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Korea preview - Vettel cautious as Ferrari prepare to fight back 11 Oct 2012

(L to R): Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing and Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari. Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday 23 March 2012. Race winner Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing in parc ferme. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Korean Grand Prix, Race, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Sunday, 16 October 2011 Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB7. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Korean Grand Prix, Race, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Sunday, 16 October 2011 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari 150 Italia.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Korean Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Saturday, 15 October 2011 Luca di Montezemolo (ITA) Ferrari President and Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Italian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Monza, Italy, Saturday, 8 September 2012 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren MP4/26.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Korean Grand Prix, Practice Day, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Friday, 14 October 2011 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren on the drivers parade.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Race, Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, 7 October 2012 Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB7.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Korean Grand Prix, Race, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Sunday, 16 October 2011 Grid girl.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Korean Grand Prix, Race, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Sunday, 16 October 2011 Sun sets over the circuit.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Korean Grand Prix, Race, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Sunday, 16 October 2011 Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes GP MGP W02.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Korean Grand Prix, Race, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Sunday, 16 October 2011 Pre race ceremony.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Korean Grand Prix, Race, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Sunday, 16 October 2011 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren MP4/26 and Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB7 at the start of the race. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Korean Grand Prix, Race, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Sunday, 16 October 2011 Grid girl. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Korean Grand Prix, Race, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Sunday, 16 October 2011 Pre race ceremony.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Korean Grand Prix, Race Day, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Sunday, 16 October 2011

Sebastian Vettel’s stunning victory in Japan brought him within four points of Fernando Alonso’s lead in the world championship following the Spaniard’s retirement, and puts Ferrari on their back foot going into Korea this weekend.

Despite Red Bull’s domination and an advantage of almost a second a lap at times during the Suzuka race, Vettel insists he isn’t thinking about a third consecutive drivers’ title just yet.

“I’m very careful on this obviously, in terms of championships this race was a big step and it helped us but we see how quickly things can change,” he said in Japan. “Look at the last… I don’t know how many races there were since the summer break, but four or five; we had a DNF in Monza, if you look last year we had only one race where we didn’t finish. So obviously this year is entirely different for everyone. It seems that we are more on the limit, trying to find a step in the right direction, and that’s true for everyone, so it’s much closer. Every weekend can be different and instead of then having a bad weekend and still finishing fourth or fifth, you might then be only 10th, because of guys like Sauber and Kamui [Kobayashi], Sergio [Perez] and other guys - the Lotus is very strong this year - so they all keep scoring consistently but obviously one of us at some point has to park and watch the race from the outside, which is not nice and something you don’t hope for.

“That is why I say I want to be very careful because it’s still a long way ahead and there’s a lot of things that can happen. I think it was important for us, obviously we did have some pace this weekend and it was important for us to make use of that.”

Ferrari have been in trouble for a while, with suspicions that their wind tunnel has been giving spurious feedback which has prevented updates from delivering the expected results. Felipe Massa nonetheless demonstrated that the F2012 had great pace in Suzuka.

“Clearly, we must work a lot on the development of the car,” Alonso said after he was taken out of the Japanese race in a collision with Kimi Raikkonen off the start line. “I’m not worried, but we must react to the step forward that the other competitors have made.

“Now we start a sort of mini-championship, run over five Grands Prix. The aim will be to score at least one point more than all the others. What happened to us today could happen to the others next time: the wheel turns and that is what races are all about.”

Meanwhile, McLaren had a rude shock when they were usurped so comprehensively by Red Bull in Japan, having had the best car since Hungary.

“The result in Suzuka showed that anything can still happen in this world championship,” team boss Martin Whitmarsh says. “I’m still convinced that we can fight for, and win, both titles in 2012 - and we head to Korea determined to narrow the gap to the top in both world championship points tables.”

In the countdown to his move to Mercedes, Hamilton is still in there fighting for the 2012 title.

“The car that I ended the race with in Japan felt great - and I’m confident that we’ll kick off the race weekend in Korea with a strong package,” he says. “I put the car on pole there last year. That was a very significant moment for me - I’d been trying so hard all year to get a pole, and it took everything I had to get the best out of the car. It was a huge effort, and a bit overwhelming at the time.

“In the race, unfortunately, we just didn’t have the pace to stay with Sebastian in the Red Bull - he was able to dive past me and pull away. I still managed to finish second, though: it was an unbelievably tough race - I had a handling problem because the front wing was clogged up with tyre debris, so I had to try everything to keep Mark [Webber] behind me.

“I think we’ve had the potential to win both Korean Grands Prix in the past, but I’ve never had a race weekend there on which everything has gone quite right for me. We’ve got momentum on our side once again, so I head to Korea determined to fight for victory.”

The good news for McLaren is that Jenson Button’s gearbox seems okay, after worries over its performance in Suzuka when it seemed he was about to suffer the same problem that had put Hamilton out in Singapore. All the indications are that this was not caused by an imminent hardware failure but by overheating rear brakes affecting some of the rear-wheel sensors which control the seamless gearshifts.

"It was a problem with the smooth shifting of the gears but probably only as a consequence of the sensors being overheated on the right rear hub," Whitmarsh explained.

Meanwhile, though Red Bull say that their double DRS system that prompted so much talk in Japan was not the reason for their increased pace, Mercedes will be pushing forward with development of their own system this weekend, while as part of a major upgrade package Lotus will be bringing the same Coanda-effect exhaust system that the Brackley team introduced in Singapore. Mercedes are vulnerable to attack from Sauber who, following Kamui Kobayashi’s excellent podium run last weekend, are convinced they can overhaul the Silver Arrow team for fifth place overall.

Many eyes will be on Lotus driver Romain Grosjean, following his ban after Spa and the accident he caused with Mark Webber last weekend. The 26 year-old Swiss-Frenchman has described this race as “an opportunity to make amends”.

As ever, tyre performance will be critical this weekend. The Korean International Circuit poses a fascinating technical challenge with the first half of the 18-corner track containing several high-speed corners and a 1.050-kilometre straight, and the end of the lap being tight and twisty. Car set-up is thus a compromise between straight-line speed and low-speed grip.

There are several overtaking opportunities, the most popular being into Turn Three. Maximum speeds exceed 310 km/h along the preceding straight: a crest in the braking area also makes it easy to lock a wheel and make a mistake. Other passing opportunities are into Turns Four and 10.

Pirelli have brought the same soft and super-soft rubber as they did last year, when the choice was seen as a bold gamble.

“That’s because Korea has the highest lateral energy loadings of all the circuits where we use the super-soft tyre,” motorsport director Paul Hembery explains. “In the end, we saw the super-soft lasting for 10 laps or more and the soft lasting for 20 laps or more, enabling a two-stop strategy for the majority of the drivers. This year, however, all our Formula One tyres are softer apart from the super-soft, which has remained the same. We should see another two-stop race this year, which in theory should be even faster.

"This year though, there have been some changes to the aerodynamic regulations, which have generally slowed lap times down over the course of the season. Strategy played a key role in last year's race but there was also a safety car and some rain at the start of the weekend. So Korea is the sort of circuit where anything can happen, and as always the teams with the most data and the ability to adapt that information to rapidly changing circumstances will be the most successful."

Giedo van der Garde will get another Friday practice outing with Caterham, the team’s tester stepping into Vitaly Petrov’s car for FP1. Similarly, Valtteri Bottas will take over Bruno Senna's Williams, Jules Bianchi will be in Nico Hulkenberg's Force India, and Dani Clos stands in for Narain Karthikeyan at HRT.

The circuit retains its single DRS zone on the main straight, though it has been extended by 80m for 2012. In other changes to the track, a number of verges have been laid with asphalt and painted with green non-slip paint and drainage has been improved in the pit entry; the artificial grass on the exit of turn 13 has been extended as far as the end of the asphalt run-off; the ‘sausage’ kerb on the apex of turn 18 has been lowered by approximately 30mm and the leading 1.5m chamfered linearly to zero; and higher debris fences have been installed on the right between turns 7 and 9.

The weather should be reasonably settled - sunny with partial cloud, some wind and ambient temperature highs of between 22 and 24 degrees Celsius.

The race will run over 55 laps of the 5.615-kilometre (3.489 mile) circuit, or 308.630 kilometres (191.782 miles). It starts at 15.00 hours local time, which is nine hours ahead of GMT.

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