Sebastian Vettel survived two safety car periods in the Korean Grand Prix to take his fourth win a row, and his third at the Yeongam circuit.
In a race that was packed with unusual incidents, Kimi Raikkonen once again came through the field to finish second, with team mate Romain Grosjean in third.
Vettel made a brilliant start to the race, while Lewis Hamilton failed to hold off Grosjean, who moved into second at the start. Behind, there was frantic action, with Felipe Massa spinning at the end of the long back straight and coming close to eliminating Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard had to take evasive action, while Jenson Button was unfortunate to pick up front wing damage.
The McLaren driver was therefore forced to make an early pit stop at the end of lap four for a new wing.
Mark Webber was making good progress and moved up to ninth with an overtake on Pastor Maldonado, while back at the front, Vettel, Grosjean and Hamilton were split by just over four seconds.
By lap eleven, the leading three had pitted, with Grosjean and Hamilton closing in on Vettel, before the Red Bull driver began to stretch away once more. Vettel’s pit stop had briefly allowed Mark Webber to lead however, and at the end of lap thirteen, the Australian made his first pit stop, re-joining behind Raikkonen in ninth.
A battle soon developed between Nico Hulkenberg, Alonso, Raikkonen and Webber, with Hulkenberg being able to stay ahead of the Ferrari thanks to superior straight line speed. Raikkonen would soon pit again, with Webber quickly dispatching Alonso thereafter.
Paul di Resta’s miserable run of form continued, and he was classified as the race’s first retirement, crashing out on lap twenty five.
Fellow Brit Lewis Hamilton was also struggling, and complaining over the team radio about tyre wear. After being able to stay with Vettel and Grosjean, for a time being the fastest of the three, his pace dramatically dropped off.
This allowed team mate Nico Rosberg to close on him, and with DRS enabled, was able to pass Hamilton down the first long straight. However, as he made the pass, his front wing failed, leaving it to spark spectacularly for the rest of the lap.
He duly pitted at the end of the lap for repairs, with an angry Hamilton frustrated to be left out.
The first safety car was called for on lap thirty one for a dramatic right front tyre failure for McLaren’s Sergio Perez. The Mexican had locked up heavily into turn one just as Webber was exiting the pits following his second stop, but it exploded on the straight. It damaged Perez’s front wing, and both Webber and Hamilton were forced to avoid the tyre debris.
Unfortunately for Webber, the incident still resulted in him picking up a puncture, and he was forced to pit again on the next lap. Despite the damage to his car, Sergio Perez was also able to recover to the pits.
The race restarted on lap thirty seven with Vettel leading Grosjean, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Hulkenberg and Alonso. Jenson Button had recovered from his early stop and was running in seventh, with Webber back in eleventh.
The race didn’t stay green for long though, as Adrian Sutil copied Felipe Massa’s mistake from the first lap and collided with Webber at turn three, terminally damaging the Red Bull. For the second time in two races, Webber’s car was on fire and he pulled off the track with the car significantly alight.
The safety car wasn’t called until the unusual sight of a fire marshal’s Jeep trundling onto the circuit, right in front of Vettel and the chasing pack. Such a lack of communication in race direction was comical, yet the sport was lucky to avoid a serious incident.
Meanwhile, Adrian Sutil returned to the pits with a broken rear wing. The Force India drive suffered a dismal race, and copped a penalty for speeding in the pit lane before finally retiring a few laps from the end.
Once Webber’s fire had been doused, and the car removed, the race restarted for the final time on lap forty one, with Hamilton doing just enough to keep Alonso behind him and maintain fifth place. Kimi Raikkonen also made progress, and was quickly passed Grosjean for second.
Elsewhere, a battle for South American drivers had broken out, with Pastor Maldonado, Esteban Gutierrez, Felipe Massa and Sergio Perez scrapping over tenth place. Maldonado lost all three positions in just a couple of corners, with Felipe Massa taking tenth, before Valtteri Bottas further demoted his team mate.
There was also a battle over fourth place, with Hulkenberg holding off Hamilton. Every lap, Hamilton would close on the Sauber driver into turn one, but such was Hulkenberg’s superior traction, he was able to remain ahead, even with Hamilton using DRS.
Soon, a train formed, with Alonso, Button and Rosberg joining the battle. Hamilton eventually made a move into turn one on lap forty eight, but was powerless to stop Hulkenberg retaking the position with a DRS move.
Hulkenberg would hold on to equal his best ever result in Formula One in fourth, while Daniel Ricciardo retired from a points position just a couple of laps from the end.
A peerless Sebastian Vettel claimed his eighth win of the year, and the result means he can mathematically claim his fourth consecutive championship next weekend in Suzuka. For that to happen, he’ll need both Raikkonen and Alonso to finish outside the points.
Raikkonen did his best to keep his slim title hopes alive with a second place finish, with Grosjean failing to retake the position despite being on fresher tyres. Hulkenberg was a relieved fourth, Hamilton a frustrated fifth, with Alonso sixth.
Nico Rosberg managed to find his way past Jenson Button in the closing stages to take seventh, with Massa and Perez recovering from their earlier positions to round out the points finishers in ninth and tenth respectively.