Fernando Alonso took the lead of the world championship standings today with an important victory in a very wet South Korea.
Nine drivers retired from an incident-packed grand prix, including the Red Bulls of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel. Webber made a crucial error in the wet conditions while Vettel was struck down while leading the grand prix by a suspected engine failure.
Lewis Hamilton is still within one race win of the championship lead after he finished the inaugural Korean Grand Prix in second place.
Jenson Button finished outside of the points in twelfth place and, although still mathematically in with a chance of the championship is, in reality, out of contention.
The race got underway ten minutes late due to heavy rain, and then was suspended for nearly an hour after just three laps had been completed. It restarted under the safety car, which then was called upon on two further occasions as drivers struggled in wet conditions.
Felipe Massa joined the two title contenders on the podium, and Michael Schumacher finished fourth after a good display of wet-weather driving from the seven-time world champion.
It was nearly three hours between the lights going out to signal the start of the race, and the checkered flag falling. The race started behind the safety car after a ten-minute rain postponement. The inaugural Korean Grand Prix got underway with cars leaving the grid, in formation, on full wet tyres.
That lasted for just over two laps – and then the red flag came out. Following this was a long, long suspension but, even though the rain had almost completely stopped thirty minutes into this period, the track was judged too slippery for racing. The tarmac was just too new, and couldn't be relied on to provide decent grip in this weather.
The race eventually restarted at 16:05 local time; nearly an hour after the red flag had signalled the stoppage. The race restarted under the safety car, and so full wet tyres were mandatory. Lap 4 began much in the way that Lap 1 did: the field pulled away without incident in formation behind the Mercedes pace car.
Sakon Yamamoto had a brief excursion off-track, but made it back on with nothing dented but his pride. To be fair however, such an incident could just as well have happened in completely dry conditions where Yamamoto is concerned. Michael Schumacher also ran wide, covering the side of his Mercedes with mud.
Race leader Vettel and championship leader Webber were on the radio to their team complaining about lack of visibility and lack of grip. In contrast, Lewis Hamilton, who needed to go racing to keep his slim championship hopes alive, was telling McLaren that conditions were improving and that he was ready for the restart.
But still the safety car remained out. The situation was quickly becoming farcical: although the F1 cars were lapping about a minute slower than they had done in qualifying, the rain looked no worse than it has done at some other races that we've seen over the last few seasons, and drivers with a vested interested in remaining behind the safety car seemed to be influencing race director Charlie Whiting.
Almost as if to highlight the bizarreness of this situation, Lucas di Grassi set a fastest lap on Lap 11 in a Virgin. He then went into the pits to get a new set of full wet tyres, and went ten seconds faster in the second sector of his out-lap than the rest of the field, who were stuck behind the safety car. This highlighted how quickly the cars could potentially go, if they were just allowed to race.
Finally, at the end of Lap 17, the safety car came into the pits, and the Korean Grand Prix finally got properly underway! Michael Schumacher was the first to make a move, getting past Robert Kubica into the first corner. Nico Rosberg got past Hamilton shortly after the restart as well.
Then came the major upset in the championship battle as Mark Webber put a wheel onto the astroturf, slid across the track into a wall, and then collided heavily with Rosberg as he bounced back onto the track. The championship leader was out of the race, to the delight of the McLaren mechanics, and the safety car was back out. Rosberg couldn't continue either.
The order behind the safety car was now Sebastian Vettel leading, followed by Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamiton. Vitaly Petrov took the opportunity to get some intermediate tyres, as did the two Sauber drivers. None of the front runners took the same gamble – which turned out to be a wise decision on their part.
The safety car came in again at the end of Lap 23. Jarno Trulli lost the front wing of his Lotus after a collision with Bruno Senna in Turn 6, but there were no collisions at the front this time.
Two laps after the safety car at come in, Vettel already had a 2.5 second lead over Alonso, who was a further 2.8 ahead of Hamilton.
Just as Lucas di Grassi was sticking his Virgin in a wall, Michael Schumacher showed some of the supreme wet weather ability that he was famous for in the past, overtaking fifth-placed man Jenson Button.
Button pitted at the end of Lap 28, taking on intermediate tyres. He re-emerged by a whole queue of cars, way down the running order.
Another safety car emerged as Sebastien Buemi and Timo Glock collided. All runners from third to ninth, including Hamilton, Massa, Schumacher and Kubica, all dived straight into the pits. The front two, Vettel and Alonso had to wait until they came around again before they could take get some Bridgestone intermediates. Vettel remained in the race lead, but Hamilton got past Alonso. The Spaniard had a problem with the front-right tyre on his stop, and this lost him second place.
However, Hamilton ran wide at the restart on Lap 35, allowing Alonso to take back second place. Teammate Button, who had been languishing in twelfth, also lost out in the restart. He was barged off the road by Adrian Sutil, and slipped further down into fifteenth.
Vitaly Petrov had a massive impact with the barrier near the pit lane, but climbed out of the car and walked away without any trouble.
Lap 42 represented 75% race distance – the milestone at which full points would be awarded should the race not run the full distance of full time period. The top four in the race – Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton and Massa – were all lapping at roughly the same pace. Dusk was approaching in Korea.
Then Red Bull's day went from bad to completely catastrophic on Lap 46, as an ominous plume of smoke rose from the back of Vettel's car. His Renault engine had given up – and his race was over. This was Red Bull's first double DNF of the season, and Fernando Alonso took the race lead, with Hamilton second.
Sutil ran into Kobayashi has he way trying to overtake the Sauber driver and the German became the ninth retirement of a long afternoon.
Just as night was falling in Korea Alonso completed the full race distance of 55 laps. The Spaniard collected 25 points, and has taken a massive step towards his third world title. He has turned a 14 points deficit from Mark Webber into an eleven point advantage over the Aussie. Hamilton took second place and Massa joined his teammate on the podium.