A third consecutive victory for Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel, following on from his success in Singapore and Japan, has made the drivers’ championship even closer heading into the final four rounds of the season.
Vettel started the race from second on the grid using the Pirelli P Zero Red supersoft tyres, and then carried out two stints on the P Zero Yellow soft tyre to win from his team mate Mark Webber, having taken the lead at the start. Vettel’s fourth victory of the year has given him the drivers’ championship lead, while third and fourth places for Ferrari, thanks to Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa respectively, moves the Italian squad up to second in the constructors’ championship.
McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton was the first of the top drivers to stop on lap 13, on a circuit where the front-right tyre is particularly tested. Nonetheless, with a low wear rate, both compounds showed durability and performance on the Yeongam circuit. Two laps later, race leader Vettel also stopped for the first time, taking a set of soft tyres like Hamilton. A different strategy was adopted by Sauber’s Sergio Perez, who started on the soft tyre and then changed to the supersoft on lap 18, finishing on a set of softs for the last 22 laps.
Webber also tried to use tyre strategy to his advantage by pitting earlier than his team mate on both occasions in an attempt to ‘undercut’ him, but Vettel was still able to stop for the second time for soft tyres on lap 35 and re-emerge in the lead after a 2.9-second pit stop. His final set of soft tyres went for 20 laps, while Webber made his final set last for 23 laps – also setting the fastest lap of the race with one lap to go.
The top 10 all started on the supersoft tyre, which proved to be between 0.2 to 0.6 seconds quicker per lap than the soft. The highest-placed driver to start on the soft tyre was McLaren’s Jenson Button from 11th, but he was eliminated on the opening lap following a start incident. This left Perez as the top runner who started on the soft tyre, with the Mexican eventually finishing 11th on a two-stop strategy.
Hamilton adopted a three-stop strategy, finishing 10th after ending the race on the rapid supersoft tyres following his final stop on lap 42. The Englishman attempted to make up places during his final stint, exploiting the extra performance offered by Pirelli’s softest compound, but came under pressure from Perez with his McLaren trailing a piece of astroturf picked up from the side of the circuit.
By contrast, Williams driver Pastor Maldonado went for a one-stop strategy, changing from the supersoft to the soft on lap 21 and making his final set of soft tyres last for 34 laps. The Venezuelan finished in 14th place.
Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery commented: “In the end we saw the majority of competitors adopting a two-stop strategy here as they did last year, despite the fact that our soft tyre is softer than it was in 2011 – although a one-stop strategy still proved to be possible. We’re satisfied with the performance of both compounds, which experienced less graining than they did in free practice and qualifying, thanks to a high degree of track evolution.
Congratulations to Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel, who has won more races than anybody else this season, thanks also to his tyre management skills that allowed him to control his advantage from the front in Korea and take the lead of the championship standings for the first time since Barcelona. We also saw many interesting battles all the way down the classification, with a wide range of different strategies adopted as each driver tried to gain a competitive advantage. With particular demands placed on the front-right tyre, the final phase of the race proved to be crucial, but Vettel managed the situation perfectly.”
PIT STOP SUMMARY – 2012 KOREAN GRAND PRIX
Vettel: SSU SN (15) SN (35) 2
Webber: SSU SN (14) SN (32) 2
Alonso: SSU SN (15) SN (34) 2
Massa: SSU SN (14) SN (35) 2
Räikkönen: SSU SN (14) SN (35) 2
Hülkenberg: SSU SN (13) SN (32) 2
Grosjean: SSU SN (13) SN (31) 2
Vergne: SN SN (13) SSN (38) 2
Ricciardo: SSN SN (14) SN (34) 2
Hamilton: SSU SN (13) SN (26) SSU (42) 3
The first column denotes the tyres the driver started the race on.
S = Soft compound SS = Supersoft compound
N = New compound U = Used compound
NC = Not classified DT = Drive Through
The last column gives the total amount of pit stops.