The 2012 Korean Grand Prix proved to be the turning point in Sebastian Vettel’s season. Not only was it his third race win in a row, but it also meant that he took the championship lead for the first time since the Spanish Grand Prix five months earlier.
Fernando Alonso went into the weekend with a four point lead in the driver’s standings after a torrid Japanese Grand Prix. However, the Spaniard would emerge from the Korean round six points down on rival Vettel, a gap that he would never make up.
The weekend started off with Friday practice in rather dusty conditions, due to the lack of on-track activity. Lewis Hamilton was fastest in FP1 before Vettel moved to the front to dominate in FP2 and FP3.
Qualifying arrived and everyone was expecting yet another Vettel pole position. However, it didn’t turn out that way. He did set the pace in the first qualifying session, where Bruno Senna joined Petrov, Kovalainen, Pic, Glock, De La Rosa and Karthikeyan in the drop zone, before maintaining his position at the front of the field in Q2.
Button made a shock exit in the 15 minute second session, finishing in 11th place. He was joined in the drop-zone by Perez, Kobayashi and Di Resta. Maldonado and the Toro Rosso duo of Ricciardo and Vergne also failed to make it through to Q3.
So the top 10 shoot-out arrived but it was Mark Webber who took a surprise pole position. The Aussie held third position after his first run with Vettel holding provisional pole position. However, Webber put in a stunning final lap to snatch pole from his team-mate. Hamilton moved up to third ahead of Alonso, Raikkonen and Massa. Grosjean and the two Mercedes drivers rounded out the top 10.
The 2012 Korean Grand Prix took place under sunny skies with Webber lining up on pole position and Vettel looking menacing behind. Off the line, Webber got a decent start but Vettel was faster away, taking the inside line into the first corner and with it the lead of the race.
Behind, a Sauber locked up and made contact with the rear of Jenson Button’s car. Meanwhile a handful of cars took to the run-off area at the first turn. As they swept through the second corner and onto the long run to turn three, Webber attempted to reclaim the lead and Alonso went side-by-side with Hamilton for third. Webber failed in his attempt but Alonso made it through.
Further back, Button was hit by Kamui Kobayashi and vented his frustration, calling the Japanese driver an “idiot” over team radio. The scraps were close in the midfield but it was Vettel who held the early advantage. Rosberg was also caught up in Button and Kobayashi’s clash, joining Button on the side lines on lap two. He pulled off on the long straight following turn two and the yellow flags were out for quite some time before his car was eventually removed, halting a number of exciting battles.
By lap four it was clear that Vettel would be tough to beat. The German had pulled out of the DRS zone and continued to ease away from Webber as the laps counted down. Kobayashi was handed a drive-through for causing the turn three crash.
The first pit stops arrived on lap 14 and leader Vettel took to his pit box two laps later, re-joining the race on the soft tyres. Alonso returned to the circuit just behind Perez, who had yet to stop, and the two battled hard before the Mexican eventually let him past at turn three.
Lap 22 saw Vettel’s lead extend to seven seconds, looking at ease at the front of the field. Hamilton and Raikkonen had a nice mid-race dice with the Finn getting past his McLaren rival into turn three. The Brit fought back into turn four and reclaimed the place before pitting for the second time on lap 27, switching to a three-stopper as tyre wear was higher than expected. Webber pitted on lap 31 for the second and final time, moving on to the ‘prime’ tyre. Alonso pitted shortly after before Vettel dived into the pit lane, reacting to a monumental lock-up into turn three that proved to his only mistake of the race.
Lap 39 arrived and Felipe Massa was told that he was a “bit too close to Fernando.” The Brazilian had closed in on his team-mate rapidly but followed the order, dropping back from Alonso. Hamilton’s torrid race continued as he duelled with Grosjean for sixth place. The Frenchman attempted a move into turn three but was forced wide. However Hulkenberg was sitting pretty behind the battling duo and dived up the inside of the pair of them into turn four.
Hamilton’s race went from bad to worse when he had to box for the third and final time, dropping him to 10th. That was where he finished, but out front it was Vettel who crossed the line to take victory in Korea for the second consecutive time.
He controlled the race from start to finish in impressive fashion to take his third straight win in as many races, adding to his previous triumphs in Singapore and Japan. Webber crossed the line eight seconds down in second with Alonso holding on to third.
Massa had a strong run to fourth with Raikkonen and Hulkenberg following some way behind. Grosjean led home the two Toro Rosso’s and Hamilton crossed the line in 10th after a disastrous race for McLaren.
Perez, Di Resta and Schumacher missed out on points with the Williams duo just behind in 14th and 15th. Petrov was the best of the backmarkers in 16th, ahead of team-mate Kovalainen, Glock, Pic and Karthikeyan.
De La Rosa retired on lap 16 with a throttle problem and Kobayashi made a rather quiet exit from the race after a dramatic start on the same lap. Rosberg and Button both retired thanks to Kobayashi’s erratic first lap.
Vettel’s fourth win of the season meant he took the championship lead and moved six points clear of Fernando Alonso. With Vettel on a high, the 2012 season headed off to India for the 17th round as the title battle continued to rage on.