Sebastian Vettel made it a hat-trick of victories as he took a dominant lights-to-flag win in the Korean Grand Prix to move back into the lead in the world championship.
Vettel took the lead from Red Bull team-mate and pole sitter Mark Webber into the first corner and never looked back, controlling the race from the front and surviving a late scare over his tyre wear to finish eight seconds in front of the Australian to complete his second successive victory at the Yeongam circuit.
Fernando Alonso finished third, just in front of Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa, but the podium will act as little consolation to the Spaniard who now trails Vettel by six points with four races remaining. And were it not for team orders from the Ferrari pit wall Massa would probably have had the pace to beat Alonso to the final podium spot.
The McLaren team had a nightmare afternoon, with Lewis Hamilton finishing down in tenth after struggling with a rear suspension problem for most of the race and the Brit only narrowly held off Sergio Perez for the final point after astro turf from the side of the track got lodged underneath his car in the closing stages, slowing him dramatically.
If Hamilton’s day was bad, it was nothing compared to that of team-mate Jenson Button, who was eliminated from the race on the opening lap after being hit by Kamui Kobayashi into turn 3. The incident also eliminated Nico Rosberg, while Kobayashi, after serving a drive-through penalty for causing the accident, was forced to retire later on in the race with accident damage. Button later labelled the Sauber driver an ‘idiot’.
Kimi Raikkonen had a relatively quiet afternoon to finish fifth, while Nico Hulkenberg produced arguably the drive of the day to come in sixth. The German endured a race-long battle with Romain Grosjean, ultimately prevailing over the Lotus driver after a superb overtaking move in which he passed both Grosjean and Lewis Hamilton into turn 5.
Toro Rosso matched their best performance of the season with Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo finishing eighth and ninth respectively. Both drivers impressed with a series of overtaking moves in the early laps before consolidating their positions in the closing stages. Ricciardo was running ahead of his team-mate, but had to cede the position to the Frenchman in the closing stages after developing a braking problem.
The rest of the race was largely forgettable, the best of the action mostly involving Hamilton as he struggled with his car problems to stay ahead of his rivals. His fight with Grosjean and Hulkenberg apart, he had some good battles with Massa, Raikkonen and Vergne, but ultimately his car lacked the pace for him to be able to keep up. The incident with the astro turf in the final few laps just compounded the McLaren driver’s misery.
As far as the bigger picture is concerned, Vettel now leads the standings on 215 points, ahead of Alonso on 209. Raikkonen and Hamilton still retain slight hopes of landing the title, but at 48 and 62 points respectively off Vettel’s lead, it will take a minor miracle for them to overhaul the reigning champion.
Red Bull’s 1-2, the first for any team this season, has taken them a huge step towards winning the constructors’ championship for the third straight year, with the Milton Keynes-based outfit now 77 points ahead of Ferrari, who have leapfrogged McLaren into second.
1) Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault – 1:36:28.651
2) Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault – +8.231 seconds
3) Fernando Alonso Ferrari – +13.944 seconds
4) Felipe Massa Ferrari – +20.168 seconds
5) Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault – +36.739 seconds
6) Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes – +45.301 seconds
7) Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault – +54.812 seconds
8) Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari – +1:09.589 seconds
9) Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari – +1:11.787 seconds
10) Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes – +1:19.692 seconds
11) Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari – +1:20.062 seconds
12) Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes – +1:24.448 seconds
13) Michael Schumacher Mercedes – +1:29.241 seconds
14) Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault – +1:34.924 seconds
15) Bruno Senna Williams-Renault – +1:36.902 seconds
16) Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault – Lapped
17) Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault – Lapped
18) Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth – Lapped
19) Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth – Lapped
20) Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth – Lapped
21) Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth – Retired
22) Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari – Retired
23) Nico Rosberg Mercedes – Retired
24) Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes – Retired