We shouldn’t be too surprised to see Mark Webber on pole position for tomorrow’s Korean Grand Prix. Think back to Silverstone: Webber and Alonso were the season’s only two-time winners and looked, for all the world, to be the likely dualists for this year’s world title. Back in the summer (well, July), Sebastian Vettel looked like an also-ran, pouting his way from one sore-loser interview to another. The shine came off. Then he took a holiday. We all know what’s happened since F1 came back from vacation.
So what, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Sunday Afternoon Club, do you make of tomorrow’s set-up? It’s a back-on-form Vettel on a hat-trick vs a Webber who looks to have re-found his mid-season form. You wouldn’t call Vettel and Webber team-mates not by any stretch of the imagination. Vettel has everything to gain, Webber little to lose, except pride if he’s asked to move over. They’re bred tough, those Aussies. Expect fireworks.
On the second row Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso will be looking to take advantage of any defensiveness from either Red Bull driver. Hamilton can’t afford not to; he really has to drive for a win tomorrow or add ‘mathematically almost impossible’ to ‘in all reality, Jake, highly improbable’ in the lexicon of all things championship related.
Alonso meanwhile is harder to call. He’s got where he is by finishing time and time over with a decent, if not always spectacular haul of points. The wins, in Malaysia and Valencia at least, came about in extraordinary circumstances. Germany was sheer class. Class he’s not been able to show since first McLaren, then Red Bull got their respective mojos back.
So does Fernando do tomorrow? Play for points and hope Webber is allowed to beat Vettel? Or race both them and Lewis, recognising that while the Ferrari F2012 seems to work pretty well around Yeongang, it might not around New Dehli, Yas Marina, Austin and Sao Paulo? Yup, only four races to go after this one, and in danger of repeating what we said last week; Fernando Alonso is fighting for the world championship in the third or fourth quickest car out there.
The other ‘contenders’? Jenson Button starts 11th after being caught out by a yellow flag in Q2. He reckons he has the faster car out there, so here’s hoping McLaren can show more tactical nous than they have in most of this season’s races and, indeed, qualifying sessions. Kimi Raikkonen, meanwhile, seems happier with his car and maybe just feels obliged to say so, now that the team has told him the new exhausts are staying on no matter what he says. Kimi starts fifth, RoGros seventh. Sooner or later we are going to see this race-pace from the Lotus the other teams have been talking about all year, surely?
Top ten then; Webber, Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso, Kimi, Massa (who looks more and more likely with each passing day to hang on to his drive…), RoGros, Hulkenberg (…who we guess won’t now be going to Ferrari), Rosberg and Schumacher.
But it’s all about Webber. We’ve never really felt we’ve know what lies behind that lantern jaw and those increasingly chiselled chops. We get the feeling we are about to find out.
Remember, race starts at 7.00am. BBC and Sky.