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A different take on the Korean GP

An errant astro turf, an angry Lady Luck, and an eager beaver driver turned a long Korean Grand Prix into a slightly interesting race.
Monday, October 15, 2012

October 14th, 2012 (F1plus / Chitra Subramanyam)

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Winging It

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I yawned and stretched, reaching for my gigantic mug of tea. Lady Luck was fast asleep, curled up on the astro turf.

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Lewis Hamilton came a bit too close. She glanced up and snarled. I bet she did. There can be no other reason. Because the next time I caught a glance of Lew-Lew, he was trailing a long bit of astro turf. It flipped and flopped, like the banner of a forlorn king who’d just lost a battle. Sergio Perez was close behind, nearly there, looming large. Hamilton surged forward trying to stay ahead. The finish line neared and Perez made a last-ditch effort. But Hamilton, surged ahead, turf and all, crossed the line 0.3 seconds ahead of the Mexican and grabbed 10th position.

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The F1 procession finally came to an end. It was an interminably long race – peppered occasionally with fights for position. Hamilton’s astro turf was the most memorable event. Well, that and the start of the race. But it seems like the Lady is taking a break after offering up an incredible season. Personal sentiments aside, it does seem like the season has given us as much unpredictability as it could, and that we are now scraping the bottom of the excitement barrel.

With Singapore, we are on Red Bull-friendly circuits. Add to this, the new developments to the car – a double-DRS rear wing, new front wing, the double-DRS device, and more recently in Korea, updates to the rear bodywork. It now looks like we are heading towards an inevitable end that will see that dreaded Finger pointed at us, yet again. Oh Blah!

For now though, let’s focus on Korea. The Yeongam circuit may have Hermann Tilke stamped all over it, but it does offer up plenty of overtaking opportunities. So, why then did I spend a lot of time on Twitter, instead of sitting at the edge of my seat, watching the race? Beats me. But all was not lost. Korea did leave its stamp – maybe for the wrong reasons. But, we will remember the race anyway.

They Got Wings: Red Bull

So, if you thought those wings were clipped, think again. Mark Webber grabbed the pole followed closely by Sebastian Vettel. The race started with much excitement as the cars sped off, nose-to-nose, angling for the front, trying to grab the lead. The Finger won that battle, sped off into the Korean horizon, and stayed ahead. He pushed his car and the tyres so hard Adrian Newey had kittens. Go slow, the team told Vettel. Go slow! Watch the tyres. Oh for crying out loud, go slow (in case you are wondering, this isn’t verbatim). I do think Vettel stopped off halfway through, downed a cuppa with Lady Luck, before rejoining the race. Yes, he was that far ahead. He won.

Their Wings Got Clipped: McLaren

McLaren has somehow lost its wings. They have gone from championship contenders to let’s-just-finish-the-darned-season contenders. What has happened? In Jenson Button’s defence, it was sheer bad luck. First soon-to-be-teammate Sergio Perez gave Button’s car a light tap. Then, overenthusiastic Kamui Kobayashi clipped him good and proper, while trying to sneak past. That was that for Button. He later said, “…then suddenly Kamui’s car was climbing all over my car’s right-hand side. It’s extremely disappointing. This is a long race, with so much opportunity for everyone. It’s a great circuit for overtaking, so it’s surprising to see people behaving like that on the first lap.” Nico Rosberg was another Kamui-casualty, as he retired a lap later.

Then Lady Bad Luck spotted Hamilton. Oh my. I wonder what he has done to make her so mad. It just doesn’t end. So first there was the tyre-wear issue. It has troubled all the teams at this circuit. It also left us playing a guessing game, wondering about their pit-stop strategy. Hamilton pitted at the 13th lap to change tyres. Then, somewhere along the line, in the second half, his car suffered a rear anti-roll bar failure. So, the team was forced to adopt a three-stop strategy. We all know about that errant piece of Astroturf. Hamilton later said that it got tangled around the sideboard winglet in the final laps. “It stalled the diffuser – so I had no rear down force at the end, which made it even trickier to hang on to 10th place,” he said. Hamilton is now more or less out of the championship battle; not mathematically though. He said, “…Logic suggests that that’s probably it for me. Having said that, there are a lot of points still up for grabs, so I’ll keep pushing. Stranger things have happened, and I’ll never give up. It doesn’t feel great to experience days like these, but every cloud has a silver lining. Put it this way: it’s good to see what’s in your heart when you keep fighting. Days like these show the true spirit within.”

This is a startling, mature statement from a man who has pretty much acted like a spoilt brat in the past. Looks like someone’s growing up! Add to that the great battles Hamilton gave us: First with Kimi Raikkonen, then Nico Hulkenberg, and then Romain Grosjean (who kept his nose clean this race!). He may have dropped down the pack towards the latter half of the race, but then he battled the two Toro Rossos. Great stuff!

Felipe Massa seems to be coming back to form.

Then, The Prancing Horse Got Wings

So, Ferrari has been phenomenal, the drivers, not the cars. Fernando Alonso was this tornado through this season, as he climbed to the top of the championship. Then, Felipe Massa suddenly woke up. He grabbed the podium last race. And then, decided he did not want to be a one-podium wonder. So, even as Alonso kept a tight grip on his 3rd position, Massa was close behind. But he never attacked. He had the pace though. Massa later told F1.com: “Towards the end, I closed on Fernando, but attacking him was never even up for discussion: I know how important every single point is in the title fight. The whole team is doing its utmost to help Fernando and I am there for him, just as the team is and as it has been for me when I found myself in the same situation.”

Massa also seemed like a man who will sleep a tad easy. He said, “In this second part of the season, I have probably understood the best way to drive this car on these tyres: now I’m enjoying myself and it’s a pleasure to make the most of everything I’ve got when sitting in the cockpit. Maybe there was also some pressure regarding my future coming into play: but at a certain point, I told myself I should not think about it too much anymore and probably this approach helped. Now I feel stronger and when you enjoy what you are doing, it is the best.”

Epilogue

The F1 circus now heads here, to India. I am excited for many reasons, but also because the championship is wide open. Last year Vettel was the clear leader. The door is still open this time around. Ferrari is now 2nd in the Constructor’s, even though Red Bull is still in the lead. Vettel may be in the lead in the Driver’s Championship, but Alonso isn’t far behind. Surprise, surprise Kimi Raikkonen has managed to hold on to his 3rd spot. All eyes though are on Red Bull and Ferrari.

Two weeks from now, I will battle the heat, traffic and general Delhi madness to report from the Indian Grand Prix. Perhaps I can get Lady Luck drunk enough to give us a truly startling race.

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