It was back to business-as-usual at the front of the Korean Grand Prix, with Sebastian Vettel
taking the lead on the first lap and then slowly cruising away from the rest of the field on his way to his tenth Grand Prix victory of the 2011 season, which also helped to deliver the constructors title to Red Bull
Racing with Mark Webber
also finishing on the podium.
The convincing lead meant Vettel was well in front of a tense and thrilling battle over second place between his team mate Webber and McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, who were both comfortably ahead of Jenson Button
after the Japanese Grand Prix winner had a curiously underpowered but eventually quiet run to fourth place after a worrying start.
The race winner was decided through the first half dozen laps: Hamilton got a decent start on the clean side of the track but Vettel also got away well and was immediately challenging for the lead into turn 1. Hamilton held on but looked on the backfoot, and when they exited the hairpin and headed down to turn 4 the writing was on the wall - a dab of KERS and there was nothing Hamilton could do to stop the Red Bull
getting past on the inside line.
Behind them, Jenson Button
had lost out badly after a flying Felipe Massa
slipstreamed behind Mark Webber
to overtake both the McLaren
and Red Bull
through the hairpin. Button fought back and seemed to be back in front, but then out-braked himself into turn four which not only allowed Massa to complete his pass but also enabled Mark Webber
and Fernando Alonso
to get by the McLaren
as well and push Button down to sixth place.
Perhaps due to the overcast conditions that deposited a light shower on the track in the early laps, neither McLaren
seemed to be showing anything like the superior pace they had demonstrated in practice and qualifying. Hamilton was unable to do anything about Vettel slowing pulling away in front, while Button had to rely on an early pit stop strategy to allow him to 'undercut' the Ferraris and return to the track in front of them both after their own stops, back up in fourth place.
The leaders had all pitted by lap 17 when Vitaly Petrov totally missed his braking going into the hairpin and crashed into the rear-right of Michael Schumacher who had been minding his own business making the turn. Schumacher suffered extensive damage and was out on the spot; Petrov managed to take his crumpled Lotus-Renault to the pits, but the team diagnosed it as a severe case of scrappage and he too was out of the race.
The amount of debris strewn over the road at turn 3 required a safety car which closed up the field, but Vettel had no problems at the restart on lap 21 and set about building his lead up all over again. Even the weather was being kind to the race leader now, the skies clearing and the sun breaking through to lessen the chance of any unpredictable track conditions catching him out on his way to the chequered flag.
But while the race win was signed and sealed from early on, that was anything but the case for second and third which turned into an epic battle between Hamilton and Webber. Webber's pace was surprisingly good even on the harder tyres and he was rarely out of the DRS activation zone behind Hamilton, but he was never quite able to capitalise on his advantage when he needed to: at the critical moments, Hamilton simply had superior traction out of the key corners that gave him enough of a gap to take the ideal blocking line through the next few turns that Webber hoped to use to jump him.
Lap after lap this went on, but Webber's best opportunities to claim second position came in the laps immediately after they both pitted on lap 34, and then later at the end of lap 48 when Hamilton came up on the slow traffic of a Lotus. That gave Webber the chance to briefly take the lead, only for Hamilton to then get the advantage of the DRS activation zone to retake the position into the hairpin. It was all breathless stuff and one of the best on-track battles of the season with two perfectly matched drivers and cars giving it their all lap after lap.