Sebastian Vettel untouchable in Korea

October, 19, 2011

Soon after celebrations in Korea concluded, the open-wheel world mourned the loss of former IndyCar champion Dan Wheldon in a terrible accident in Las Vegas. It was a sobering reminder of the inherent dangers in motorsports, even today, and it provided time for reflection and remembrance of a truly great driver.

Racing can provide unimaginable highs and lows; less than six months prior, Wheldon had won the Indianapolis 500 in the most dramatic fashion. He grew up racing against Jenson Button, and provided inspiration to Lewis Hamilton and others. It's an enormous loss to IndyCar and the motorsports community.

Just hours before, 24 Formula One drivers had taken to the grid at Korea for the second time in as many years. The first practices yielded little information, as rain concealed any truly quick lap times. Qualifying, however, delivered a surprise, as Hamilton claimed the pole. It signified the end of a 16-race run in which Red Bull was on the pole, the third-longest streak in F1 history.

Hamilton's tough season continued, however, just moments after the red lights went out Sunday, as Vettel quickly jumped into first. The Red Bull ace went on to clinch the fastest lap on the final trip around en route to his 10th win of the season, only the second time this season in which he's posted the quickest lap of a race. That's a stark contrast to the two other 10-plus win years in F1, when Michael Schumacher notched 10 fastest laps in 2004 and seven in 2002.

A third-place result by Mark Webber also helped to clinch the constructors' title for Red Bull for the second year in a row. Legends Ferrari, Williams and McLaren are the only constructors to win three straight titles, so Red Bull has the opportunity to join a very exclusive list in 2012. Additionally, no team has ever claimed its first three titles in consecutive fashion.

While McLaren has not won a constructors' championship since 1998, the team had reason to celebrate Sunday, as Korea marked the squad's 700th grand prix. On display at the McLaren Technology Centre this week were cars from each of the milestone races in the team's history (100th through 600th), and the excitement spilled over into the race when Hamilton and Webber fought wheel to wheel immediately after their second pit stops. Hamilton's ability to keep Webber at bay and take the second spot on the podium was likely a big boost for his confidence, considering he's experiencing a relative low point in his career.

Just a year ago, Korea marked a significant expansion of Formula One, and next week the sport will see another key chapter begin in the form of the inaugural Indian Grand Prix. The Buddh International Circuit is located in northern India outside of New Delhi, and it marks F1's entry into a nation that over 1 billion people call home.

The circuit promises to be a unique one; the three very slow turns in the first sector likely will yield some excellent overtaking opportunities, and the constant elevation changes make for an additional challenge. It's a clockwise layout that features a very long right-hand bend with multiple apexes in Turns 10 and 11, and with any luck, this race could provide some of the most exciting battles fans have seen all season. Car setup will be crucial, but that's likely a very tough task for a circuit that has nearly every feature. Hermann Tilke's designs have not always been a favorite among drivers and fans, but this may very well be an exception.

India may also see a significant record fall. With three races still to go, Vettel is within 50 laps led of the most in a single season, set by Nigel Mansell in his dominant 1992 campaign. It's very possible for the mark to fall, as the event is scheduled for 60 laps. If he leads the field after at least 49 laps, Vettel will become the first man in F1 history to have led 700 laps in a season.

A few drivers also will be celebrating some milestone starts. Felipe Massa will be starting his 150th grand prix, despite Ferrari believing that South Korea marked the occasion. In truth, he has two no-starts (2005 United States and 2009 Hungary), and one of those was apparently counted in his total entering Korea. Lotus pilot Jarno Trulli will be making his 250th career start, a mark only three drivers have previously reached.



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