Despite the long awaited return of Ferrari to the grid in Korea, the Scuderia were nowhere to be found at Buddh, new signing St8tsman was the only registered driver missing from the field this week.
NightFire vs. Oz; Ploddy vs. rogue eclipse; PessimistPrime vs. EffSea; Sora vs Toggsie; Fredfrog vs. zdievo; all with millen thrown into the mix. Read on to learn how the battles turned out...
|8||7||Effing Sea||Lotus||+1 lap||29||01:32.753||9||4|
|10||14||Fredzfrog||Red Bull||+2 laps||28||01:34.616||5||2|
The forecast for the weekend was clear although conditions were overcast as the grid went out for qualifying, and this week showed yet again how tight the field can be.
Mercedes' NightFire struck first with a reasonable 1:29.333, although you could tell there was more to come from the Silver Arrow. Williams' rogue eclipse showed early pace with 1:30.194, whilst NightFire began stretching his legs and turned in a 1:28.756. Lotus' Ploddy looked on song, dipping into the mid 1:30s, whilst RBR's Fredzfrog upped his game and turned in the only other time better than a 1:32 in the early running.
Meanwhile, Lotus' EffSea spent some time sideways on the exit of turn 3 whilst qualifying on primes. He was just one of a number of drivers looking at running the counter strategy this week: STR's millen, Sauber's PessimistPrime, McLaren's Toggsie also started on the harder rubber.
Oz managed to take a second out of his team mate's time, looking sharp with a 1:27.712, before NightFire responded with a 1:27.278. Meanwhile, Ploddy had turned in a circuit PB 1:29.242, the Iceman's time good enough to hold off his Williams rival - rogue also set a PB but it wasn't enough to eclipse the Lotus. Fredz snagged the last of the qualifying points with his 1:31.503, edging out Prime by under 5 hundredths of a second. Toggsie would hold off millen and EffSea for P7. At the back of the grid, Sauber's Sora struggled with set up problems due to lack of running, whilst Williams' zdievo was happy with his continued improvement, and the shrinking gap to the rest of the field. Then, with just 30 seconds left in the session NightFire would be thwarted by Oz, who pulled out a very impressive 1:26.494 to claim pole.
The stage was set...
A poor start from Oz saw NightFire take the lead at turn 1. As the pole sitter ran wide, Ploddy pounced and by turn 3 Oz had dropped to P4 as the Williams found a way past as well. Further back, slight contact between Fredz and Prime had the RBR almost spinning, causing contact with Toggs and allowing Sora and millen to capitalise around the outside. EffSea was forced to pull up short to avoid the incident ahead and was hit from behind by zdievo, who had no room to pull up under heavy fuel. As a result, Toggs was left with a damaged wing, EffSea lost his front wing and was hit with a drive through, and Prime and zdievo were both penalised with a drive through.
Turn 3 was just as messy for the midfield - Sora and Fredz came together, nearly resulting in the Sauber eating the fence, whilst Toggs and Prime banged wheels coming onto the straight. With damaged cars running wide, Prime was able to move up the field and reached P5 after Fredz put his RB8 into the wall on the exit of turn 7.
Back at the front, Ploddy nicely undercut NightFire for the lead at turn 4 as the Mercedes ran too deep into the corner. The Lotus would relinquich the lead as he ran wide on the exit of turn 6, allowing NightFire back through at turn 7. Oz spent lap 1 menacing the back of rogue's Williams, jumping when rogue had a moment out of turn 14. The two traded places again before Oz made the move stick at turn 1 and started chasing down Ploddy. By lap 3, with DRS assistance, he had his man.
After serving his first drive through, Prime would earn his second as he ran a little wide through turn 3 and put zdievo into the fence. It was the start of a day of bad luck for the Williams' rookie as small errors cost him a chance at championship points. zdievo remained upbeat though, pleased with his overall improvement - "Tough race for me. Good to see I am catching the pack now". Fredz and Sora also struggled to put together clean laps, costing the pair. A shame, particularly given the pace Fredz showed in qualifying.
On lap 7, Oz claimed the lead after technical issues forced NightFire to slow on the exit of turn 7. Although this wouldn't be the end of the dual between the Mercedes team mates. Ploddy lived up to his reputation as the Iceman, putting together consistent lap times and locking himself in for yet another podium finish - "A fantastic race for me. By no means perfect, it is the most comfortable I've felt in a long while. The team gave me a great setup, very stable and whilst still lacking a bit of top speed, was very comfortable through the bendy bits. Cheers to the team and well done, we are looking very good for 3rd place in the Constructors now"
Things weren't so tidy for rogue in P4 as he fought to keep up with the Lotus - "Just couldn't narrow the gap and I started making mistakes trying to push too hard. Suddenly it wasn't about catching Ploddy though". Former STR team mate millen was closing rapidly on the Williams and had caught him in the closing stages of the race, taking out as much as a second a sector. DRS on the final lap wasn't enough to get him past, and a nervy rogue held on for P4.
A fast charging Pessimist Prime overcame his early pitfalls to take P6 after an early battle with Toggsie. Prime was happy to have made the comback, but must be wondering would could have been - "All in all, happy with 6th and the comeback to be so close, but it's bitter sweet because I feel I had some real pace tonight". Toggsie took the honours in his battle with Sora, the McLaren rookie couldn't keep the grin off his face after the race - "P7 and ahead of Sora... MWAHAHAHA. I AM COMING!"
Sora will be ruing the poor reliability of his Sauber after a late race KERS failure likely robbed him of the chance to take P8 from EffSea - "KERS decided to fail just at the worst moment so I was forced to drive smooth and make sure the tyres lasted. I got KERS back on the final laps but by that time, I had no answer as the gap was still too large even for KERS to accomplish". It was a lucky break for the Lotus, as his KERS had also failed - "Fortunately for me his KERS was also gone and i managed to hold him out, a couple more laps and he would have certainly made the pass. Onwards to Abu Dhabi, i actually like this track, so i'm hoping i go alright. I need to chase down Pessimist, he's overtaken me in the WDC with his result in the last race!!"
Back at the front the drama wasn't done with yet. Oz had led the majority of the race after his lap 7 pass on NightFire. Damage to the race leader's wing after contacting the back of Prime on lap 24 the gap was down to just over 3 seconds. Fuel loads also hurt Oz, as he was forced to drop his engine mixture, whilst NightFire charged forward in full attack mode, and by lap 26, NightFire was nearly within DRS range. By the end of the lap NightFire had the lead he forced Oz wide at the final turn. Oz couldn't respond with his broken wing and NightFire would take his second consecutive victory, his fifth for the season - "I guess I am happy to win in the end, I've had a few opportunistic wins this year but sometimes you have to make your own luck count, and I have done that so far. Seeing as we're in front of the Constructor's now my aim is just to finish these last 3 races and bring that championship home".
With just three races to go, every point becomes even more crucial as the driver battles close up. Ploddy leads rogue by 15pts and both are in danger of being overtaken by Oz; Prime leads Effing by just 2pts; Sora holds Toggsie at bay by only 4pts with Nobody only 13 pts adrift should he return. Join us next week from the coast of the Persian Gulf for Round 18.