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Korea preview – Vettel targets championship lead

Just a few weeks ago, Fernando Alonso looked almost certain to be 2012 World Champion. After a dramatic few races, however, Sebastian Vettel could be set to take over the top spot this weekend.

This weekend sees the third running of the Korean Grand Prix at Yeongam, South Korea. One of the newer venues on the calendar, the Korea International Circuit has yet to capture the imagination of the local population and therefore draws quite small crowds, although that is doubtless partly due to the remote location, some 400 kilometres south of Seoul.

The circuit is engaging to drive, and contains features of many different types of race track. The first sector is composed entirely of straights followed by slow corners, the second sector starts off slow and twisty but then moves into fast and flowing corners, and the final sector is much like a street circuit with walls close to the track and blind corners.

History

The first race in 2010 saw torrential rain necessitate a start behind the safety car. On the third lap, the race was suspended due to the conditions and only resumed after a 45 minute delay, but still behind the safety car. Once normal racing resumed, Sebastian Vettel looked set for victory before his engine failed on lap 46, handing the win to Fernando Alonso.

In 2011, Vettel had displayed such dominance during the season that he was already World Champion by the time Formula One arrived in Korea. The young German showed no signs of complacency, however, and won the race from Lewis Hamilton. Vettel’s team-mate Mark Webber finished third to seal Red Bull’s second consecutive Constructor’s Championship.

Tyres

Pirelli are providing their soft and supersoft compound tyres for the race.

The great variety of corners and highly abrasive surface of the Korea International Circuit will test the tyres thoroughly, and degradation is therefore likely to be high. In addition, the circuit is hardly ever used and will therefore have very little grip early in the weekend. As the track rubbers in, lap times should fall significantly, but grip off the racing line is likely to be poor throughout the weekend.

Race prediction

Red Bull have been strong at both of the previous Korean Grands Prix and there seems no good reason to expect their form to change this year. In particularly, the RB8 should be quick through the second and third sectors.

After winning the last two races in Singapore and Japan, Sebastian Vettel is very much in form, and goes to Korea as the favourite for victory. He will also be spurred on by the knowledge that victory on Sunday would ensure that he leads the Drivers’ Championship with just four races remaining.

Stats

Circuit Length: 5.615 km
Corners: 18
Race laps: 55
Race length: 308.630 km
Lap Record: 1:39.605 – Sebastian Vettel / Red Bull (2011)

2011 results:

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel / Red Bull
Pole position: Lewis Hamilton / McLaren – 1:35.820
Fastest lap: Sebastian Vettel / Red Bull – 1:39.605

Trivia

  • The circuit is partly permanent and partly temporary, with the harbourside section using public roads.
  • The DRS zone has been extended by 80 metres for the 2012 race.
  • The circuit was only approved by the FIA 11 days before the first practice session in 2010.

Weather

No rain is expected during the Grand Prix weekend, and temperatures should be fairly stable in the mid-20s centigrade.

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Japanese GP Preview

Suzuka has seen the crowning of 11 World Champions in its long history, due to it frequently hosting the final race of the season. It has seen Prost and Senna clashing in 1989 and 1990 and was the setting for Schumacher taking his sixth title in 2003 to beat the previous record set by Fangio.

This weekend’s race promises no such drama, as the championship is far from over, but there is nonetheless plenty at stake. Fernando Alonso will be looking for a win to further increase his lead in the Drivers’ Championship, while Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton will all be hoping to take as many points as possible off the championship leader.

The track is a favourite with teams and drivers, and the local fans are extremely enthusiastic. Suzuka International Racing Course is built in an unusual figure of eight configuration and is a great technical challenge for the drivers. The fast flowing esses in the first sector are followed by the fast and difficult Degner double-right-hand curve before the hairpin – the slowest point on the track. Then it’s hard on the power towards the spoon curve, where a good exit is essential for a good run up the hill and onto the crossover before 130R, the famous flat-out left-hander that leads to the final chicane and onto the start-finish straight.

Driver news

The two weeks leading up to the race have been full of driver-related news. Sergio Perez has been confirmed as a McLaren driver for 2013, in place of Lewis Hamilton who is departing for Mercedes. The news of Hamilton’s move led to speculation over the future of Michael Schumacher, with suggestions that he could perhaps make a sensational return to Ferrari or otherwise find a seat at Sauber.

Schumacher ended the speculation on Thursday in a press conference when he announced his retirement from Formula One as at the end of 2012. Although he has not achieved the aims he set for himself at the start of his comeback, the seven-time World Champion called time on his career due to uncertainty over his own continuing motivation.

Tyres

Pirelli are providing their hard and soft compound tyres for the race.

Suzuka is one of the greatest challenges of the season for tyre performance and degradation. Long and fast corners including Spoon and 130R place large lateral loads on the tyres, with loads peaking at 3.4G in the turn 7 Dunlop Curve.

Tyre management will therefore be crucial to the outcome of the race. The early phase of the race will be particularly important, as the cars will be carrying heavy fuel loads through the high-speed corners.

Race prediction

McLaren, Red Bull and Lotus have strong aero packages on their cars, which should give them an advantage, particularly in the twisty first sector and through 130R. The high-speed and high-downforce nature of the track should test Mercedes’ recent upgrades thoroughly.

Lewis Hamilton must surely be the favourite for victory. He is the form driver of the last few races and could have won four in a row had he not been taken out by Romain Grosjean in Belgium and mechanical failure in Singapore.

Stats

Circuit Length: 5.807 km
Corners: 18
Race laps: 53
Race length: 307.471 km
Lap Record: 1:31.540 – Kimi Raikkonen / McLaren (2005)

2011 results:

Race winner: Jenson Button / McLaren
Pole position: Sebastian Vettel / Red Bull – 1:30.466
Fastest lap: Jenson Button / McLaren – 136.568

Trivia

  • Michael Schumacher holds the record for most victories in Japan, with six.
  • Ferrari won the race five years in a row – from 2000 to 2004, with Michael Schumacher taking four wins and Rubens Barrichello one.
  • All six of the World Champions on the grid for this weekend’s race have won the Japanese Grand Prix at least once in their careers.

Weather

No rain is expected this weekend and temperatures are expected to be fairly consistent in the mid-20s centigrade. Conditions will therefore be optimal for set-up work on Friday and Saturday morning.

Belgium preview – Back on track at spectacular Spa

The mid-season break is finally over, and there could be no better place to celebrate a return to Formula One action than Spa-Francorchamps.

The circuit is one of the oldest in motor racing, having been opened in 1921. It featured on the calendar of the first Formula One season in 1950, and remains a firm favourite with teams, drivers and spectators due to its high-speed, challenging layout and picturesque setting in the Ardennes region of Belgium.

Over the years, the track has, like so many other great tracks around the world, undergone significant changes for reasons of safety. The original circuit was 15km long and ludicrously fast. Today’s F1 cars would probably lap the original layout at average speeds close to 300km/h.

The current layout is the longest on the F1 calendar at 7.004km and, despite being much shorter than the original, has retained the essential character that made the previous layouts so appealing. Watching Formula One cars defy the forces of nature to blast at full-throttle into Eau Rouge and up through Raidillon is breathtaking, and that is only the beginning of the lap. The sweeping curves of the middle sector, followed by the enormously fast Blanchimont left-hander before the Bus Stop chicane, ensure that every lap of this majestic track is thrilling to watch.

The only downside to the Belgian Grand Prix is that it happens but once a year.

300 races for Schumi

Michael Schumacher celebrates his 300th Grand Prix this weekend at the circuit he describes as his “living room”. His description is apt, as Spa was the scene of Schumacher’s first F1 race, his first win, and his seventh World Championship title in 2004. He also holds the record for most wins at Spa, with six.

The Mercedes W03 should be well-suited to the fast, flowing Spa circuit, and so Schumacher will be hoping to add to his impressive CV with a good result. In the 2011 race, he started last and finished fifth in one of the more impressive drives of his comeback. Another performance like that could see the illustrious German on the podium, or perhaps even challenging for victory.

Tyres

Pirelli are providing their hard and medium compound tyres for the race.

Tyres, and tyre temperatures in particular, have played a significant role in determining results so far this season, and Spa is likely to be no exception, but the high-speed nature of the track should at least make it fairly straightforward to get the tyres up to operating temperature.

Race prediction

Lotus are long overdue a victory, and are well poised to strike at Spa. With their new, more efficient DRS likely to be raced, qualifying performance should be improved, and then the car’s already impressive race pace can take care of the rest.

Kimi Raikkonen has won four out of his last five Belgian Grands Prix, which makes him the favourite to take the Lotus team’s first win of the season.

Stats

Circuit Length: 7.004 km
Corners: 19 (some sources count 20)
Race laps: 44
Race length: 308.052 km
Lap Record: 1:45.108 – Kimi Raikkonen / McLaren (2004)

2011 results:
Race winner: Sebastian Vettel / Red Bull
Pole position: Sebastian Vettel / Red Bull – 1:48.298
Fastest lap: Mark Webber / Red Bull – 1:49.883

Trivia

  • The circuit is so long that it is not uncommon to have bright sunshine and heavy rain at different parts of the track at the same time.
  • Ferrari have won the race 16 times, more than any other team.
  • Championship leader Fernando Alonso has never won at Spa, although his team-mate Felipe Massa took victory in 2008.

Weather

Some rain is expected on Friday, but the rest of the weekend is forecast to be dry and sunny. However, sudden unpredictable weather changes are in the nature of Spa, which will doubtless have an effect on the weekend.

Hungary preview – Chasing Alonso

Budapest is the setting for the 11th round of the 2012 Formula One season. The teams have had no time to relax after the German Grand Prix last week, but can look forward to a mid-season break after this weekend.

The Hungaroring was the location for the first Formula One race behind the iron curtain in 1986, and has featured on the calendar every year since. The track is tight, narrow and twisty, with very little in the way of straights, and consequently has the second-lowest average speed on the current F1 calendar – after Monaco.

In recent years, Hungary has seen a surprising amount of drama. Felipe Massa’s near-fatal accident in 2009 happened when a spring from Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn hit Massa on the head on the run up to turn 4, one of the fastest points on the track. The start-finish straight saw Michael Schumacher push Barrichello very close to the pit-wall as the German attempted to defend 10th position in the 2010 race.

Records and first-time winners

Fernando Alonso has won 30 Grands Prix, which puts him fifth on the list of most wins by a driver in Formula One history. If he wins in Budapest on Sunday, Alonso will take his 31st win on his 31st birthday to go level with fourth-placed Nigel Mansell on that same list.

Alonso’s very first Formula One victory came at the Hungarian Grand Prix of 2003. Of the current field, Jenson Button (2006) and Heikki Kovalainen (2008) also first stood on top of the podium in Hungary. Retired World Champion Damon Hill took his first victory for Williams in 1993 before winning again in 1995 and very nearly taking a surprise win for Arrows in 1997 before mechanical issues dropped him to second.

Tyres

As in Germany, Pirelli are providing the teams with medium and soft compound rubber.

Race prediction

Who can bet against Alonso? The F2012 has, after some development, proven to be quick in all conditions, and Hungary should be no exception, particularly in the hands of the in-form Spaniard.

Red Bull should be in contention, as will McLaren. The surprise package of the weekend could be Mercedes, as the W03 has been quick on slower circuits that require good traction. Schumacher took pole in Monaco(before his grid-penalty dropped him to sixth) and Rosberg finished second in the race as Mercedes very nearly dominated proceedings in the principality. Perhaps they will be resurgent this weekend.

But Alonso is so dominant at this stage of the season that it seems very unlikely that he will be beaten to the chequered flag.

Stats

Circuit Length: 4.381 km
Corners: 14
Race laps: 70
Race length: 306.630 km
Lap Record: 1:19.071 – Michael Schumacher / Ferrari (2004)

2011 results:
Race winner: Jenson Button / Mclaren
Pole position: Sebastian Vettel / Red Bull – 1:19.815
Fastest lap: Felipe Massa / Ferrari – 1:23.415

Trivia

  • Michael Schumacher has had the most success in Hungary, with four wins between 1994 and 2004.
  • All of the multiple winners in Hungary have been World Champion in their careers
  • McLaren have enjoyed much success in Hungary in recent years, winning five out of the last seven races.

Weather

Friday and Saturday are expected to be dry, with a chance of thunderstorms on Sunday. If the race is wet, the teams could suffer from a lack of wet-weather set-up time, but hopefully the rain will hold off and the race will be dry, although a wet race could shake up the order.

Germany preview – Time for a home victory

Michael Schumacher put Germany properly on the Formula One map by becoming the country’s first World Champion in 1994 and then going on to become by far the sport’s most successful driver in history. As a result of Schumacher’s success, Formula One became enormously popular in Germany, and the fans are expected to flock to Hockenheim this weekend to cheer on their heroes.

This year there are five German drivers on the grid, so the fans will have much to shout about. Sebastian Vettel is the most likely of the local boys to take victory, but Schumacher and Nico Rosberg are in with a shout if all goes well. Nico Hulkenberg will be hoping to score good points and Timo Glock will want to finish ahead of his rivals at HRT.

The championship is beginning to take shape, after Ferrari and Red Bull looked a step ahead of the rest of the field at Silverstone. McLaren will be hoping that a significant upgrade, including new side-pods, can put them back in contention with the front-runners. Mercedes are expecting to be quicker at Hockenheim than they were at Silverstone, where the Silver Arrows were disappointing in dry conditions.

Fernando is faster than you”

The last time Felipe Massa looked like winning a race was also the last time Hockenheim hosted a Grand Prix. In 2010, Massa was leading his team-mate when Ferrari effectively ordered him to move over and let Alonso through.

Massa has never really looked like challenging Alonso for number one status at Ferrari, but after being snubbed by his team in 2010, this weekend would be an opportune time to begin to re-assert himself. The Brazilian needs to produce good results consistently if he is to have any chance of retaining his drive at Ferrari for 2013.

Tyres

Pirelli took their experimental hard tyre to the British Grand Prix for the teams to test in Friday practice. Wet weather meant that no running on the tyre was possible, and so Pirelli have opted to bring the same tyres to Germany for the teams to sample in the first and second practice sessions.

For the rest of the weekend, the medium and soft tyre compounds will be used. It is the first time that Pirelli tyres are being used at the Hockenheimring, after last year’s German Grand Prix was run at the Nurburgring, so the teams will want as much running as possible in practice to gather information about the behaviour of the tyres on the track surface..

Race prediction

Red Bull were supremely quick in Valencia before Sebastian Vettel’s alternator failed. At Silverstone, Mark Webber won the race, with Vettel third. The World Champion has not won a race since the Bahrain Grand Prix in April, and is now behind his team-mate in the championship, a situation he will not want to sustain.

Vettel has never won the German Grand Prix. He has the machinery to do it this year, and needs a win to bolster his championship challenge. The double World Champion from Germany is therefore a strong contender for victory on Sunday.

Stats

Circuit Length: 4.574 km
Corners: 17
Race laps: 67
Race length: 306.458 km
Lap Record: 1:13.780 – Kimi Raikkonen / McLaren (2004)

2011 results (The race was held at the Nurburgring):
Race winner: Lewis Hamilton / Mclaren
Pole position: Mark Webber / Red Bull – 1:30.079
Fastest lap: Lewis Hamilton / McLaren – 1:34.302

Trivia

  • The Schumacher brothers, Michael and Ralf, are the only Germans to have won the German Grand Prix since the formation of the Formula One World Championship in 1950.
  • The last driver to win back-to-back German Grands Prix was Nigel Mansell in 1991-1992.
  • Ferrari have won the German Grand Prix an astonishing 21 times.

Weather

There is a chance of rain on Friday and Saturday, which would be unfortunate for Pirelli, as they are still trying to get the teams to test their experimental hard tyre after the first two practice sessions were wet at Silverstone. Sunday is expected to be dry, which could produce interesting results as the teams will potentially have very little opportunity to fine-tune their dry set-ups.

Britain preview – who can beat Alonso?

Formula One returns home this weekend with the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, scene of the very first World Championship Grand Prix in 1950. It is the home race of eight out of twelve teams, as most Formula One factories are based in England.

Although this is a big weekend for Formula One, this week’s racing news has been dominated not by the British Grand Prix, but by Maria De Villota’s horrific accident that occurred during testing of the Marussia MR-01 on Tuesday. As a result of the crash, she has lost an eye and remains in critical condition in hospital. The thoughts of the racing community are with Maria, her family and the Marussia F1 team at this difficult time.

Who can challenge Alonso?

Fernando Alonso is obviously the form driver thus far this season. He has not had the quickest car, but is the only driver to win two races this season, and consequently leads the Drivers’ Championship.

Based on their form in the early part of the season, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are Alonso’s major title challengers, and they will be looking to take as many points away from the Spaniard as possible this weekend.

Tyres

Pirelli are bringing their hard and soft compounds to Silverstone. The large gap between tyre compounds (the medium compound separates them) should result in a substantial performance gain on the softer rubber, perhaps as much as a second per lap. The setup challenge will be to generate enough energy to heat up the hard tyres but not so much that the soft tyres overheat.

With rain predicted, dry setup could become irrelevant, and the teams may choose to focus on wet weather setup instead.

Pirelli are bringing an experimental hard tyre for the teams to test during Friday practice. This allows the tyre manufacturer to evaluate the performance of the tyres on current cars. The rest of Pirelli’s track testing takes place on a car that is two years old, and therefore not current in terms of technical regulations.

Race prediction

The Silverstone track is likely to play to the strengths of McLaren and Red Bull – the teams with the strongest aero packages – due to the large number of high speed corners on the layout. However, Fernando Alonso is bullish ahead of the weekend, suggesting that the Ferrari F2012 could be in contention.

It looks likely that the race will take place in the rain, which throws the contest wide open. The teams are already so closely matched that rain can only disrupt the order. It does bear remembering that Fernando Alonso and Sergio Perez were strong in rain-hit Malaysia, suggesting that Ferrari and Sauber could be strong this weekend.

Fernando Alonso has been a step ahead of the field in the early part of the season, which makes him the favourite for victory.

Stats

Circuit Length: 5.891 km
Corners: 18
Race laps: 52
Race length: 306.198 km
Lap Record: 1:30.874 – Fernando Alonso / Ferrari (2010)

2011 results:
Race winner: Fernando Alonso / Ferrari
Pole position: Mark Webber / Red Bull – 1:30.399
Fastest lap: Fernando Alonso / Ferrari – 1:34.908

Trivia

  • Local hero Jim Clark won the British Grand Prix five times from only eight attempts between 1960 and 1967.
  • The last driver to win back-to-back British Grands Prix was David Coulthard in 1999-2000.
  • Only three of the last ten British Grands Prix have been won from pole position.

Weather

In true Silverstone fashion, rain is predicted for the entire weekend. Running is therefore likely to be limited in practice on Friday, unless there is a break in the weather that allows for some serious setup work.

Valencia preview – could it be eight?

The European Grand Prix is upon us! Read my preview at F1plus:

http://www.f1plus.com/en/news/item/1840-valencia-preview-could-it-be-eight

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