October 6th, 2013 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - Sebastian Vettel all but wrapped up the 2013 Drivers' Championship by winning the Korean Grand Prix, his eighth win of the season and fourth consecutive race victory. After the race, Vettel praised Red Bull, saying, " It was a very strong performance from the whole team and I’m happy. We’re just focusing on continuing to take one step at a time and trying to get the best out of the car at every single race.”
Vettel is now 77 points ahead of nearest rival Fernando Alonso. With five races remaining, that means that Vettel will take the 2013 title if he wins the next race in Japan and Alonso finishes ninth or lower. Alternatively, Vettel will be champion if he wins in Japan and again at the next race in India regardless of Alonso's results.
From the outside, Vettel's win in Korea looked comfortable. He made a good start, leading into the first corner and then pulled out a gap of around two seconds on the opening lap. He was far enough ahead the Romain Grosjean in second place did not have the benefit of DRS when it was enabled on lap 3 and there was no catching Vettel until the safety car appeared on lap 31. At that point, Vettel's lead was nullified and he had to do all the hard work again to build up a gap, which he duly did.
When the safety car appeared for the second time, Vettel had it all to do again to build up a lead, and he was up to the challenge. Although he won by only 4.2 seconds, he was never really challenged on the track and was in control throughout the race.
Vettel described his Sunday in Korea:
“It was a long race today, but it’s really great to win. The start was crucial, it’s always tricky here as you’re nervous about the long straight when you start from pole. Fortunately we had good traction off the line and I had a strong exit out of the first corner. We kept the lead and tried to control the race from there. I think Mercedes had more range than us today, but we were able to win which is great."
Mark Webber had an eventful afternoon in the second Red Bull. He made a reasonable start and moved through the field, managing to lead the race briefly when Vettel made his first pit stop. A podium looked like a realistic possibility for Webber until he ran over some debris when Sergio Perez's tyre exploded on lap 31. The puncture that resulted for Webber meant he had to pit under the safety car, despite having emerged from the pits just before Perez's tyre failure.
After the safety car, Webber set his sights on the cars ahead, but was taken out by an error from Adrian Sutil, who locked up his tyres under braking for turn 3, spun and went backwards into the side of Webber's car just as the Red Bull was turning into the corner. The impact caused a fire on the right side of Webber's car, which burnt fiercely for some time until the marshals were able to put it out. It's not clear yet how bad the damage is or if Red Bull will have to replace the chassis.
Webber explained his experience of the accident and fire:
“The incident with Sutil was obviously the end of my race today. It was in Turn 3 on the restart, everyone bottles back up and I was looking for a big exit on the next straight to use some KERS on Daniel (Ricciardo) and the Williams. Then Sutil, I don't know what happened, but obviously he hit me from the inside and that was that. There was quite a lot of damage at the back of the car and I hope it hasn't gone towards the chassis – we will have to see before the next race."
Webber continued, "Before that I was very happy with how I drove and we’d got back to a very good position before I got the puncture. After the Pirelli tyre failure on Perez’ car, I was very lucky to miss the tread of the tyre that came off and then unbelievably I managed to get a puncture from going through the debris.”
It's the second race in a row that has ended in flames for Webber. He will be hoping to hold his car together long enough to finish next week in Japan. Vettel, for his part, will be hoping to wrap up the Drivers' Championship at Suzuka, which is a possibility albeit a small one.