Yeongam, South Korea – Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel completed a hat-trick of Korean Grand Prix victories on Sunday to put himself only one week away from potentially clinching his fourth successive Formula One title.
The 26-year-old's third successive Korean win, and eighth triumph in 14 races, left him 77 points clear of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso with five races – and a maximum 125 points – remaining.
If the German wins in Japan next weekend, and Alonso fails to finish in the top eight, the championship will be over.
“That was a very, very disciplined drive. Well done,” team principal Christian Horner told him over the radio after taking the chequered flag. Vettel replied with his customary whoop of delight.
Alonso could manage only sixth place on an overcast afternoon that threatened rain without delivering. The Spaniard now has 195 points to Vettel's 272.
In a race that exploded into action, with two safety car periods including one that started with the bizarre appearance of a fire marshals' 4X4 on track at the front of the field, Vettel celebrated his fourth victory in a row.
Finland's Kimi Raikkonen finished second, ahead of Lotus team mate Romain Grosjean, in a race that began as another display of Vettel's domination before jolting the audience awake with a bang.
McLaren's Mexican Sergio Perez brought out the first safety car with the explosive delamination of his front right tyre that left a strip of tread lying in the middle of the track.
When that safety car came in, after the debris had been cleared, Vettel's Australian team mate Mark Webber was hit by Adrian Sutil's Force India at the re-start.
The Australian pulled over with his car on fire, for the second race in a row.
With marshals putting out the blaze with extinguishers, the 4x4 appeared on the track ahead of the field between turns one and two and with its hazard lights on while the official Mercedes SLS AMG safety car brought up the rear.
“It's not great getting stuck behind the safety car but I'm really pleased with the result and great by the team,” said Vettel, whose podium appearance at the sparsely-attended Yeongam circuit met none of the booing that had marked the previous three races.
“Fortunately we had enough pace to get ahead after both safety cars but both Kimi and Romain were very competitive and did better with their tyres,” he added. – Reuters
1. Sebastian Vettel (Germany) RedBull - Renault 1:43:13.701
2. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Lotus - Renault +00:04.224
3. Romain Grosjean (France) Lotus - Renault 00:04.927
4. Nico Huelkenberg (Germany) Sauber - Ferrari 00:24.114
5. Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes 00:25.255
6. Fernando Alonso (Spain) Ferrari 00:26.189
7. Nico Rosberg (Germany) Mercedes 00:26.698
8. Jenson Button (Britain) McLaren 00:32.262
9. Felipe Massa (Brazil) Ferrari 00:34.390
10. Sergio Perez (Mexico) McLaren 00:35.155
1. Esteban Gutierrez (Mexico) Sauber - Ferrari 00:35.990
12. Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Williams - Renault 00:47.049
13. Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela) Williams - Renault 00:50.013
14. Charles Pic (France) Caterham - Renault 01:03.578
15. Giedo van der Garde (Netherlands) Caterham - Renault 01:04.501
16. Jules Bianchi (France) Marussia - Cosworth 01:07.970
17. Max Chilton (Britain) Marussia - Cosworth 01:12.898
18r. Jean-Eric Vergne (France) Toro Rosso - Ferrari 2 laps
19r. Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Toro Rosso - Ferrari 3 laps
20r. Adrian Sutil (Germany) Force India - Mercedes 5 laps
r. Mark Webber (Australia) RedBull - Renault 19 laps
r. Paul Di Resta (Britain) Force India - Mercedes 31 laps
(rank: r = retired, nc = not classified)
Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel,1:41.380, lap 53.
1. Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Red Bull 272
2. Fernando Alonso (Spain) Ferrari 195
3. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Lotus 167
4. Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes 161
5. Mark Webber (Australia) Red Bull 130
6. Nico Rosberg (Germany) Mercedes 122
7. Felipe Massa (Brazil) Ferrari 89
8. Romain Grosjean (France) Lotus 72
9. Jenson Button (Britain) McLaren 58
10. Paul Di Resta (Britain) Force India 36
11. Nico Huelkenberg (Germany) Sauber 31
12. Adrian Sutil (Germany) Force India 26
13. Sergio Perez (Mexico) McLaren 23
14. Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Toro Rosso 18
15. Jean-Eric Vergne (France) Toro Rosso 13
16. Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela) Williams 1
17. Esteban Gutierrez (Mexico) Sauber 0
18. Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Williams 0
19. Jules Bianchi (France) Marussia 0
20. Charles Pic (France) Caterham 0
21. Giedo van der Garde (Netherlands) Caterham 0
22. Max Chilton (Britain) Marussia 0
1. RedBull - Renault 402
2. Ferrari 284
3. Mercedes 283
4. Lotus - Renault 239
5. McLaren 81
6. Force India - Mercedes 62
7. Sauber - Ferrari 31
8. Toro Rosso - Ferrari 31
9. Williams - Renault 1
10. Marussia - Cosworth 0
11. Caterham - Renault 0