Lewis Hamilton, Mark Webber, Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso waged a fabulous fight throughout the Korean GP, finishing 3.6s apart after 55 nail-biting laps. But if anything put Sebastian Vettel's performance into its complete perspective it was that the newly crowned world champion was simply in a class of his own as he finished 12 seconds ahead of all of them.
McLaren started their 700th grand prix with Hamilton on pole and Button third, but by the end of the first lap the writing was already on the wall. Vettel simply drove by Hamilton in the fourth corner before Webber, Felipe Massa and Alonso all demoted his team-mate to sixth.
"Lewis was very fair in Turn 4, where I was right on the edge and nearly went straight on," Vettel said of the crucial move of his race. "I was worried initially that he would then get into the DRS zone and repass me, but the car got better and better and I was able to keep clear."
Not even a safety-car intervention on the 17th lap, after Vitaly Petrov crashed into the back of Michael Schumacher, unsettled Vettel's rhythm and he simply owned the race, scoring his 10th victory of the season in the style of Jim Clark at his greatest.
That left Hamilton to follow him home after driving a pluperfect race in a car that should have finished third. Webber, whose opportunistic move on Button and Massa on the opening lap had earned him his podium finish, pushed Hamilton hard and by the 32nd lap it was clear that Hamilton was not only in no position to win, but would have to drive like a man possessed to keep second. They went through corners side-by-side, each giving the other racing room but no quarter. Seventeen laps later a great move saw the Australian jump ahead into the first corner, but Hamilton immediately drafted by again going into Turn 3.
"Mark drove fantastically well and was very fair," Hamilton said. "The only way to stay ahead was to use my extra power out of Turn 1, and I was extremely fortunate to be able to keep him behind. I wasn't sure I could, especially when they said there were still 15 laps left. It was a good fight."
Webber agreed. "I passed Lewis into Turn 1, but he came straight past me again. He knew where his car was strong and my car was strong, and we had a fight before and after the pit stops. The one after was a good battle. Nothing extreme, just a good car race."
As Button struggled to close down a second-and-a-half gap, a longer middle stint had taken Alonso past troublesome team-mate Massa and he was flying as he scythed away the six-second gap to Button to make it a four-way fight in the closing stages. None of the quartet, however, was able to pull off a passing move despite their DRS wings and the kilometre-long main straight. Vettel's habitual sunny demeanour afterwards, as he celebrated a 10th victory and the 1-3 result that cemented for Red Bull a second straight world championship for constructors, was in stark contrast to Hamilton's. The Englishman's mien all weekend bore the hallmarks of personal unhappiness, perhaps over affairs of the heart, although he put on a brave face after his best performance since he won in Germany in July.
"They were massively quick," he said of the Red Bulls, "and I struggled with full-lock understeer at the end. I came here in a decent mood and had a good weekend. I didn't win, and we actually went backwards and I wouldn't say I was happy about that, but I was able to keep the car on the track, I didn't have any penalties, so that's a positive.
"I've never questioned my belief in myself, so that's not something that needs doing. I have trust and confidence from my team, I stayed out of trouble and the stewards' office, and I'll keep my head down and hope for good results. What else do you want me to say? I'm not ecstatic, I didn't win. I'm positive, but there's nothing to celebrate."