Martin Brundle column: Thrilled by intense Korean racing
By Martin BrundleBBC F1 commentator
It may be that David Coulthard and I feed off each other's infectious enthusiasm and love of the sport but we seemed to enjoy the Korean Grand Prix more than some in the paddock and no doubt some of the audience too.
I thoroughly appreciated the quality of the wheel-to-wheel racing, particularly the first lap and the intense scrap between McLaren's Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull's Mark Webber.
The race flew by as far as I'm concerned.
It was speed, precision, commitment and bravery at 200mph mere centimetres apart and, despite reputations and recent events, total trust between sportsmen at the top of their game.
It is fair to say, though, that while the top six were in close formation, events such as Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso catching the pack and threatening to steal a podium, having been caught up behind his team-mate Felipe Massa for much of the race, never quite materialised.
“Hamilton clearly in an emotionally bad place. I've heard the gossip about him splitting with his girlfriend ”
Indeed, we even heard the unthinkable from Alonso on the radio. Having just had a near miss with the wall, he said he was giving up the chase. Not that he exactly fell too far away from Jenson Button's gearbox in the remaining two laps of the race.
The battle that Alonso joined at the end of the race was one of the highlights of a grand prix that was full of intense action.
Hamilton was defending from Webber, with Button close behind and Alonso homing in on them rapidly.
Hamilton's race was compromised by the slots on his front wing filling up with rubber 'marbles' - debris from the tyres.
That caused a loss of downforce and consequent large amounts of understeer, particularly in the super-fast Turn 17.
Hamilton's robust defence from Webber was top-class racecraft.
Hamilton's mood attracted a lot of attention over the weekend. He is only a few years older than my own racing son, and so from a fatherly and human perspective it makes me sad to see him so unhappy.
Red Bulls too quick in Korea - Hamilton
I don't know Hamilton well enough to fully understand what may be going on, but I have known and observed him for a number of years and he's clearly in an emotionally bad place.
I've heard the gossip about him splitting with his girlfriend, the pop singer Nicole Scherzinger, and we don't see his family close by any more as we very much did in the early years.
My reading was that Hamilton wanted to send a message to somebody about how unhappy he is at the moment, and so chose not to celebrate his excellent pole position in the normal manner.
Korea was the end of a run of five consecutive podiums for Button, Hamilton's team-mate.
Curiously, McLaren seemed to use their tyres on this layout slightly more aggressively than Red Bull, whereas just seven days before in Japan the opposite scenario swept Button to victory.
“Ferrari's ears will be ringing from the blast they must have received from Alonso after the race for not moving Massa out of the way much earlier”
But Button was still in touch at the end despite having a horrible first lap where everything seemed to work against him as he ended up behind both Ferraris.
Alonso, for his part, ends his second year at Ferrari without a championship and the pressure for the team's 2012 car to perform out the box will be playing on the minds at everybody in the team this winter.
That's when their ears stop ringing from the blast they must have received from Alonso after the race for not moving Massa out of the way much earlier. He needs to stop being out-qualified by Massa - this was the fourth time it had happened in six races.
Immune from all the chaos, Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel celebrated one of the more dominant of his 10 victories this season so far.
Seizing the lead at Turn Four of the opening lap was pivotal, and ensured that it was Hamilton's wing filling with rubber and not his.
Vettel was able to control the race pace despite the safety car closing the pack up.
Watching the opening lap from Vettel's onboard camera confirms to me that anybody who says he cannot race has no idea what they are talking about.
“I'm very sad to learn about the death of IndyCar racer Dan Wheldon. It's the nature of the sport but that is particularly cruel”
Webber seemed pretty satisfied with his well earned third place which helped ensure that Red Bull wrapped up the constructors' title for the second year.
The race did not turn out quite how many expected.
After wet practice sessions on Friday and one hour of running on Saturday morning, we were hearing consistently that four maybe even five pit stops would be required for the race. Red Bull even compromised qualifying to save the more durable 'soft' 'prime' tyres.
By race morning this became four stops, with some hoping for three. In the end two stops, with a little help from the safety car, were all that were needed.
Vettel's tyres were in such good condition that he comfortably delivered the fastest lap of the race on the final tour.
In many ways I am pleased that despite all the technology and simulation tools, along with an army of strategists and technicians in each team, nobody really knows exactly what's going to happen.
The Korean circuit is especially difficult in that respect because this was only its second grand prix, last year's inaugural race was wet and there is virtually no racing action at other times of the year. As a result, there is a high evolution as the surface cleans up and rubbers in.
Elsewhere in the race, Toro Rosso did a fine job with seventh and eighth, especially Jaime Alguersuari. Their recent pace makes me wonder if the sister Red Bull team are helping out a little now the titles are won and the performance gap is sufficient.
Paul di Resta was in the points for the sixth time this season for Force India. The Scot is surely in F1 to stay.
Finally, I'm very sad to learn of the tragic death of British IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon, which we learned about on Monday morning in Korea.
It's the nature of our sport but that is particularly cruel and my condolences and heart goes out to his wife, two young children, and his family and friends.
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