Sebastian Vettel was the man on the top step of the podium in Japan last weekend and he will be hopeful of continuing his good form at the Korean Grand Prix (7am BST, Sunday).
Vettel’s victory in Japan was made all the sweeter for the German by the first lap elimination of championship leader Fernando Alonso, which allowed the Red Bull driver to close the gap to just four points at the top of the drivers’ standings.
Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikonnen also gained from Alonso’s misfortune, but were unable to make significant inroads into his lead, finishing just fifth and sixth after muted weekends.
The championship tide is clearly turning in Vettel’s favour, with the Red Bull looking the class of the field in Japan. It is also likely to perform well in Korea, a circuit at which Red Bull and Mclaren dominated last year, finishing in the top four positions in qualifying and the race.
Alonso has now been eliminated at the first corner in two of the last four races, without being at fault for either incident, but the two podiums he achieved in Italy and Singapore came by means of canny driving rather than outright pace, confirming the feeling that Ferrari are losing the development battle to McLaren and Red Bull.
Vettel broke McLaren’s run of four consecutive pole positions by taking first on the grid in Japan and qualifying again looks likely to be a battle between the Red Bulls and the McLarens.
Both Vettel and Hamilton have previous pole positions at Korea to their name and will both be there or thereabouts in qualifying. Vettel, though, has the advantage of the double DRS system introduced by Red Bull in Singapore and crucial to his pole in Japan.
The system is very effective in high speed corners, which dominate the early part of the lap at the Korea International Circuit and should give Vettel the edge over Hamilton in the battle for first on the grid.
The Mercedes team were the first to introduce a double DRS system, but their failure to reach the top ten shootout in Japan last weekend at a circuit where the system should have provided a big advantage shows how far off the pace they currently are.
A better bet to reach qualifying session three in Korea is Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg. The German driver qualified in the top ten in Japan before his grid demotion took effect, and went on to finish a strong seventh in the race itself. His team are confident they have a strong car for Korea and Hulkenberg can therefore be hopeful of a good performance.
The 2010 Korean Grand Prix was beset by rain that saw a large chunk of the race completed behind the safety car. Current forecasts suggest rain is unlikely this weekend, so this year’s race could follow a similar pattern to the 2011 edition.
In that race, eight of the top ten qualifiers also finished in the top ten positions in the race itself. This suggests that overtaking can be difficult on the 3.5 mile circuit and means that a strong qualifying performance is vital for drivers hoping to have a good race.
With the Red Bull likely to be the class of the field in qualifying, Mark Webber has a good chance of achieving a high finish after a bad run of luck in recent Grand Prix.
Webber was taken out by Renault’s Romain Grosjean at the first corner in Japan, but still recovered to ninth, recording the seventh fastest lap of the race despite a partially damaged car. If he qualifies well he will be well poised to record his first podium since his win at the British Grand Prix in July.
Ferrari might not be right at the sharp end when it comes to outright pace, but they are quick enough to think that both of their drivers should be in a decent position to secure points finishes in Korea.
Alonso has finished in a points scoring position in 13 of the 15 races this season, while his team-mate Felipe Massa has also finished in the points in all of the last five Grand Prix and in eight of the last 10. Ferrari finished fifth and sixth at Korea last year and a similar result is certainly possible this time around.
Korean Grand Prix Betting Tips
- Back Sebastian Vettel to take pole position @ 5/4 with Betfred or Blue Square.
- Bet on Nico Hulkenberg to reach qualifying session three @ 11/8 with Ladbrokes.
- Bet on Mark Webber to finish on the podium @ 7/4 with Bet365 or Stan James.
- Back Ferrari for a double points finish @ 11/10 with Paddy Power.