With four races to go, Red Bull seemed a sure thing to defend its Constructors' Championship. The question came down to a matter of when. In order to seize it in South Korea this weekend, RBR would need to outscore its main rivals at McLaren. In other words, Vettel and his wingman Mark Webber would need to finish the Korean Grand Prix in better average position than Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton. Would that prove too tall an order, or would the defending champs rise to the occasion and shut their rivals out of the championship? Follow the jump to find out.
After a season full of Red Bull-dominated qualifying sessions, Lewis Hamilton shocked by taking pole position – the first time this season that the RB7 (whether piloted by Vettel or by Webber) was not on pole. Instead, Vettel was consigned to second place – starting on the front row but on the "dirty" side of the track – with Button third and Webber fourth. The Ferrari duo of Massa and Alonso landed on the third row, followed by Rosberg (Mercedes), Petrov (Renault), di Resta and Sutil (Force India), with Schumacher relegated to twelfth place behind STR's Alguersuari.
It was a clean start off the line as the top six stayed in the same position heading into the first pair of corners. But into turn 3, Massa skipped past Webber to pass Button. Webber then took back his place from Massa and Alonso passed Button, while up front Vettel took the lead from Hamilton. The newly re-crowned champion would proceed to open up an increasingly wide lead over Hamilton and the rest of the field over the subsequent laps.
With Vettel in front and Hamilton still second, Massa, Alonso and Webber fought hard for third place as Button began closing in to the pack. The leaders started heading in for their first round of pit stops around lap 14. The rest made theirs under the safety car that was deployed when Petrov rear-ended Schumacher on lap 16, damaging their front and rear wings, respectively. Both went home prematurely as the first retirements of the day.
By lap 26, the Ferrari duo had caught up to Rosberg and soon passed him for fifth place. Shortly thereafter, Williams' Pastor Maldonado joined Petrov and Schumacher trackside.
Up front, Webber fought hard to get past Hamilton in one of the closest battles of the season. The fight continued into the pit lane, from which Hamilton emerged ahead. A slip on Hamilton's part saw Webber squeeze by briefly, only for the McLaren driver to retake his position. Webber got by again on the back straight of lap 49 (out of 55 total), but Hamilton deployed the DRS wing and slipped past once more.
The closing laps saw Hamilton, Webber, Button and Alonso running in close proximity as Vettel remained a dozen seconds ahead, and so they finished, with Vettel showing no signs of easing up even after taking the title. He was followed by Hamilton in second, Webber in third, Button fourth, Alonso fifth and Massa sixth. Toro Rosso's Alguersuari and Buemi impressively sandwiched Rosberg in positions seven, eight and nine, with di Resta picking up the final point in tenth.
With the Red Bulls finishing in staggered order ahead of the McLarens, it was just enough for the defending champions to seize the constructors' title once again, giving them both championships two years running. All that leaves for the rest of the field is to fight over the remaining places. Watch this space for results from the inaugural Indian Grand Prix in two weeks' time.