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Lotus double up as half of Red Bull go down in flames - Korea 2013 // Team analysis from the racing action at Yeongam

Published by Christine

Mechanics watch the race unfold
Credit: 2013 Getty Images

The Korean Grand Prix was a surprisingly good race, considering how little it seemed we would have in store after qualifying. Although Sebastian Vettel was on his usual top form to secure pole position and the race win, there was a lot else to take in all the way down the field.

From double DNFs, to defensive drives, to spectacular sparks and flames, the race had a little bit of everything. It felt like all but a few teams underperformed compared to their own expectations, and perhaps were happy to put the Korean race behind them, but a good challenging track is what we like to see!

Red Bull

Driver positions - Red Bull
DriverQualifyingRace
S Vettel1st1st
M Webber3rdDNF

It’s usually the case that a championship leader, and likely winner, has a bit more luck than some of the other drivers on the grid. It’s also true that some Formula One drivers have more bad luck than their fellow racers. At Red Bull, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber seem to sit at the extreme ends of the spectrum – and you don’t need me to tell you which is which.

The RB8 continues to astound on Vettel’s side of the garage. It’s unflinching reliability, the way it can adapt to almost any circuit, and the dream handling that allows Sebastian to sweep into the lead and never look back. Clearly the current tyres are helping them along the way, although with another high profile tyre failure in Korea, Red Bull should probably be wary of another knee-jerk reaction that wouldn’t work so much in the favour.

I’m also curious if Webber’s double fire strategy has caused any concerns. Naturally these machines run hot, and incidents can lead to fires. But seeing flames from a car isn’t a regular occurrence in F1, and to have it happen to the same driver twice in two races must be a worry. It was for different reasons, but is that highly detailed Newey package more susceptible to flames than others?

Regardless, the team have the car to do the job at the moment, and they’ve even stopped saying they’re not counting their chickens championship-wise.

Lotus

Driver positions - Lotus
DriverQualifyingRace
K Räikkönen10th2nd
R Grosjean4th3rd

There was some confusion towards the end of the Korean race, as we heard the tail end of a radio conversation in which Éric Boullier was urging Romain Grosjean to overtake Kimi Räikkönen. I jumped to conclusions straight away, that the team no longer cared about their former star driver and were ready to put all their efforts behind the French side of the garage.

The reality was slightly less conspiratorial and a little more mundane. Grosjean had managed to drop a place to his teammate, asked for team orders to allow him back in front, and Boullier was denying the request. It’s not clear if that was due to an equality always stand-point, or because Kimi is the driver in front in the standings, but either way, Romain was fired up by the incident. And Lotus said they liked that in a driver. Showing some passion and some verve to get on and get ahead. It’s very interesting that these are qualities they are looking for now that the super-reserved Finn is departing.

A double podium finish was a brilliant result for Lotus, but their continuing inconsistency has put them out of any meaningful fights. Grosjean showed that he can race under pressure and without crashing, whilst Kimi’s carefree attitude helped him get ahead and secure the bigger trophy.

Credit to everyone back at Enstone for delivering us extra performance from the long wheelbase car, as any gain towards the end of the year is especially beneficial as we fight for position in both Championships.

- Éric Boullier, Team Principal, Lotus

Sauber

Driver positions - Sauber
DriverQualifyingRace
N Hülkenberg8th4th
E Gutiérrez9th11th

What a turnaround for the struggling Sauber squad. Just a few weeks ago, all concern was pointed in the Hinwil direction, with talk of money troubles, and imposing Russian investors. Now, they’ve managed to swing the momentum in a better direction and scored a great qualifying result which converted into an even better race finish.

It’s disappointing for Esteban Gutiérrez that another top ten grid start finished outside the points. Sauber’s championship points have all come from Nico Hülkenberg so far, and the rookie must be wondering what is taking so long. Nico’s incredible drive made a lot of people sit up and take notice. Where his talent was lauded at the beginning of the year, it had been squandered by the underperforming Sauber as the 2013 season dragged on.

Here, we saw his defensive driving on display for lap after lap, as the German soaked up the pressure from various world champions behind him. The real issue for Sauber is that the better the result, the less likely they are to retain Hülkenberg's services. Also, his great drive was only so impressive because the car needs such defensive skills to get any kind of good finish. There’s still a lot of work to be done by the Swiss team.

Mercedes

Driver positions - Mercedes
DriverQualifyingRace
N Rosberg5th7th
L Hamilton2nd5th

Mercedes continue to be best of the rest, particularly on qualifying day, although this weekend it was Lewis Hamilton who just missed out on pole position, and Nico Rosberg who had to settle for a grid spot a little further back. After the action on Saturday, Lewis was feeling positive, and looked forward to the race knowing they had good long-run pace. Rosberg was struggling to find the right balance in the car, but hoped that long-stint performance would help him out.

Unfortunately, it wasn't the case on Sunday, and both drivers dropped positions from where they started on the grid. Lewis lost a position to Romain Grosjean at the very start of the race, and found it impossible to get back past him. He spent much of the race following the tail of Nico Hülkenberg and failing to get past him as well, even going so far as to plaintively call for his pit wall to share any bright ideas.

Rosberg, meanwhile, was lining up a move on his teammate, pulled alongside him down the straight, and found his front wing was suddenly underneath the car. This can be a seriously dangerous thing to happen, but thankfully for Nico, the worst he had was the extra pit stop required, and a heck of a lot of sparks. Despite the delay in the stop, Rosberg still managed to finish in the points, and was very disappointed, claiming he'd finally found the balance in the car. As a team, Mercedes are still hoping they can claim second in the championship, and they're just one point behind Ferrari as it stands. It's still very possible.

Ferrari

Driver positions - Ferrari
DriverQualifyingRace
F Alonso6th6th
F Massa7th9th

The other half of that battle had a difficult weekend. Felipe Massa lost it at the start of the race, spinning round and dropping to the rear of the field. To claw his way back up into the points shows how useful the safety car can be, and how well Massa can do when he puts his mind to it. Felipe marked the spin down as a necessary move to avoid hitting Nico Rosberg at the first corner, and he also had to avoid his teammate, leaving him with very little option but to end up facing the wrong direction.

Fernando Alonso has been vocal about his dissatisfaction with the Pirelli tyres of late, and in Korea, he struggled with tyre degradation from the very first green light in practice. Alonso was another that ended up staring at the back of Hülkenberg's car for a while, and eventually he just had to hang on for sixth place.

Hanging on feels very much like Ferrari's gameplan at the moment. They've not shown much promise or progress in qualifying for a long time, and it's getting harder and harder for the Scuderia to minimise the damage come Sunday. They have second in the championship at the moment, and Fernando Alonso believes they can keep the driver fight alive if they have another miracle... but keeping it alive and overhauling Vettel are two very different things.

The top places were out of reach, in what was a very tense race for both our drivers, caught in traffic behind the Saubers from start to finish. On this track, their two cars were able to make the most of better traction on the exit to the corners and their high top speed made life difficult when trying to overtake them.

- Pat Fry, Chassis Technical Director, Ferrari

McLaren

Driver positions - McLaren
DriverQualifyingRace
J Button12th8th
S Pérez11th10th

The McLaren boys were close to getting into the top ten in qualifying, but they both just missed out - with Sergio Pérez getting one up on his teammate on Saturday. Things turned around in the race massively, however, after Pérez suffered another of those tyre blowouts. Just like at Silverstone, the Mexican found one of his tyres didn't want to play anymore, and he was forced to hurry back to the pits and get another one.

Jenson Button also had his strategy compromised, although in nowhere near such a dramatic fashion. The Brit was caught up in the tangle at turn three with Felipe Massa, and had a bit of contact that damaged the endplate on his front wing. Although the damage itself wasn't significant in terms of aero performance, the pit wall were concerned about rocketing temperatures and called him in early for a new nose.

There was a second pitstop problem for Button, as later in the race he pulled away from the box only to pause, because the red of the traffic lights system had come back on. It's not clear if that was to stop him, a mistake, or resetting too early, but it was just a minor delay that probably needs a bit of investigation.

Towards the end of the race, both drivers were running quite well but their tyres dropped off. Button missed out on seventh place in the closing stages of the Grand Prix, but both McLaren cars finished in the points, which is a good result after what was an eventful afternoon on track.

Williams

Driver positions - Williams
DriverQualifyingRace
P Maldonado18th13th
V Bottas17th12th

Williams put in a shockingly bad performance in qualifying, with both cars being knocked out in the first session. Maldonado thought his lap was okay but that they simply lacked pace, whilst Bottas complained of traffic in the final sector that halted his flying lap. Either way, it was a lowly grid position for the two Williams cars.

The race didn't hold much better promise either, as the cars remained firmly near the rear of the field and were even doing battle with Giedo van der Garde in his Caterham - until the Dutchman was handed a drive through penalty for being a little too feisty in overtaking. In the end, Bottas managed to finish 12th with Maldonado 13th, but that was more through other drivers retiring than a genuine fight to get near the points.

It's hard to judge the performance of the drivers when the car isn't up to much, and Pastor Maldonado has already admitted he would rather stay at home next year than continue to drive in the Williams the way it is. That has to touch a nerve in the garage and the factory somewhere. As always, the fans want to see Williams do well, but it's a case of turning the tide and it's unlikely to be this year that we see any improvements.

I really need a good car to enjoy F1, and this year I'm not enjoying it. I'm living a really bad moment and I need some motivation to keep doing my best... I don't want to just be in Formula One, to be honest. It's better to stay at home, if it's like that."

- Pastor Maldonado, F1 driver, Williams

Caterham

Driver positions - Caterham
DriverQualifyingRace
C Pic19th14th
G Van der Garde20th15th

Caterham’s qualifying say them in a bit of a no-man’s land, firmly ahead of the two Marussia drivers, but behind Williams. Unfortunately it says more about Williams performance than it does about Caterham’s improvements that they can take the fight to the Grove-based outfit, but with Charles Pic just ahead of Giedo van der Garde on the grid, they had those blue and white cars firmly in their sights.

Pic was in the wrong place at the wrong time when the race began, having to move off track to avoid Massa’s spun Ferrari, but he made up those places and more. As the retirement rate was so high, Pic managed to lead his teammate up the order to finish 14th and 15th – just one place off the coveted 13th place secured by Marussia earlier in the year.

It was a penalty heavy weekend for the team though, as Pic was told off for ignoring the call to the weighbridge in qualifying, Giedo scored himself a drive through penalty in the race, and Pic again was given his third reprimand of the year for ignoring yellow flags. That’s a ten place grid drop for him, although in reality it’s more like a two-or-three place drop.

Marussia

Driver positions - Marussia
DriverQualifyingRace
J Bianchi21st16th
M Chilton22nd17th

Talking of penalties not quite having the intended effect, Jules Bianchi was given a three place grid drop after qualifying for the Korean Grand Prix, as the stewards felt he had impeded Paul di Resta. That dropped Bianchi to the back of the field, behind his teammate, but it didn’t take long for him to get in front on race day.

Chilton’s post-race comments point out that thanks to the two safety cars, the backmarkers didn’t fall prey to the blue flag problem, which made their lives a bit easier, and probably made the races a little nicer for them too. Chilton praises the pit stops, whilst Bianchi thinks they could take the fight to the Caterhams ahead of them if they didn’t have to spend so long worrying about tyre management – a familiar story!

Toro Rosso

Driver positions - Toro Rosso
DriverQualifyingRace
JE Vergne16th18th
D Ricciardo13th19th

Jean-Éric Vergne claimed at the start of the race weekend that although he conceded Ricciardo had the edge on him in qualifying, he was essentially a better racer than his Australian teammate. Cue one qualifying and race performance later where the only time Vergne was ahead of Ricciardo was when the latter was parked up at the side of the road.

Having qualifying as expected behind his teammate, but slightly better than normal - well into Q2 - the pair lined up on the grid firmly in the midfield. Ricciardo had a mechanical issue partway through the race that stopped his running, making it two races in a row that he has failed to see the chequered flag.

Vergne continued in the race for a little longer but the team brought him into the pitlane and retired the car. He said the car was pulling to one side, and the team believe it was a brake problem similar to that which halted Daniel's running as well. As soon as there is an issue on both cars at the same time, it's immediately something to be concerned about, particularly as there isn't a lot of time between back-to-back races to fix it. Hopefully, Toro Rosso can get the brakes patched up and ready for some more racing in Suzuka, as I want to see if Vergne can live up to his grandiose claims.

Force India

Driver positions - Force India
DriverQualifyingRace
P Di Resta15thDNF
A Sutil14th20th

While Adrian Sutil caused one of the more high-profile incidents of the weekend, it was Paul di Resta that gained most of the Force India attention. Sutil's spin into the side of Mark Webber put an end to the Australian's race, and caused a pretty intense fire. However, the stewards decided not to penalise the incident after finding that Sutil didn't necessarily brake later than anyone else, he had just mismanaged his machinery under the safety car and didn't have the right temperatures to corner safely.

To Di Resta's weekend, then, and it was not a good one. Qualifying has been a problem for the Scot since the start of the season, and this weekend it was all about Jules Bianchi. Not only did the Marussia impede Di Resta during Q1, but Paul also managed to blame Jules for issues he had in the second session as well.

In the race, Di Resta spun off and it was one of the more disappointing spins I've seen. He reckons he took a bit too much kerb and although he ended up in the barriers, it was hardly a big off. That does make it four races in a row where Paul has not seen the chequered flag, though, so Ricciardo doesn't have anything to worry about on that front.

All content in the series South Korea 2013