit straight, so that it’d get the cars closer together and allow a close fight on the second straight.

    I love the track – it has fantastic flow and challenging corners, much better than the majority of new tracks, and it really is designed to help overtaking – three straight in a row with slow corners in between, plus an Istanbul’s-last-sector-esque slow corners following, which should provide some great undercut battles.
    It’s just miles better than Abu Dhabi or Valencia.

    • sato113 (@sato113) said on 13th October 2011, 2:05

      agreed on the drs zone placement. but we must remeber the FIA is run by fools sometimes and I wouldn’t be surprised if they made the whole of the second straight the DRS zone!

  10. mclaren (@mclaren) said on 12th October 2011, 15:01

    The straights will be massively advantageous for Mercs, remember their straight line speed at Monza.

    If a big gun gets stuck behind, then we could see trouble.
    Still fancy Hamilton pole and victory.

  11. BBT (@bbt) said on 12th October 2011, 15:29

    Last year the race that effectively, one could argue, cost Webber the title with his mistake.

    I wonder what drama with unfold this year.

  12. leepat0302 (@leepat0302) said on 12th October 2011, 15:41

    Only driver who can take pole from Vettel is a in form Hamilton
    I Just hope that he finds that form this week

    Anybody thinks that Button can carry this run on beating Hamilton for much longer is kidding them themselves

    • OmarR-Pepper (@omarr-pepper) said on 12th October 2011, 16:14

      Why kidding? some good drivers can eventually lose momentum and got desperate for that. Not a joke, numbers (points) show how consistent Jenson has been this season. He’s proved he’s talented enough to be a world champion, that his 2009 trophy wasn’t just “plain luck + masterpiece car” and if he keeps that form he can probably win a second WDC in some years… not next year cause RB looks so strong to dim

    • TheBrav3 said on 12th October 2011, 16:26

      if only lewis can beat seb and jenson is beating lewis doesn’t that mean jb is the best in the world??

      • andrewf1 (@andrewf1) said on 12th October 2011, 20:49

        oh please….what do you think drivers are like numbers you can add up or compare? lol

        • TheBrav3 said on 12th October 2011, 21:18

          No i was trying to highlight the sillyness of the original post which has gone straight over your head as did my irony….

          • andrewf1 (@andrewf1) said on 12th October 2011, 23:51

            i read the original post and it wasnt silly at all. it was about qualifying, not race results, and Button hasnt been out-qualifying Lewis all season long. if you take a look at their qualifying form, a safer bet would be Hamilton to take pole. but you’re right, i did miss your irony.

  13. TheBrav3 said on 12th October 2011, 16:25

    I’m putting a mclaren on pole this weekend it’s their track the only reason vettel was on pole last year was because the track was basicly covered in mud and button failed at handling it. Can’t remember what happened to lewis but this is a merc track im even tempted to have a flutter on a schumacher podium.

  14. electrolite (@electrolite) said on 12th October 2011, 16:31

    That article has gotten me very excited about this weekend. Thanks Keith!

  15. Gill (@gill) said on 12th October 2011, 17:22

    I still see RBR (Vettel pole and victory ) coz thats the most probable combination this year. Webber wont be on podium coz he doesnt deserve.

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