With five races remaining in the Formula 1 season, the Korean Grand Prix is the most important event in the championship points race so far, with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso leading Sebastien Vettel of Red Bull by only four points – 194 to 190, respectively.
After two first-lap exits and only one victory in the last six races, Alonso’s lead has dwindled from 44 points while Vettel has claimed victory in the last two events in Singapore and Japan.
As the only back-to-back winner this season, Vettel is looking to defend his two championship titles at a Yeongam circuit where he was victorious last season. As of the second practice going into the weekend, The German native posted the fastest time at 1:38.832, compared to Lewis Hamilton’s 1:39.148 in the first session.
Adrian Newey, Red Bull technical director, sees the Korea International Circuit as an interesting challenge heading into the race.
“It’s a tale of two tracks here in as much as the first is very long straights. Engine power is important,” he told Formula1.com during a press conference Friday. “And then you’ve got the rest of the lap, which is quite twiddly, so you can get quite big swings between the various sectors.”
A number of teams cited simulator difficulties for drivers going into the weekend, as proper track models were not available due to the quality of laser scans. While some teams discussed their driver’s struggles to translate simulator times onto the track, teams employing more experienced drivers, including Red Bull and Lotus, did not seem as concerned. Of note, Sauber does not have a simulator.
Marussia’s Charles Pic was given a 10-place grid penalty for an engine change. While teams are allowed to use eight engines during the season, this is the ninth Cosworth V8 that has been installed in his car. The French driver finished 21st after the second practice session.
Championship leader Alonso expressed minor concerns after finishing third in the second practice.
“It’s hard to say where we are compared to the others because today we focused mainly on ourselves, working this morning on a comparison of various ideas relating to car configuration and in the afternoon on the tires,” he told Formula1.com. “Let’s hope the situation improves for tomorrow because it’s always more fun driving when the track offers at least some grip.”
The Spanish veteran finished with a best lap of 1:39.160.
Lotus driver Kimi Räikkönen sits third in the championship hunt with 154 points and is experiencing Yeongam for the first time with tepid feelings, while the team is hoping their new version of the Coanda exhaust will lead them to their first victory of the season.
“The circuit is okay,” he told Formula1.com. “It’s surprisingly bumpy in some parts but it’s quite different from other places we race.”
“We’ll try to improve the car for tomorrow as it wasn’t very easy to drive and get a good lap today. Let’s see if we can get it completely right and maybe we can be in the top five in qualifying.”
As one of F1's newest tracks (opening in 2010), the 5.615 km Yeongam circuit is set to provide an excellent stage in the driver’s championship. Contenders Alonso and Vettel are the only two drivers to claim victory at the circuit, which combines a long, straight first sector with a technical and corner-filled second and third sector.
Practice 3 begins Friday at 10 p.m. (EST), with qualifying beginning at 1:00 a.m. (EST) Saturday. The race starts Sunday at 2:00 a.m. (EST).