A big question ahead of Sunday’s Korean grand prix is whether Red Bull will allow Mark Webber to win.
The Australian is a long way behind teammate Sebastian Vettel’s chase for the 2012 championship, but he has qualified on pole in Yeongam. Dr Helmut Marko played down the ‘team order’ issue, telling Austrian broadcaster ORF that the main thing is that the pair “must not interfere” with each other’s races.
“They both know that what is critical in the last five races is to finish the race, and that is by having no crashes, no spins or anything else,” he said.
And Marko said Webber can still win the title.
“He is 60 points behind but there are still 125 to get,” said the Austrian.
Former F1 driver and now Sky commentator Anthony Davidson, however, admitted he would be “very surprised” if Red Bull didn’t order a position swap in the event Webber is leading Vettel late on Sunday. Team boss Christian Horner denied the charge.
“No. Both drivers are free to race,” he said. “We ask that they give each other space and the target is for both of them to beat Fernando (Alonso) and score as many points in the constructors’ championship.”
Webber, meanwhile, is quoted by Brazil’s Totalrace: “We’ll see tomorrow (Sunday), but I think we should be free to race.”
Championship lead-chaser Sebastian Vettel hit out at his engineer ‘Rocky’ on Saturday after missing pole in Korea.
It was his Red Bull teammate Mark Webber trumping qualifying instead, with Vettel hitting out at his race engineer Guillaume ‘Rocky’ Rocquelin after crossing the chequered flag.
“Why did you not tell me about Massa?” the German, who is 4 points behind Ferrari’s championship leader Fernando Alonso after winning in Singapore and Suzuka, shouted on the radio after the ‘Q3′ session.
Rocky hit back: “What was I supposed to say?”
Vettel told reporters afterwards that Q1 and Q2 went well and that he is “generally happy”.
“The last run (in Q3) … I don’t want to blame it on Felipe,” said the reigning world champion. “I thought he was coming in but he wasn’t and I caught him in the last sector so I had to back off. It’s not ideal.”
So far, pole sitter and Australian Webber is refusing to back his teammate’s title quest, while Alonso is lurking fourth on the grid.
“You’ve got all the major contenders up there so it’s going to be a fascinating race,” said Red Bull team boss Christian Horner.
According to the Express newspaper, Vettel is sparing no expense in his bid to join greats Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher as the winner of a triple-consecutive drivers’ title. Journalist Bob McKenzie has revealed that, at a cost of almost EUR 250,000, the Red Bull driver has commissioned a private Challenger jet to carry him to the final crucial races of the 2012 championship.
A Formula One steward serving at this weekend’s Korean grand prix has warned Romain Grosjean not to crash at the first corner on Sunday.
Frenchman Grosjean was banned at Monza for causing the first-lap carnage at Spa, and incurred a ten-second stop and go penalty – and the wrath of the F1 paddock – for yet another incident at Suzuka a week ago.
Swiss steward Paul Gutjahr, a F1 steward since 1995, told Blick newspaper in Korea: “The Frenchman is warned.
“Another crash, and he will be a spectator on more than another occasion.”
Grosjean has admitted that Lotus is “not happy” with him after his latest crash.
“The team told me they are not happy,” he told RMC Sport in Korea. “I am not happy with the situation either. We have 550 employees working (with Lotus) so I am aware of the situation and now it’s up to me to find a solution.”
He confirmed that Mark Webber, who called him a “nutcase” at Suzuka, came to see him after the Japanese grand prix.
“I did not read his statements, but he came to see me after the race in my room,” said Grosjean. “He was annoyed but that’s normal. I apologised and it’s all I can do. I have not read any press or anything, but I know that when I get out of this situation, I will be stronger.”
Bernie Ecclestone agreed to reduce the race fee as he extended Korea’s grand prix contract through 2016, the AFP news agency reports.
F1’s annual trip since 2010 to Mokpo is among the most controversial and least popular on the calendar, but promoter Park Won-Hwa said on Friday a new contract has been signed.
“We had to renegotiate with Mr Ecclestone and brought a few ideas and persuaded him that Korea cannot continue the event with such a big financial loss,” he said.
“It took a long time, and in the end Mr Ecclestone agreed to make another contract,” Park added.
The Times correspondent Kevin Eason said this week he cannot understand why F1 chief executive Ecclestone wants the poorly attended and questionably organised event to survive.
Park explained: “Mr Ecclestone thinks that it is important to have F1 in Korea as the country is a fast-growing country and benefits from a booming economy and fast-growing economy.
“It would be a huge strategic mistake to withdraw from this part of the world.”
Still, F1’s travellers dislike the remote location of the event and the so-called ‘love motels’ – usually occupied by prostitutes and their clients – they have to stay in.
“Seoul is a centre of activity,” said Park. “But Korea needed to highlight this rural and industrial area. We live in peace here with clean air, no pollution and a good environment. But we are trying to boost the area and build its image at the same time. This is the idea of the government behind the race.”
Korea, among F1’s new breed of grands prix, is far from the most popular stop on the sport’s annual calendar.
Well-known British F1 photographer Darren Heath tweeted from the metropolis Seoul: “Fantastic 3 days. Early train to Mokpo tomorrow.
“(It’s) like being in London then heading to Shetland for an F1 GP. Mad,” he concluded.
According to the German news agency DPA, Formula One drivers “like the track” in South Korea but are “bugged by the strange atmosphere”. Michael Schumacher confirmed: “We don’t get too many fans at the race. It’s a pity.”
Correspondent for the British newspaper The Times, Kevin Eason, said F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone is a supporter of the event “but then he does not have to stay in the Adam and Eve love motel”.
“(Mokpo) is not a grand prix destination,” he insisted, adding that the Hermann Tilke-penned facility is a “huge and costly folly on the outskirts of a city that neither cares nor wants” F1 to be there. There is no vote for the worst location in the sport, but Mokpo would be a strong contender, even over riot-ravaged Bahrain, or Brazil, where crime is rife,” Eason wrote.
CNN Korea quoted a fan as saying: “Last year, it was a complete mess.
“The traffic is so awful and there were a lot of hard-core racing fans who created a pretty hostile atmosphere amidst the whole mess outside.”
The report concluded that “press and public opinion have not been kind to the first two years of the Korean grand prix”.
South Korea has indicated it could keep organising an annual grand prix.
Despite the Yeongam race only joining the F1 schedule in 2010 and having a contract through 2016, recent speculation suggested organisers are baulking at the financial losses. But organiser Park Jong-moon has been quoted by the Korea Times as saying losses from “big sports events” are “inevitable”.
“Even the 1988 Seoul Olympics was a money-losing event, (but) it is worthwhile, considering other effects that were far greater than profit,” he said.
Park also said Bernie Ecclestone has agreed not to charge the usual 10 per cent fee increase for the 2012 race, which is taking place this weekend. But the Korea Times report said two main sponsors of the grand prix have pulled out.
“After reviewing our corporate image and alternatives, we decided not to take the main sponsor deal this year,” an official for POSCO, a Korean steel company, said.