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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game