SEOUL (Reuters) - Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso has taken inspiration from the centuries old wisdom of a samurai swordsman as he prepares for a Formula One duel with Sebastian Vettel at the Korean Grand Prix this weekend.
The Spaniard knows he will lose the championship lead at the southern Yeongam circuit for the first time since seizing it in Valencia in June if his Red Bull rival chalks up a third win in a row.
Alonso is only four points clear of Vettel, with five races remaining, after spinning off into the gravel at the start in Japan last weekend.
After that crushing disappointment, his response was a statement on his Twitter feed: “Five great races coming! If the enemy thinks in the mountains, attack by sea. If they think in the sea, attack by the mountains.”
The words are those of 17th century Japanese Miyamoto Musashi, who set out in his ‘Book of Five Rings’ teachings ranging from strategy, philosophy and battlefield tactics to self-control and spiritual calm.
Musashi’s conviction that “there is more than one path to the top of the mountain” will also strike a chord with the Spaniard, whose own ascent has been slowed by others in incidents beyond his control.
Consistency, control and intelligence will all be key weapons in his armoury.
Both Alonso and Vettel have won three races this season, both are double champions, but the 31-year-old Spaniard has years more experience under his belt than his 25-year-old rival and knows the importance of keeping calm, of strategy and seeing the bigger picture.
“What happened to us today could happen to the others next time,” he had said on Sunday night. “The wheel turns and that is what races are all about.”
Yeongam’s coastal track, some 400km south of Seoul, has been good and bad for Red Bull in the past, with Vettel winning there last year after retiring in the 2010 debut race.
He and Alonso are the only drivers to have won in Korea.
Red Bull clinched the constructor’s title there last season, after Vettel had wrapped up his second crown in Japan, but both battles are still raging this time around.
“I think that Fernando is a very shrewd and formidable opponent and over a season luck tends to balance itself out,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner told reporters.
“We’ve got mixed emotions of Korea -- despair in the first year to elation in the second year. It’s important that out of this double header we get as many points as we possibly can in both championships.”
After wins in Singapore and at Suzuka, Vettel is going for a third win in a row and the team’s new ‘Double DRS’ rear wing aerodynamic package has brought a marked improvement in qualifying.
The title run-in may be looking like a two-horse race but others will be hoping to be first to a chequered flag that will be waved on Sunday by chart-topping, horse-dancing ‘Gangnam Style’ local pop phenomenon Psy.
McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button are still in the hunt while Finland’s Kimi Raikkonen, third overall for Lotus despite not having won a race all season, cannot be written off.
Hamilton, who is leaving for Mercedes at the end of the season, was runner-up in both Korean races to date.
Raikkonen, whose F1 future may be revealed on his 33rd birthday next week if a video posting on YouTube is to be believed, will have a much revised car for his first appearance in South Korea.
“The upgrades for Korea are a big step; it is the opening of a new era for us,” said Lotus principal Eric Boullier in a team preview of the race. “We are cautiously optimistic.”
The main development is a ‘Coanda-effect’ exhaust system which technical director James Allison said was a ‘biggish change’ offering clear benefits over the previous version.
Lotus’s Frenchman Romain Grosjean, already suspended for one race earlier this season, will have to be on his best behaviour after smashing into Red Bull’s Mark Webber at the second corner in Japan.
The Australian dubbed him a ‘first-lap nutcase’ with others saying it might be time for another ban.
Editing by Peter Rutherford
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