Lewis Hamilton limps in as Vettel cruises to victory in Korean Grand Prix
Sebastian Vettel had some tyre wear issues to consider towards the end of the Korean Grand Prix, but otherwise it was another walk in the park for the German as his third victory in a row moved him into the lead of the world championship fight by six points from Fernando Alonso.
While Red Bull generated the tipping point of the season and became the only team to score a one-two this year, with Mark Webber following Vettel home, Alonso's day of damage limitation kept Ferrari in play as he took third. Webber's hard-won pole counted for nothing as Vettel sped down the inside into the first corner, and as the supposedly "dirty" side of the grid conferred an advantage, Alonso was likewise able to deprive Lewis Hamilton of third place.
Further back, Sergio Perez set in train a series of incidents which compromised McLaren's Jenson Button, before Perez's Sauber team-mate Kamui Kobayashi hit the silver car twice under-braking for the third corner and forced Button into immediate retirement with front suspension damage. Nico Rosberg was also forced out of the race. Button said later that Kobayashi's subsequent drive-through penalty was insufficient punishment. "I don't think it's enough. He's wiped out two drivers with very good chances of scoring points."
McLaren's disastrous day saw Hamilton troubled early on with high tyre wear. He demonstrated his mettle as a racer with superb battles with Kimi Raikkonen and then Nico Hulkenberg and Romain Grosjean, before a third pit stop on lap 42 dropped him back to fight with the Toro Rossos of Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo. But when he picked up a chunk of dislodged Astroturf on his right-hand sidepod towards the end it affected the aerodynamics of his car and as he dropped away he was lucky to resist Perez at the flag by a scant 0.3sec.
"I was told after the race that my car had suffered a rear anti-roll bar failure a few laps into the second stint. It was safe to drive – and I was trying my best with it, pushing all the way – but it was extremely hard to maintain a good pace," Hamilton said. "The balance was switching from corner to corner, the car was moving around along the straights, and it was eating up the tyres, which meant we lost further ground by being forced into a three-stop strategy.
"To make things even more difficult, I then picked up some stray run-off Astroturf, which tangled itself around my sidepod winglet for the final few laps. It stalled the diffuser – so I had no rear downforce at the end, which made it even trickier to hang on to 10th place. 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."
Hamilton's team principal, Martin Whitmarsh, called the drive heroic and one of the most hard fought point in McLaren history. But, like Button, the departing driver knows that his title chances are now extremely slim. Hamilton said: "Logic suggests that that's probably it for me. There are a lot of points still up for grabs, so I'll keep pushing. I'll never give up."
Meanwhile, yet again Vettel owned the race, controlling Webber easily. Further back, Alonso kept them honest but no more than that, and was lucky that it was team-mate Felipe Massa who rode shotgun all the way to the flag after another good race in which he had greater pace than the Spaniard. "We've had a good last couple of races but we've seen the championship go up and down," Vettel said. "We just have to focus on ourselves and getting the best possible results."