Sebastian Vettel the man to beat in Korea?

October, 20, 2010

Korea's event on the calendar represents so much of what Formula One is becoming, an ever-expanding sport that continues to delve into new markets, including India and Russia in the near future. While it is certainly exciting to venture into the unknown, it leaves a considerable number of questions to be answered by both the teams and the spectators.

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Sebastian Vettel
Mark Thompson/Getty ImagesSebastian Vettel celebrates after winning the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on Oct. 10.

Fans want to see competitive racing on exciting tracks, and the newer circuits on the calendar have been a mixed bag of late. The season finale last year at Abu Dhabi left much to be desired, while the spectacle that is Singapore has quickly become a favorite among drivers and fans alike. It's a very delicate balance between adding venues while ensuring that the traditional tracks, such as Spa, Monaco, Monza and Silverstone, remain on the schedule each season. It is no secret that new locales offer huge financial opportunities compared to long-standing events, but Korea is an interesting example.

The track is hours away from South Korea's capital of Seoul and provides a challenge for teams in regards to car setup, as the circuit not only has the longest straight on the F1 calendar (more than a kilometer) but also a mixture of several fast and slow corners. There's also the issue of it being a new track, with grip levels near zero for the race weekend.

A few drivers in the field have the benefit of winning at a new track recently. Sebastian Vettel claimed victory at Abu Dhabi last year, another circuit that runs counter clockwise. Two years ago, Felipe Massa won the first race on the Valencia Street Circuit, while Fernando Alonso took the victory at Singapore in a most controversial fashion that same season.

Drivers who have won on a new track (since 2008):

• Sebastian Vettel, Abu Dhabi (2009)
• Felipe Massa, Valencia (2008)
• Fernando Alonso, Singapore (2008)

Alonso may take the checkered flag at Korea, as he's finished very well at several circuits this year that emphasize straight-line speed. While he had to retire at Spa, the Spaniard won at Monza, the fastest track on the schedule. Monza was one of the tracks this season that concerned Red Bull, as the team has not been the quickest on straightaways. That could also mean that the playing field is more so leveled for McLaren as well, considering Lewis Hamilton won at a very fast Spa this summer and is one of the best at adapting to new venues quickly. In 2008, he finished second at Valencia and third at Singapore. Last year in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton took the pole but had to retire with brake issues.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner summed up his concerns to reporters earlier: "Korea is new for everybody, but looking at the track layout -- with the longest straight on the calendar -- you'd have to say that's going to be tough for us because of the package we have. But Sectors 2 and 3 have quite a lot of fast, flowing corners so hopefully they should suit our chassis strengths more."

So much is on the line at a track where so little is known. Three drivers are within a race win of each other, with two more just beyond. To put that better into perspective, in the epic title years of 2007 and 2008, only two drivers were within a win of each other atop the standings with three races remaining.

Most drivers within a race win with three races remaining (since 2000):

• 2010 -- three
• 2003 -- three
• 2008 -- two
• 2007 -- two
• 2006 -- two
• 2000 -- two

Another angle entering this weekend would be to take a look at how the contenders have faired in Asia this season. In the four events on the continent thus far (Malaysia, China, Singapore and Japan), Vettel has really shined, scoring three podiums and two wins, including at Japan just recently. Compare that to an average finishing mark of 7.1 everywhere else, and it is likely that Vettel is very happy to be back on Asian soil. Teammate Mark Webber has also been very strong in Asia, with a 3.8 average finish. It's Hamilton who has had the issues, compiling an average finish of eighth while reaching the podium only once.

Best average finish among contenders in Asian races this season:

• Sebastian Vettel -- 2.5 (2 wins)
• Mark Webber -- 3.8 (0)
• Jenson Button -- 4.3 (1)
• Fernando Alonso -- 5.3 (1)
• Lewis Hamilton -- 8.0 (0)



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