Flying German Sebastian Vettel will look to seize control of the Formula One title race at the Korean Grand Prix after two straight wins left him breathing down Fernando Alonso’s neck.
Red Bull’s double defending world champion proved he is finding form when it counts when he swept to pole position in Japan last week and then dominated the race as Ferrari’s Alonso was eliminated at the first corner.
Vettel’s imperious performance, following his impressive win in Singapore, saw the German — who is still only 25 — jump to within four points of Alonso, the championship leader since June, with five races to go.
Vettel won the South Korean race’s second edition last year, but he has been careful not to talk up his chances of usurping Alonso and warned that the Yeongam circuit, in the country’s rural south, poses particular challenges.
“In principle, the track is made up of two parts: a permanent race track and the end, which is more like a street circuit, although we’re not in the city,” he said. “The circuit is demanding and the last section is very tight.”
Conversely, Ferrari have been bullish about their title chances since the Suzuka fiasco, where Alonso’s Japanese Grand Prix lasted just seconds before he was nudged out by Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus.
However, the famed Italian team, in an official release, also said that Japan had left Alonso with a “bitter taste in his mouth.” With their campaign in the balance, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo issued a rallying cry.
“It’s at times like these that I want to see the Ferrari I know,” Di Montezemolo said. “A team that is focused and that holds its nerve.”
McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, who is quitting for Mercedes next year, is fighting to stay in contention after his challenge faltered in Singapore and Japan, mainly because of mechanical problems.
McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh said: “He [Alonso] is under pressure, more pressure frankly from Sebastian than from us, but we have closed that gap and we have five races to go.”
“The result in Suzuka showed that anything can still happen in this world championship. I’m still convinced that we can fight for, and win, both titles in 2012,” he added.
Meanwhile, Raikkonen is third in the drivers’ standings, 37 points off the lead and five ahead of fourth-placed Hamilton, in his first season back after a stint in rallying. Next in the table lie Red Bull’s Mark Webber and Button.
“I’ve never been to Korea, but it doesn’t make a difference for me,” the no-nonsense Raikkonen said.
“Since I was very young I have always been able to pick up circuits very quickly. This has not changed. It’s always interesting to race at a new venue and I enjoy going to different places. It gives me a good feeling,” he added.
The Korean Grand Prix is in only its third edition and has suffered teething problems with heavy rain and patchy local interest. Alonso won here in 2010 and Vettel took the honors last year.
Qualifying is on Saturday and the race on Sunday. Initial forecasts are for dry, sunny weather on both days.
Meanwhile, Korean sensation Psy, whose hit song Gangnam Style has taken the pop world by storm, will wave the checkered flag at his home grand prix on Sunday, where he will also be performing live.
The rapper has sprung to international fame and the video to Gangnam Style, featuring Psy’s much-imitated horse-riding dance, went viral after its July release on YouTube, where it has notched up nearly 420 million views.