Sebastian Vettel won his third straight race at the Korean Grand Prix to take the Formula One championship lead from Fernando Alonso with four events left.
Red Bull’s Vettel managed his wearing tires to the finish yesterday to take the checkered flag 8.2 seconds ahead of teammate Mark Webber, who started from pole position at the Korean International Circuit in Yeongam. Webber held off Ferrari’s Alonso to give Red Bull its first 1-2 of the season.
Vettel’s 25th career victory, which followed back-to-back wins in Singapore and Japan, lifted him six points ahead of Alonso atop the drivers’ championship as he seeks a third straight world title. It also made the 25-year-old German the youngest driver to reach a quarter-century of wins.
“I’m looking forward to the next couple of races,” Vettel told reporters. “We had a good last couple of races but we’ve seen the championship is pretty much up and down, a lot of things can happen. We have to focus on ourselves. We need to have our best possible results and then we go from there.”
Vettel, who last led the standings in May, has 215 points to Alonso’s 209.
Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen finished fifth yesterday, pulling 14 points clear of Lewis Hamilton in third place in the championship after the McLaren driver could only claim a single point by finishing 10th. Vettel has a 48-point lead over Raikkonen with 100 points available in the remaining races in India, Abu Dhabi, the U.S. and Brazil.
Alonso’s teammate Felipe Massa took fourth place ahead of Raikkonen in yesterday’s 55-lap race as Ferrari leapfrogged McLaren to go second in the constructors’ standings. Red Bull leads with 367 points to Ferrari’s 290, with McLaren another six points further back.
“We were much closer to the lead than we were in Singapore and nearer than in Suzuka, so we must continue in this direction,” Alonso said. “We are right in the fight for the title with a car that has never been the fastest. It seems we are capable of doing something good too.”
Vettel, starting from second place on the grid behind Webber, moved to the front on the run down to the first corner and only briefly lost the lead during the first pit stops.
Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi took out Jenson Button’s McLaren in a first-lap incident after also making contact with Nico Rosberg that put both Button and Rosberg out of the race and landed the Japanese driver a drive-through penalty.
It took until the ninth lap to clear Rosberg’s stricken Mercedes off the track by crane as the race continued under yellow flags, during which drivers are forced to slow near danger and overtaking isn’t permitted.
Kobayashi, who finished a career-best third in his home race at Suzuka last week, retired after 17 laps because of the damage his car sustained when crashing into Rosberg and Button.
“Someone hit my rear tire and then it was impossible to control the car,” Kobayashi said in a team statement. “I didn’t manage to avoid the accident, and I feel very sorry for ruining someone else’s race, and certainly this was not my intention. It was just a very difficult moment and I had nowhere to go but I think it was my mistake.”
Vettel maintained his advantage over Webber at the head of the field, leading his teammate by nine seconds at the halfway stage. Following a second round of pit-stops by the front-runners, Vettel led Webber by 5.3 seconds with Alonso and Massa still in touch.
With five laps remaining, Vettel and Webber slackened their pace in an effort to prevent further tire wear, with Vettel being warned over the team radio to back off in certain corners to nurse the tires to the end.
“It was a race against wearing rubber,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said in a televised interview. “I think all the cars were in the same situation with the high-speed turns here. Both drivers did an impeccable job.”
The 17th of 20 races, the Indian Grand Prix, is scheduled Oct. 28 in New Delhi.