Korea preview - still everything to play for 13 Oct 2011
The Korean Grand Prix proved a dramatic and popular addition to the Formula One calendar last year, and even though the 2011 world championship has been settled in Sebastian Vettels favour once again, there is plenty to look forward to.
For a start, the newly-crowned champ would like to get some payback with a 10th season victory after engine failure robbed him here last year.
Winning the title in Suzuka was fantastic, Vettel says, and it is still sinking in what we have achieved. But we didnt win that race and I really want to get back on the top step of the podium and to push really hard over the remaining races to see just what we can do now that all the pressure is off.
Red Bull team mate Mark Webber also wants to make up for the mistake here that arguably cost him the world championship in 2010, and to score his first win of 2011. Plus a good result for him and Vettel this weekend could seal the constructors crown for the Milton Keynes squad.
Jenson Button is looking to cement his runner-up position and is in a really purple patch with McLaren right now after his brilliant win in Suzuka, while team mate Lewis Hamilton wants to silence his critics with another victory. Korea marks the teams 700th Grand Prix.
Winning in Japan was one of the most satisfying and emotional victories of my career, and Im really looking forward to carrying that momentum into this weekend, too, Button says. Although last years Korean Grand Prix wasn't one of my greatest performances - we just couldnt get the car hooked up properly - I think that, given the current pace of the car and the form the team has at the moment, Im going into this years race feeling much more positive.
The most important difference is that I have a car beneath me that I can really trust - for me, that wasnt really the case here last season: but, this year, our car just feels positive in every type of corner, and I feel comfortable pushing hard, because you can really feel the limit. I think you could really see that at Suzuka.
So Im feeling much more optimistic about this years race. Its an interesting circuit, theres a good range of corners - Turn 11 is pretty unique, its a double-apex, heavily cambered left-hander, and the back-end of the track is quite interesting, too - theres only really one line through that sequence of bends, and, if you get one wrong, you can risk losing out through the whole sequence. Im quite confident that we should be able to hook the car up quite well through that sequence this year.
Hamilton had a strong run to second place last year. It was a long, tough afternoon, he recalls, but Im glad we got the chance to put on a race for all the fans whod come for the first-ever Grand Prix in Korea.
I think the DRS zone into Turn Three should definitely make for some exciting racing: last year, the back straight didnt really produce too much overtaking because it was so wet and there was so much spray by the time we reached that downhill braking area, that it wasnt an easy place to pull off a pass. The weathers supposed to be good this weekend, so I think well really begin to see how this circuit works in the dry.
You can tell that this track has been designed to be a good place for racing - Turns Four, Five and Six are a bit like the end of the lap at Istanbul Park, where you can attack on the inside and the outside and try and fight your way past. Second was a good place to start last year, but I want to go one better in 2011.
Down at Ferrari, Fernando Alonso wants to repeat last years result and to take one step higher on the podium after his great drive in Japan last weekend. In the midfield, Renault are still pushing after Mercedes, while Sauber closed to within eight points of Force India for sixth after Sergio Perezs excellent race at Suzuka.
For this race Toro Rosso will give rising Red Bull star Jean-Eric Vergne his first experience at a Grand Prix when he drives Jaime Alguersuaris STR06 in FP1 on Friday morning. That session will also see HRTs Vitantonio Liuzzi stand aside once more for Narain Karthikeyan ahead of the Indians imminent home race return, while compatriot Karun Chandhok is expected to get an outing in Jarno Trulli's Lotus.
Pirelli have taken their biggest tyre gamble yet, with their P Zero Yellow soft and P Zero Red super-soft compounds. The Yeongam circuit in Mokpo, 400 kilometres to the south of Seoul, proved a hit with the drivers last year with its blend of medium- and high-speed corners and kilometre-long straight which runs between Turns Two and Three. But its a stark contrast to the flowing Suzuka, and the tyres will face an exceptionally tough challenge. There are several low-speed and technical corners, as well as some faster bends, which require the tyres and the car set-up to be extremely versatile.
Pirelli also expect that in its second year of use, the asphalt is likely to have worn away, exposing the aggregate in its full sharpness before the stones have worn down. Thus the surface could be very abrasive, leading to accelerated tyre wear. The faster corners also mean that Yeongam has the highest lateral loading of all the circuits where the soft and super-soft combination has been used: Monaco, Hungary, Canada and Singapore.
Just like Canada, Yeongam is a semi-permanent track, with the section that runs alongside the harbourside using normal roads. This means that there are variable levels of grip, which affects the set-up. The long straight before the first sequence of corners does not help the tyres to warm up effectively, and when they are suddenly subjected to severe bends when cold, the risk of cold tearing and graining is increased.
Korea presents the super-soft tyres in particular with their toughest test of the year, admits Pirellis motorsport director, Paul Hembery, but with the championship decided this is a valuable opportunity for us to try out some alternative nominations in order to have some more information for next year.
Because of the abrasive surface and comparatively high lateral loading we might expect a higher number of pit stops than usual from the drivers basing their strategies around the softer tyre. Some may prefer to concentrate on the harder compound, so its going to be another very interesting race tactically. Historically it will be an important event for us, as its the first race we come to with a Pirelli-equipped Formula One world champion for more than 50 years.
The weather should be reasonably settled apart from Friday, when heavy rain showers are forecast. Otherwise it will be sunny with ambient temperatures of 21 degrees Celsius on Saturday and Sunday.
Several changes have been made since last year to improve verges and kerbing around the circuit, whilst the wall between Turn 16 and Turn 18 on the drivers right has been moved back in order to improve visibility through the corner.
The single DRS zone is on the 1.050 kilometre main straight, which should boost passing into Turn Three. The detection point is 30 metres after Turn One, with the activation point 516 metres after Turn Two.
The race will run over 55 laps of the 5.615 kilometre (3.489 mile) circuit, or 308.630 kilometres (191.783 miles). It starts at 1500 hours local time, which, like Japan, is nine hours ahead of GMT.
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