Sebastian Vettel took control of the Formula One drivers’ championship with a comfortable win at the Korean Grand Prix. Teammate Mark Webber finished second to hand Red Bull Racing its first one-two finish since Brazil last year.
Vettel’s third victory in a row was secured in the first three turns of the race. When the lights went out, pole sitter Webber made a marginally slower getaway and Vettel was able to pull alongside his teammate into turn one.
It was a close battle, but by the end of the circuit’s long back straight, the champion was ahead and had the better inside line. He held his nerve on the exit and emerged in front.
After that, the first stint was largely about the battle between the Red Bull Racing drivers, with the pair trading times throughout. On lap 14 Webber headed for the pits to discard his super-soft tires for a set of the prime soft tires. Vettel stayed out for another tour and after his stop for the prime tire managed to stay ahead of his teamimate.
From there it was simply a case of both drivers managing tire wear in order to maintain their one-two status ahead of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and his teammate Felipe Massa. For Webber the process seemed relatively straightforward but ahead of him the race leader was being told to tread carefully as the condition of his front right tire was causing a few frayed nerves on pitwall.
Vettel sensibly eased back until the final lap, when he set his by now traditional best time, and comfortably took the checkered flag to score his 25th career win. He is now six points ahead of Alonso on 215 points.
It’s the first time Vettel has led the championship since the Spanish Grand Prix, where he ended up tied with Alonso on 61 points but in first place by dint of marginally better results overall.
Kimi Raikkonen, who finished fifth in Korea, remains third in the standings with 169 points, while Lewis Hamilton, 10th today, is fourth on 153 points – just one ahead of Webber.
“I had a very good launch and could see that Mark was struggling a little bit in the first bit of the start and I was able to get side-by-side. Then I had the inside into turn one, which was good,” said Vettel. “But it wasn’t over at that stage because there’s still a long straight. I could hear [Webber] coming and then he was side-by-side but fortunately I had the inside and after that I focused on having a very good exit out of turn three, which fortunately I had and then I was able to stay ahead.”
Vettel conceded that after that it had simply been a case of controlling the gap back to Webber and his rivals and managing his fading tires.
“It was a perfect first stint,” he said. “I think towards the end I was able to pull away a little bit and open a gap to Mark which helped to stay out a little bit longer and I think after that we had a very good stop, a very strong second stint opening the gap again."
Webber, meanwhile, admitted that his less-than-perfect getaway had compromised his race. “The initial launch wasn’t good," he said. "The first bite just kicked to wheelspin and from then on I knew I could have some issues. It was just a very mediocre run to the first corner. Seb got a good one.
"All wasn’t lost, obviously, as in the second corner [I got] the slipstream on the back straight so I thought it was still possible to do something there. We were side-by-side, I had a tow, but once I pulled out I just hit a brick wall, both of us were just [losing pace]… and then everyone was just coming up behind as well."
Vettel’s win means that Alonso is now behind in the drivers’ standings for the first time since the Canadian Grand Prix, and the Spaniard admitted he is unsure of what Ferrari can do to combat the steps forward made by Red Bull Racing in recent weeks.
“I think it’s a question mark,” he said. “We didn’t bring to the last six or seven races, nothing new, so we are doing what we can at the moment and we are trying to save points which I think we are doing perfectly every Sunday.
“Again it was a perfect Sunday for us: good start, good strategy at the right time and in the right moment. Then finishing again on the podium, so I think it was a very strong Sunday. We overtook McLaren in the constructors’ championship, which is something that maybe we didn’t expect two or three races ago, so definitely we are moving in the right direction. We just need a little last step to be as competitive as Red Bull and I think it will be a beautiful last four races to the end.”
Red Bull Racing’s first one-two finish of the season means they have extended their constructors’ championship lead over McLaren and now stand on 367 points.