How well drivers looked after their intermediate tyres was decisive for the outcome of the Korean Grand Prix.
In an earlier wet race at Shanghai drivers pitted for fresh sets of intermediate tyres. But this time most of them chose not to, toughing it out to the end of the race, some coping far better than others.
The timing of the third safety car period was crucial. This was when most drivers changed from full wet to intermediate tyres (laps 31 and 32 on the chart above).
It left most of them trying to nurse a single set of intermediate tyres for over 20 laps. Some driver/car combinations fared better than others. The Williams drivers struggled: Nico Hulkenberg went off and decided to change to a fresh set of intermediates. Rubens Barrichello also lost a lot of time.
Felipe Massa began to struggle on lap 46 and Lewis Hamilton’s lap times dipped slightly around the same time, then more severely over the final laps (perhaps aware that he now had a healthy margin over Massa).
With few laps to go, the race clock running down and Hulkenberg not lapping much quicker on his new tyres, no-one else gambled on a late pit stop.
Fernando Alonso was singularly impressive at this point: at times he was over two seconds faster than anyone else in the track, having preserved his tyres brilliantly.
Whether Sebastian Vettel could have done the same is, sadly, something we never got to find out.
Read more: Korean Grand Prix fastest laps
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Jenson Button’s pit stop on lap 28 must have been driven by a desire to get off full wets and onto intermediates.
Had they been able to postpone it they surely would have waited two more laps until the group of cars held up behind Timo Glock had dropped further back.
This was the point Button’s race unravelled. The safety car period moments later meant he wasn’t able to gain many places from the cars in front of him when they pitted. Then Sutil steamed down the inside of him at turn five and he lost more ground.
Finally, his early switch to intermediates meant he suffered even more badly with tyre wear at the end. This was a far cry from his well-judged calls in tricky conditions at Melbourne and Shanghai.
The first 17 laps were spent behind the safety car which explains why there’s no ‘lap 1 position change’ chart in this week’s post-race analysis.
Once the race got started there were some notable passes including each of the Mercedes picking off one of the McLarens: Nico Rosberg on Hamilton and Michael Schumacher on Button.
Adrian Sutil had a busy race too: going off at the start, passing and then being passed by Kobayashi, taking Jaime Alguersuari, and finally colliding with Kobayashi.
With five laps to go Williams looked set to finish fifth and sixth, bagging a useful 18 points and moving ahead of Force India in the constructors’ championship. But it all went wrong as both their drivers had off-track moment and Hulkenberg made an extra pit stop.
That allowed Vitantonio Liuzzi past both to extend Force India’s championship lead over them by a single point.
2010 Korean Grand Prix
Image © Ferrari spa