Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor James Parker
Red Bull were once again dominant in qualifying under the setting sun in Abu Dhabi, with both drivers claiming the teams second 1-2 in 3 races. Mark Webber, like Suzuka came out on top ahead of his recently crowned team-mate to pole position putting in a 1.39.9 to go 1 tenth clear after a fabulous last gasp lap. Completing the top 3 was the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg who offered the best chance of breaking Red Bull’s stranglehold, even though he eventually finished some 4 tenths down.
Paul Di Resta was the first man out on the track in Q1 as he looked to set a lap time early on. It was anticipated that we could have one of the biggest gaps in lap time between the soft and medium compound tyres, as much as 1.5 to 1.8 seconds in some cases.
It was expected that Red Bull would take an easy pole position given the clear pace advantage they have enjoyed in recent weeks but Mercedes were looking strong, making the early running with both Rosberg and Hamilton topping the timesheets – the German pipping his team-mate with a 1.42.567.
McLaren too were looking to have a stronger weekend and solidify their position in the top 10 as Perez had gone up to 3rd some 3 tenths down on the Mercedes pair ahead. This then extended to 6 tenths as Rosberg looked to go even faster, dropping the target time down to a 1.42.2 and looking strong.
All was calm in the Red Bull garage however as with 10 minutes gone, neither Webber nor Vettel were itching to join the track, both opting to watch the session unfold from the monitors instead.
Ferrari who had struggled all weekend were fairing no better in qualifying, and both Alonso and Massa were all at sea outside the top 10, before Alonso slotted in a better time to go 4th behind the two Mercedes cars and Perez. This was with 8 minutes to go and it was set to be a long qualifying hour for both drivers.
It was at this time that Red Bull thought it was wise to finally join the party. Both Webber and Vettel immediately joined the track on the soft compound tyres, perhaps the teams thinking following a 2 stop strategy and that no more than 1 set of soft compound tyres were needed in the race.
Both Lotus cars then followed suit with Grosjean and Raikkonen also taking to the soft tyres, which was the signal for the rest of the grid to join them with 5 minutes to go. Vettel on his first run went top with a 1.41.5 before being pipped by his team-mate Webber by 1 tenth moments later.
Both Lotus cars also looked to be enjoying the softer compound tyres, Kimi toppling the Red Bulls at the top of the timesheets by 2 tenths with a 1.41.2. Track evolution was looking to get stronger as the session wore on as everyone was setting fastest times on the soft tyres. Red Bull were happy to sit in the garage with both Webber and Vettel as they felt comfortable.
As the chequered flag dropped, both Guttierez and the struggling Adrian Sutil could not make the cut and dropped out in Q1 along with 19th placed Van Der Garde, Jules Bianchi, Charles Pic and Max Chilton heading up the rear of the grid.
Di Resta was once again the first man out on track, looking to get an early banker in on soft tyres. However it was the Mercedes duo once again that looked to take the fight to Red Bull as Rosberg on his first run posted a lap time of 1.40.4, 4 thousandths faster than his team-mate Hamilton in 2nd whilst Vettel could only managed 3rd after his first run a further 3 tenths down.
Ferraris difficult day continued to materialise as Alonso, struggling with a horrendous rear balance could only manage 11th a full 1 second down on the Mercedes pair at the head of the field.
Whilst Webber was looking much closer in terms of raw pace to Vettel this weekend over 1 lap he was not completely happy with the front end of his Red Bull. Asking for 3 clicks worth of front wing adjustment for his second run, he looked to chase the laptime available in the tricky 3rd sector.
But the biggest story which dominated Q2 was all about Ferrari and Fernando Alonso. On his final run on fresh soft tyres, the lap was incredibly messy, and the Spaniard was forced to abort, to save his tyres for one final blast.
However as the Chequered flag dropped, the Ferrari man had used the best of his fragile soft Pirelli’s, and he found himself 11th, directly behind his team-mate and therefore out of qualifying and Q3 for the first time this season. It was a hugely frustrating afternoon and it was also the 5th time in 7 races that Alonso has now been outqualified by the rejuvenated Felipe Massa.
Di Resta finished 12th, ahead of a helpless Jenson Button who was lost for words as to where his raw pace had gone in the McLaren (whilst his team-mate was enjoying himself in 5th). 14th was Jean Eric Vergne ahead of both Williams cars who brought up the rear of Q2.
7 drivers opted to do 2 runs in Q3, with only Perez, Ricciardo and Massa opting to do a single run later on in the session.
After the first runs had been completed and the top 7 shaken down, it was Vettel who topped the timesheets as he started to fully exploit the grip available with fresh soft compound tyres. His laptime of a 1.40.0 looked incredibly difficult to beat, a full 3 tenths ahead of Rosberg, with Hamilton 3rd and Raikkonen further back in 4th.
It was looking ominously as if Vettel had his 8th pole position in the bag, claiming a 9th straight front row start since the British Grand Prix.
But on his second run, up popped his team-mate Mark Webber who produced an almost near perfect lap, nailing a final 3rd sector of which he was struggling with all weekend to go provisional pole with a 1.39.9. Vettel, making a mistake on his final run in turn 1 could not beat it, showing his frustration over the line by shaking his head.
Rosberg ended up 3rd a full 4 tenths down on the Red Bull pair whilst 4th place man Hamilton spun on his final run at the turn 13 chicane, running over the kerbs too aggressively and losing the rear end as it went light on exit – bringing an effective end to those on quick runs behind.
Raikkonen was a solid 5th who had showed great long run pace for Sundays Grand Prix in Free Practice, whilst the Hulk once again impressed in 6th place for Sauber. Grosjean was a very underwhelming 7th place after being tipped as the dark horse for challenging the red Bulls before the session began.
Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery said: “Two key factors shaped the strategy during qualifying: the big
lap time difference between the two compounds and the high degree of track evolution, which meant that the fastest
times were usually set at the end of each session once the most rubber had been laid down on the surface. As an
extra factor, track temperature was consistently falling with the sun going down during qualifying, which adds another
challenge from a tyre engineering perspective. We’re expecting a one-stop race tomorrow for most drivers, but some
may try something different. With the wear and degradation rates that we can see so far, the options are open. While
the soft tyre has a significant performance advantage, it’s also capable of consistent performance over a longer run.
We’ve got the same tyre nomination as India but the situation at this race is a lot less clear-cut, which means that
strategy can make a real difference tomorrow.”
The Pirelli mystery strategy predictor
One stop is theoretically the quickest approach to the 56-lap Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, irrespective of starting on the
soft or the medium compound. So, if starting on the soft, we would expect drivers to change to the medium on lap 12
and then go to the end. Or if starting on the medium, change to the soft on lap 43 and then go to the end.
The optimal two-stop strategy is: start on the soft, change to the medium on lap nine, and a final stint on the medium
from lap 32
|1||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull-Renault||1:41.568||1:40.575||1:39.957||1|
|2||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault||1:41.683||1:40.781||1:40.075||2|
|9||6||Sergio Perez||McLaren – Mercedes||1:41.687||1:40.812||1:41.068||9|
|10||19||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||1:41.884||1:40.852||1:41.111||10|
|12||14||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||1:41.676||1:41.133||12|
|13||5||Jenson Button||McLaren – Mercedes||1:41.817||1:41.200||13|
|14||18||Jean-Éric Vergne||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||1:41.692||1:41.279||14|
|18||15||Adrian Sutil||Force India-Mercedes||1:42.051||18|
|19||21||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham-Renault||1:43.252||19|