Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull are marching towards more glory. photo: E.R.R.

Vettel on cusp of ‘boring’ fourth title

I’ve been a Formula One fan for 12 years now, and as I cast my mind back to great races, great battles and great champions, there is a lingering period of dullness.

The dominance of Michael Schumacher between 2000 and 2004 was a time when F1 lost a great deal of fans, because the races were being won by one man.

Sound familiar? Sebastian Vettel is doing just that, winning Sunday’s Korean Grand Prix without ever being seriously threatened and taking another step toward his fourth consecutive title.

The German streaked away from the start in typical fashion, albeit pursued closer than usual by Lotus’ Romain Grosjean who took second from Lewis Hamilton with a sensational move on the first lap. Grosjean would eventually finish third, being passed by his teammate Kimi Raikkonen in the closing stages after two safety car periods helped the Finn make a two-stop strategy work.

The two Lotus drivers were followed home by Sauber’s Nico Hulkenburg, who delivered what was arguably the drive of his career.

Indeed, this result along with his fifth-place finish at Monza in what is quite clearly an off-the-pace car raises questions about why he isn’t being snapped up by Lotus themselves. For the last 10-15 laps, he resisted relentless pressure from Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, going side-by-side with either of them every single lap into turn one or turn three.

Alonso will surely not go down without a fight, but it seems inevitable that the only real fight this season is for second

Putting this into perspective, this is a young driver in an inferior car fighting against two of the greatest talents the sport has ever seen in superior cars. Quite why Lotus aren’t ringing up his agent 20 times a day until he signs a contract is beyond me.

Looking down to the tail end of the top ten, Nico Rosberg finished seventh after dropping back when his nose cone bizarrely came loose. Fortunately for him, the safety car closed up the pack after he had lost over a minute with the fiasco and allowed him to overtake slower cars on fresher tyres after the restart.

One of the unfortunate drivers to be caught by Rosberg was Mclaren’s Jenson Button, who himself suffered yet more bad luck in Korea, getting caught up in an incident on the first lap and damaging his front wing. The Brit would eventually finish eighth, just ahead of Ferrari’s Felipe Massa who caused the incident at turn three on the first lap.

Massa is now doing Ferrari no favours following their decision to replace him with Raikkonen next season, since he managed to cause the carnage by spinning on the brakes, lunging optimistically up the inside of teammate Alonso.

The top 10 was rounded off by the McLaren of Sergio Perez, who eventually won the final point after an incredible battle with Massa, Esteban Gutierrez and the two Williams cars. Indeed, in such a predictable season, it is refreshing to see pure racing where drivers push each other to the limits of the track and their cars. Gutierrez pulled off a particularly impressive move in the sequence, diving down the inside of Pastor Maldonado at a corner where I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone overtake.

Unluckily for the Mexican, he finished 11th, just outside the points, but it will come together for him before the end of the season.

Other drivers enjoyed a less successful weekend. In particular, Force India suffered a miserable time with both their drivers retiring due to driver error. Both Paul Di Resta and Adrian Sutil made seemingly rookie mistakes at a bad time of the season, since they are both probably fighting for their careers.

For Di Resta in particular, maybe the frustration of probably losing out on a top seat yet again to the likes of Perez, Daniel Ricciardo and Hulkenburg is getting the better of him. Indeed, this is the fourth race in a row that he has crashed out without any kind of mechanical fault and will surely not help his cause to pursue the vacant seat at Lotus for 2014.

The other driver who had a weekend to forget was Mark Webber. One wonders why he seems to inherit the majority of Red Bull’s mechanical problems. The Australian started way down at 13th on the grid following the controversial reprimand and subsequent grid penalty for the “lift” given to him by Fernando Alonso after the Singapore Grand Prix.

He was fighting back through the field well before an engine fire forced him to retire. Small wonder he has chosen to leave F1 when this is the kind of result he can expect each week.

So the F1 circus moves on to the fabulous Suzuka circuit in Japan in two weeks’ time with Vettel on the brink of being crowned champion once again. Alonso will surely not go down without a fight, but it seems inevitable that the only real fight this season is for second.


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