x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Sebastian Vettel raises his game at right time for Red Bull

Formula One defending champion looking ominous as he wins race by capitalising on poor start from teammate Mark Webber at Korean Grand Prix.

Such was Sebastian Vettel's dominance yesterday, the Red Bull driver could set his fastest lap-time near the end of the race. Clive Mason / Getty Images
Such was Sebastian Vettel's dominance yesterday, the Red Bull driver could set his fastest lap-time near the end of the race. Clive Mason / Getty Images

MOKPO, South Korea // Even the best efforts of Red Bull Racing's amateur theatrics department could not add excitement to a processional Korean Grand Prix that ended with an air of inevitability in regards to the destination of this year's world championship.

On days such as these, when the racing proves dull and the drivers prove duller, it is hard to blame the local population for opting not to attend their annual home race. There were no sensational shunts, no championship-changing retirements and no tears like in the previous two races.

Indeed, only an increasingly fraught series of radio messages to Sebastian Vettel late in the race offered anything close to front-of-the-field drama.

The two-time world champion started yesterday's race in second, but capitalised on Mark Webber's typically poor start to jump his teammate before the first turn and never looked back.

The German provided the predictable by holding the outright lead for the remaining 55 laps to eventually cross the line more than eight seconds ahead of Webber. Ferrari's Fernando Alonso finished a further 13 seconds behind.

The result means Vettel usurps the Spaniard to top the championship standings for the first time since April, so it is understandable that he should call the contest "a fantastic race".

There are few, however, who could agree and such was the comfort of the 25 year old's drive, he could have had time to do the maths mid-race and come to the conclusion that, in two tedious hours, he had transformed a four-point deficit into a six-point advantage.

With Webber too far behind Vettel and the fourth-placed but faster Felipe Massa being ordered to back off teammate Alonso, there was never any danger of a late wheel-to-wheel battle for a place on the podium.

Perhaps it was for this reason, as the chequered flag neared, Vettel's race engineer Guillaume Rocquelin felt the need to add some drama to proceedings.

First, he cautioned his driver about a severely degrading front-right tyre and to be careful around Turn One and Turn Four. Then, one lap later, the danger level heightened when the warning came that "anything could happen" and shortly after again it reached crucial levels as he cautioned darkly: "You will not know when it is too late".

Much to the disappointment of the Ferrari garage, however, the predicted adversity never arrived.

Instead, in a last act of doomsday defiance Vettel set his fastest lap-time on his final circumnavigation. He later said the time was more down to the car running less fuel than it was him pushing more forcefully.

"Towards the end [the fuel tank is] nearly empty, so you go quicker without even trying harder," he said. "Obviously we try to look after the tyres during the whole of the last stint, because we've seen before how sudden the front tyre can lock up and you can lose control.

"But we controlled it very well and still had some shoes left; the tyres were not new, but they were not completely worn, so I was going a little bit quicker."

Vettel and Webber, who secured the season's first one-two finish, had proved quicker than their rivals all weekend and as the season approaches its final quartet of contests, it is difficult to see past Red Bull's dominance.

Three successive wins, the first driver to win four times this year, supreme in qualifying, Vettel is very much in the driving seat on route to the calendar's next double-header in India and Abu Dhabi.

Alonso, displaced from the top of the standings for the first time in four months, maximised his car's potential once again, but knows his team must make a significant step before they arrive in Delhi in two weeks' time if his hopes of a third world championship are to remain feasible.

He said he is calm about the situation, but memories of his team's previous inadequacy, which resulted in a loss to Vettel in Abu Dhabi on the final day of the 2010 season, will grow as the trip to Yas Marina Circuit approaches next month.

"We are always on the limit, but we feel comfortable like this," he said.

"We seem to extract the maximum from the car when we are under pressure and there are four beautiful races to come with good possibilities for us to fight for the championship.

"I'm sure there will be some circuits where we are a little bit more competitive, and some circuits where we are maybe not competitive enough, but overall, in the last four races now we need to score seven points more than Sebastian. It will be extremely tough, but we believe we can do it."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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