Flying German Sebastian Vettel will look to seize control of the Formula One title race at the Korean Grand Prix (GP) starting Friday after two straight wins left him breathing down Fernando Alonso’s neck.
Red Bull’s double defending world champion proved he’s finding form when it counts when he swept to pole position in Japan last week, and then dominated the race as Ferrari’s Alonso was eliminated at the first corner.
Vettel’s imperious performance, following his impressive win in Singapore, saw the German—who is still only 25—jump to within four points of Alonso, the championship leader since June, with five races to go. The Airtel Indian GP in Greater Noida from 26-28 October will follow the Korean GP.
Vettel won the South Korean race’s second edition last year but he has been careful not to talk up his chances of usurping Alonso, and warned that the Yeongam circuit, in the country’s rural south, poses particular challenges.
“In principle, the track is made up of two parts: a permanent race track and the end, which is more like a street circuit, although we’re not in the city,” he said. “The circuit is demanding and the last section is tight.”
Conversely, Ferrari have been bullish about their title chances since the Suzuka fiasco, where Alonso’s Japanese Grand Prix lasted just seconds before he was nudged out by Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus. But the famed Italian team, in an official release, also noted that Japan had left Alonso with a “bitter taste in his mouth”. With their campaign in the balance, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo issued a rallying cry. “It’s at times like these that I want to see the Ferrari I know,” said di Montezemolo. “A team that is focused and that holds its nerve.”
He added, “I expect a huge effort from our engineers, who have already shown they are capable of that, and we are perfectly aware that this championship is still in our hands.”
McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, who is quitting for Mercedes next year, is fighting to stay in contention after his challenge faltered in Singapore and Japan, mainly due to mechanical problems. McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh told reporters: “He (Alonso) is under pressure, more pressure frankly from Sebastian than from us, but we have closed that gap and we have five races to go.”
He added: “The result in Suzuka showed that anything can still happen in this world championship. I’m still convinced that we can fight for, and win, both titles in 2012.”
McLaren are also operating in the midst of a breakdown in relations between their two drivers, highlighted when Hamilton accused his teammate Jenson Button of disrespect for unfollowing him on Twitter. He backtracked when he found out that Button had not been following his micro-messages in the first place.
Meanwhile, Raikkonen is third in the drivers’ standings, 37 points off the lead and five ahead of fourth-placed Hamilton, in his first season back after a stint in rallying. Next in the table lie Red Bull’s Mark Webber, and Button.
“I’ve never been to Korea, but it doesn’t make a difference for me,” said the no-nonsense Raikkonen. “Since I was young, I have always been able to pick up circuits quickly. This has not changed. It’s always interesting to race at a new venue and I enjoy going to different places. It gives me a good feeling.”
The Korean Grand Prix is in only its third edition, and has suffered teething problems, with heavy rain and patchy local interest. Alonso won here in 2010 and Vettel took the honours in 2011. Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher, who has announced his return to retirement, said, “Korea is one of the more recent additions to the Formula One calendar, and that’s still reflected in the fact that we don’t get too many fans at the race.
“It’s a pity because the circuit layout makes for good racing, but I think the situation is improving each year. It’s a challenging track and well designed, which lots of the drivers enjoy.” AFP