Korean Grand Prix: Sebastian Vettel nears fourth title as sparks fly behind him

German secures victory but team-mate Webber's car goes up in flames

Sebastian Vettel drove to the brink of his fourth consecutive World Championship title with his eighth victory of the season and fourth in a row in the Korean Grand Prix yesterday – but behind him smoke, fire and controversy raged.

The Red Bull driver was less dominant than he had been in the previous three races, and had to be careful to nurse his car on a track notorious for punishing the right front tyre. But at least there were no boos this time.

Vettel can now clinch the title in the next grand prix in Japan, if his nearest rival Fernando Alonso finishes eighth or below. The scenario is perfectly feasible, given the Red Bull driver’s dominance and the fact that Alonso’s Ferrari could finish no better than sixth here yesterday.

Lotus’s Romain Grosjean took the fight to Vettel initially, by passing Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes into second on the opening lap, but was later overtaken by team-mate Kimi Raikkonen – before the pair nearly collided. The Finn, in turn, had been thrown a lifeline by the first of two safety car deployments, on the 31st lap when Sergio Perez’s McLaren had thrown the tread off its right front Pirelli tyre after he had locked up under heavy braking. As the race resumed on the 37th lap Grosjean made a mistake in the last corner, enabling Raikkonen to line up a pass in the next one.

Lotus played down the controversy over the near miss afterwards even though there had been a series of tense radio exchanges with Grosjean, who wanted to know whether he could challenge his team leader in the closing stages. “We’ll talk about this afterwards, but for now big smile on the podium please, big smile,” he was told.

“Unfortunately for me and good for Kimi, the safety car came,” Grosjean said after complying. “I made a small mistake, my fault, and Kimi passed me and then there were yellow flags so I couldn’t use my DRS afterwards. I was quicker today but this is a track where it is almost impossible to overtake. It’s not the end of the world.”

Raikkonen simply said: “He made a mistake in the second-last corner and I got a good run. I heard there would be yellow flags on the straight so knew he would not get me back with DRS. So I decided to overtake and it was not too difficult.”

Just as things were settling down again, Adrian Sutil spun in turn three on the 37th lap, his Force India striking Mark Webber’s Red Bull. The Australian’s car caught fire and the safety car was deployed again. While local marshals were slow to react, the chief fire officer deployed a fire tender without the permission of race control, a breach of governing FIA protocol which is likely to cost the already financially imperilled organisers dear.

When the race resumed again on the 41st lap Vettel moved clear of Raikkonen and Grosjean, but was scolded by his team for setting the race’s fastest lap on the 53rd of the 55 tours as he needed to nurse his right front tyre and avoid the fate that had befallen Perez. Eventually he won by 4.2 seconds as Grosjean shadowed Raikkonen home.

Fourth place was the subject of a furious late-race fight between Nico Hulkenberg, Hamilton, Alonso, Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg. The Sauber had the edge on traction and straight-line speed over the Mercedes, and, though Hamilton briefly got ahead going into turn one on the 48th lap, the German was able to repass on the main straight and thereafter frustrated Hamilton’s every move to take fourth. As they battled Alonso did all he could to take advantage, and on the 41st lap he and Hamilton switched places several times before the Englishman reasserted himself.

“That was not a great day for us,” Hamilton said. “It seemed that we were losing out to other cars under traction all day. In my second stint my right front tyre was just destroyed all of a sudden, so it was really hard to maintain the pace. Our car was really strong through the middle sector but not quick enough on the straights. It was a nice battle with Fernando but it’s hard to take when it’s only for [fifth or sixth].”

Further back, Rosberg fought back from delays caused by a front wing failure just as he had overtaken a tyre-troubled Hamilton for third place on the 28th lap, and as Button faded a little he was able to overtake on the 53rd lap. But by then he had lost touch with the Hulkenberg-Hamilton-Alonso battle.

Button rued an early clash with Sutil which damaged his front wing, necessitating an early pit call, and later a delay on his second as the pit release lights went green then red, obliging him to stop momentarily.

“Considering those delays, eighth place wasn’t a bad result,” Button said. “But I was gutted to lose seventh right at the end.”

Vettel insisted he wasn’t thinking about the title and said: “I’m just thinking in the present. There are still a lot of points to get and, even though it looks very good for us, there’s a chance still for others so we have to stay on top of our game. I’m just having a good time, the team and car are working really well, but it’s on the edge, more so than it looks from the outside. To be honest with you, I don’t really care, I’m just really looking forward to racing in Suzuka.”

Suggested Topics
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions