F1’s capacity to spring a surprise is often what makes it so entertaining. That was certainly the case in qualifying for the Korean Grand Prix.
Sebastian Vettel was on a roll on Saturday. During final practice he lapped half a second fastest than the next-quickest driver, McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton. Meanwhile, the other Red Bull of Mark Webber was going nowhere – a technical problem meant he wasn’t able to join in the all-important final few minutes of practice.
Last week Vettel set the 34th pole position of his career. Only Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna have higher tallies, and throughout qualifying Vettel looked on course to rack up number 35. He did a single lap in Q1 which guaranteed him a place in Q2. His passage to Q3 was secured with similar ease. And he began the top ten shoot-out with yet another time that put him on top of the pile.
But Vettel made a crucial error on his final lap. He got too close to Felipe Massa’s Ferrari which cost him a clear run and he failed to improve his lap time. That proved his undoing, for in the meantime Webber had produced a neat, tidy lap to pip Vettel’s effort by less than a tenth of a second. The thunderous look on Vettel’s face as he climbed from the cockpit of his RB8 told you everything you needed to know about how he felt.
Vettel is just four points behind championship leader Fernando Alonso going into this race. Webber is 60 adrift. So will Red Bull order Webber to move aside for Vettel and let him win?
They may try, but don’t count on Webber paying any attention. Last year at Silverstone he was instructed to hold back from attacking his team mate, but spent the final laps straining every sinew in his attempts to get past. So don’t be put off backing Webber to win at odds of 4.25 – more than twice as long as Vettel, who starts second.
But perhaps keep in mind that Vettel lined up second on the grid last year as well. He was in the lead by turn four, having passed pole sitter Hamilton.
Red Bull clearly had an edge on pace in qualifying but that won’t necessarily be the case during the race. As the teams performed their race simulations the two RB8s appeared to lose more lap time as their tyres started to wear.
That could offer opportunities to their rivals behind. Who might be best-placed to capitalise?
One should never underestimate Fernando Alonso. He’s leading the world championship for a reason, and his Ferrari’s race pace is invariably better than it is in qualifying. He starts fourth on the grid and is priced at 8.0 to win.
The Lotuses also showed strong pace over a race stint. Warm temperatures and soft tyres are what this car likes and that’s what they’ve got this weekend. Of the two, Raikkonen has the best starting position and he’s also the only one with the team’s new performance boosting exhaust. Could this be the update which finally gives them their first win of the year? Odds of 25.0 for him to win from fifth on the grid are certainly appealing.
There is one other long shot worth considering. All year we’ve seen drivers who fail to make the top ten in qualifying reap the resulting benefit of being able to start on whatever tyres they choose. Jenson Button starts 11th in a McLaren which treated its tyres very nicely on Friday. If anyone’s going to eke them out to make a single pit stop and pull off a shock win, it’s Button. The odds? A tasty 50.0.
Keith Collantine is the editor of Formula One blog F1 Fanatic.