SEOUL (Reuters) - Sebastian Vettel has heard boos from the crowd after winning the last three races but Sunday’s Korean Grand Prix should put a stop to that.
Fed up Formula One fans hoping to see a different driver standing on the top step of the podium may be disappointed but they are more likely to be shouting at their television sets than making a noise in Mokpo.
The Yeongam circuit, reached after a three hour journey south from Seoul on the country’s fastest train, is near a remote port more on the map for shipbuilding than tourism or a passion for motorsport.
“The atmosphere at the track isn’t great because there aren’t many spectators, but the track’s got some challenging sections and some good corners,” commented Vettel’s Red Bull team mate Mark Webber.
The Australian started on pole position last year but it is Vettel who has won the race for the past two seasons and is favorite for the hat-trick, even if that does not sit well with Ferrari fans and others yearning for a closer battle.
The champion’s fourth successive title looks a foregone conclusion and could be won by the end of the month but until then the 26-year-old is putting into practice the old German saying that all good things come in threes.
Since the end of the August break, Vettel has chalked up his third Italian win, his third Singapore GP victory in a row and his third successive win this season.
Only Vettel and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, the man who is now his closest rival in the championship even if there is a 60 point gap with six races remaining, have ever won the Korean race since it first appeared on the calendar in 2010.
Alonso needs to win it again but even he recognizes that it will likely take a stroke of luck to slow the German’s rush to the title.
“We need to be lucky for the last six races if we want to win the championship,” the Ferrari driver said after finishing second, for the third race in a row, under the Singapore floodlights.
“If we cannot win the race, we need to be right behind and try to take any opportunity but being realistic, we know that we need to be very, very lucky,” added the Spaniard.
Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali put it even more bluntly after Singapore.
“The only thing we have to do is try to stay there and see because maybe next time something will happen to him (Vettel) and realistically speaking this is the only chance we have to win the championship,” said the Italian.
Alonso’s nightmare would be to have another Red Bull one-two like last year but he has already done his best, albeit unwittingly, to ensure that does not happen.
Webber, who has been on the Korean podium and ahead of Alonso in the last two years, will have a 10 place grid penalty on Sunday after collecting his third reprimand of the season in Singapore.
That came after he hitched a ‘taxi ride’ on Alonso’s Ferrari to get back to the pits after the race was over but while cars were still on their slowing down laps.
His demotion should lift Alonso up the grid, even if the front row may still be out of reach with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg fancying their chances for Mercedes.
“It’s a good racing track with places that you can attack to overtake which makes it a good challenge for the drivers,” commented Hamilton.
“We’ll be hoping to improve our qualifying performance this weekend to give the best possible chance in the race and I hope we can have a strong weekend.”
Lotus will also be hoping that Kimi Raikkonen’s back pain has eased after a difficult weekend in Singapore for the Finn.
“When the car is right, you can go well there,” said the 2007 champion, who finished fifth at Yeongam in 2012. “Last year, we saw it’s a good place to race with a good car.”
Editing by John O'Brien