|Sebastian Vettel with the trophy, in Yeongam, on Sunday
Yeongam: Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel completed a hat-trick of Korean Grand Prix victories on Sunday to put himself only one week away from potentially clinching his fourth successive Formula One title.
The 26-year-old’s third successive Korean win, and eighth triumph in 14 races, left him 77 points clear of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso with five races, and a maximum 125 points, remaining.
If the German wins in Japan next weekend, as he did last year, and Alonso fails to finish in the top eight — just as last year — the championship will be over. “That was a very, very disciplined drive. Well done,” team principal Christian Horner told him over the radio after taking the chequered flag. Vettel, who now has 34 career wins, replied with his customary whoop of delight.
Alonso could manage only sixth place on an overcast afternoon that threatened rain without delivering the downpours that might have mixed up the field and given him more of a hope. The Spaniard now has 195 points to Vettel’s 272. “There’s still a chance for Fernando, I think,” said Vettel. “So we have to stay on top of our game. But to be honest... We’re just having a good time.
“I look forward to Japan because it’s one of the nicest tracks of the whole season.”
In a race that exploded into action, with two safety car periods including one bizarre moment when a fire marshals’ regular 4X4 drove on to the track and led the field before the official Mercedes pace car had been deployed, Vettel celebrated his fourth victory in a row.
Finland’s Kimi Raikkonen finished second, ahead of Lotus teammate Romain Grosjean, in a race running along familiar lines of Vettel domination before jolting the audience awake with a bang.
McLaren’s Mexican Sergio Perez brought out the first safety car with the explosive de-lamination of his front right tyre, which had worn through after hard braking, that left a strip of tread lying in the middle of the track on lap 31 of 55.
When that safety car came in on lap 36, after the debris had been cleared, Vettel’s Australian teammate Mark Webber was hit by Adrian Sutil’s skidding Force India at the restart.
The Australian pulled over with his car on fire, for the second race in a row.
With marshals struggling to put out the blaze with extinguishers, the 4x4 appeared on the track ahead of the field between turns one and two and with its hazard lights on while the official Mercedes SLS AMG safety car brought up the rear.
“It’s not great getting stuck behind the safety car but I’m really pleased with the result and great by the team,” said Vettel, whose podium appearance at the sparsely-attended Yeongam circuit met none of the booing that had marked the previous three races. Fortunately we had enough pace to get ahead after both safety cars but both Kimi and Romain were very competitive and did better with their tyres,” he added.
Vettel had made a clean start from pole, his third in a row, while Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton — who ended up fifth at the finish — dropped to third when Grosjean passed him. (Reuters)