Formula 1 Korean Grand Prix: Pole for Lewis Hamilton and Other Race Predictions
The Mercedes driver has the second-best car and seems to like the Yeongam circuit. Nico Rosberg should be in the mix too.
Elsewhere, Romain Grosjean needs to convince Lotus he's fit to lead the team in 2014, and Giedo van der Garde will be hoping to further his claim on a seat in next year's Caterham.
Here are my predictions for the weekend.
After 13 races we've still only seen three different polesitters. Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have five each, while Nico Rosberg has three.
No one looks likely to break their dominance. Lotus and Ferrari are the only teams anywhere near, but they don't appear to have enough qualifying speed. The other Red Bull driver, Mark Webber, is ruled out by a 10-place grid penalty.
Vettel has to be considered the favourite, and he's claimed pole at two of the last three Korean Grands Prix.
But in 2011 a rather miserable Hamilton produced a great qualifying lap to snatch pole. It was to be the only race of the year in which a Red Bull didn't start from first on the grid.
The Brit is on a poor run of qualifying form—12th and fifth in the last two races.
He'll be looking to get back on track and has always gone well at this circuit, so I'll pick him for pole.
No Singapore Repeat for Vettel
Sebastian Vettel's dominance in Singapore was down to a few factors. The first was the layout of the track and his driving style.
Singapore is low speed and has more corners than any other circuit on the calendar. The Red Bull has exceptional traction and rear downforce (largely due to the team's ability to utilise exhaust gasses better than anyone else), making it a perfect match for that sort of track.
That also makes it a perfect match for Vettel's driving style. BBC F1's Gary Anderson describes it:
He brakes into the corner, getting the car turning sharply by rotating it around the inside front wheel, and then gets on the throttle early, using the downforce created by the exhausts to stop the rear sliding too much.
On top of that, his rivals struggled. Nico Rosberg, who was probably hooked into the circuit better than anyone (bar Vettel), says he was losing at least 1.7 seconds a lap due to rubber lodged in his front wing.
And finally, Vettel also saved an extra set of supersoft tyres from qualifying. These allowed him to push that little bit harder at crucial times.
He'll still be the man to beat in Korea, but there'll be no repeat of Singapore. The gap to the rest of the field will be much smaller.
Romain Grosjean to Beat Kimi Raikkonen
Both Lotus drivers have a great deal of talent, but while Kimi Raikkonen consistently applies his, Romain Grosjean produces the goods with less regularity.
In the eight races at which both drivers made it to the chequered flag, Grosjean has finished ahead only twice.
The Frenchman really has to step up if he's going to lead the team next year when Raikkonen departs. He can start with a good showing in Korea.
Grosjean qualified third in Singapore and looked set for a strong finish before a pneumatics problem ended his race.
I'll back him for another strong weekend here and for him to come home ahead of his more illustrious teammate.
Giedo van der Garde's excellent run of form has come at just the right time. Having struggled early in the season, he's finished ahead of teammate Charles Pic in the last four races.
Whether it's enough to secure his seat for next year remains to be seen, but battling with a Williams in Singapore won't have done any harm.
Marussia no longer appear capable of challenging their rivals on pure pace, so this one's really between van der Garde and Pic.
And on current form, there's only one winner—van der Garde.
Sebastian Vettel has won the last three races, and he's favourite to win here too. That's not unusual—I believe he's been the bookies' favourite for every race since the start of 2011. Maybe as far back as mid-2010.
His team made a significant performance step at a crucial stage and his rivals just don't have good enough cars to challenge him.
Lotus (normally) don't qualify well, nor do Ferrari. This means they can't utilise their stronger race pace as well as they would like.
McLaren have improved since the start of the year, but they're even further away, leaving Mercedes as probably the best-placed to challenge.
But unfortunately for fans wanting some variety, it's likely they've all but given up on 2013 and are focusing all their efforts on developing 2014's car.
So no big (or even small) performance jumps will be coming from the German squad.
Picking the favourite is boring, but Vettel should win on Sunday.
In the other race (the Korean Grand Prix without Vettel), I'll go for Lewis Hamilton.
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