It’s the moment of truth for Nico Rosberg – one race, one podium, one world championship. It all comes down to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend – will it be a relaxed coronation drive for Nico as team-mate Lewis Hamilton had in 2014, or will he get bogged down in traffic and watch on frustrated as a title slips from his grasp, as Fernando Alonso endured for Ferrari in 2010? Lewis Hamilton has the form and seems to be thriving under the knowledge that only a win will do, while Nico has been doing what he needs to do and no more since his victory in Japan meant he no longer needed a win. Still, with Ferrari having one last shot to deliver in 2016 on a track where they ran well last year, and with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen looking to continue to cement his status as F1’s emerging superstar while Daniel Ricciardo looks to remain relevant within Red Bull, if Nico can’t get away at the front at the start of the race he will certainly have his work cut out if he is to join his father in the elite club of Formula One World Champions.
With the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix only joining the calendar in 2009, this year’s field sees every previous winner of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix line up for another shot. Sebastian Vettel has the most Abu Dhabi Grand Prix wins, winning 3 times for Red Bull. Lewis Hamilton has two wins (one with McLaren and one with Mercedes), while Kimi Raikkonen (with Lotus) and Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) have one win each.
Last year Mercedes were again in a class of their own, Nico Rosberg enjoying a lights to flag victory, leading home a Mercedes 1-2 ahead of Lewis Hamilton. Rosberg converted pole position and built up an early lead, and while Lewis closed right up to him and took the lead when Rosberg pitted, Hamilton ultimately was left out on the track too long before making his second stop, and was unable to challenge for the win. Ferrari had a solid race and were easily best of the rest, with Kimi Raikkonen closing out the season in style with a well driven third place while Sebastian Vettel did as much as he possibly could to recover from a disaster in qualifying to come through from 15th on the grid to finish fourth. Force India had a happy run, with Sergio Perez an excellent fifth ahead of the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo.
Abu Dhabhi has hosted the Desert Challenge since 1991, where infamous ex-Formula One drive Jean-Louis Schlesser (of the collided with Ayrton Senna preventing a perfect season for McLaren in 1988 fame) is the undisputed king in the car category with 6 victories, while Marc Coma has taken 8 victories on 2 wheels! F1 came to Abu Dhabi in 1993, the powerboat F1 championships that is, with local success fuelling the popularity of the sport, Team Abu Dhabhi are the reigning Class 1 champions!
Formula One proper arrived in 2009. A state of the art track, Yas Marina, was built on the man-made Yas island, the track design courtesy of Hermann Tilke, with the track running beneath the Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi hotel, which provides a colourful backdrop as darkness falls on the race. The race has always had a slot late in the season, holding the final round in the championship in 2009 and 2010, and becoming the final round of the championship again from 2014 (the infamous double points race) onwards. The inaugural race was the first Formula One race to be held in day and night conditions, and the event is run as the sun sets every year, to offer a unique challenge to the drivers as the light changes and the temperature drops.
Lewis Hamilton took the first pole position here in 2009, but Sebastian Vettel took the win, passing Hamilton in the pits before Lewis retired with brake issues. That result secured second place in the drivers championship, the title having being wrapped up before the event by Jenson Button. For 2010, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix would see a three way fight for the title, with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Red Bull’s Mark Webber marking each other out the chance for the title and allowing Webber’s Red Bull team-mate Sebastian Vettel to secure his first driver’s crown with a victory, despite being the long shot for the title entering the weekend (see full report below in memorable moments). In 2011 the race was moved to the penultimate round of the calendar, but such was Sebastian Vettel’s dominance that year for Red Bull the title was already long wrapped up, with Lewis Hamilton claiming the win for McLaren after polesitter Vettel retired from a puncture on the opening lap. In 2012 the race was third from last in the season, and with all still to play for saw Kimi Raikkonen earn his first victory since returning from exile from Formula One and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso narrowly cut the lead in the championship to Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, who worked his way up to third after being disqualified from qualifying (see report below in memorable moments). In 2013 despite being the third last race on the calendar, that man Sebastian Vettel had again wrapped up the driver’s title (yawn), and would go on to win a record equalling 9th consecutive Grand Prix, coming home over half a minute ahead of his Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber (yawn!).
For 2014, Abu Dhabi paid the price to return to the final round of the season, and got itself a double points race in an attempt to guarantee the race would be a title decider. The double points just about kept the title race alive going into the final race, with Nico Rosberg able to take the title from Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton if he could win and Hamilton finished third, but in any event Nico hit trouble and was unable to score points, with Lewis winning the title in style with a victory, and a great result for Williams, with Felipe Massa chasing Lewis all the way home in second place, and Valtteri Bottas further back completing the podium for Williams. That race saw a noteworthy effort from Daniel Ricciardo, bringing his Red Bull home in fourth after both Red Bulls were disqualified from qualifying for running an illegal front wing.
Last year the title was done and dusted when F1 arrived in Abu Dhabi for the season finale, with Nico Rosberg continuing his run of form after losing out in the title battle to end the season on a high note with victory from Lewis Hamilton.
The track at Yas Marinas is 5.5 km long, flat circuit, with just 10.7 meters of elevation change along its 21 corners. The track runs in an anticlockwise configuration, and with mainly low speed corners is quite demanding on the brakes, with turn 8 at the end of the first DRS zone the hardest braking zone on the lap. The race starts in daylight, but will finish after sunset, so the teams have to cope with a large drop in temperature during the race, complicating the search for grip and a balanced setup.
Off the grid there is a 300 m dash to turn 1, a 90 degree left hander that is sure to envite a bit of rubbing on the first lap (Fernando Alonso ended Pastor Maldonado’s Formula One career here last year on the opening lap as his McLaren tagged the innocent Lotus!).
Running wide over the kerbs on exit of Turn 1 the cars are propelled down a short straight into Turn 2, full throttle through the fastest part of the track, a quick left hander that feeds into a fast curving right hander Turn 3. Turn 2 was where we saw Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull spin off with a puncture on the opening lap back in 2011, while the pit exit feeds onto the track on the entry to Turn 3, the cars arriving from the pit via a tunnel of course!
As the cars wind around turn 3 there is a slight jink left on exit (Turn 4), before the cars shoot down a short straight before braking hard into Turn 5/6, a tight S bend, left then right, passing the first DRS detection point on the exit of Turn 6 as the cars are quickly into the the left hand hairpin at Turn 7.
This hairpin is critical for setting the cars up for the long 1.2 km straight with the first DRS activation zone, which provides the one of the two prime overtaking spot on the lap into Turn 8, the cars braking hard into the slow 90 degree left-hander. This was the scene of plenty of overtaking attempts last year, with Lewis Hamilton blasting past Sebastian Vettel here after his first stop.
Out of Turn 8 the cars are straight into a left hander Turn 9, setting the cars up for another long straight, full throttle as the track curves past the second DRS detection point through Turn 10 and out onto the second straight with DRS, allowing for another attempt to overtake at the end of the straight into Turn 11. Hard on the brakes again into Turn 11, a 90 degree left hander which leads immediately into a right hander Turn 12, followed by another right hander Turn 13.
The DRS zone into Turn 11 should see plenty of action again this year, with the highlight of the Turn 11 action last year the battle between Max Verstappen and Jenson Button, Max getting his Toro Rosso down the inside on the run down to Turn 11 but the McLaren driver refusing to yield, Jenson running side by side with the Toro Rosso on the outside of Turn 11 and holding the inside line into Turn 12, pushing Max wide – Max kept his foot in and took the position, but was later penalized for passing outside the track limits – more of the same this year please!
From the exit of turn 13 there is another very short burst of acceleration into Turn 14, a 90 degree left hander that sees the track double back on itself, the track running back against the second DRS straight. The cars drift to the left of the track on the exit of Turn 14 and are accelerating through a short straight, flicking right through Turn 15 and again through Turn 16 before getting hard on the brakes into Turn 17, a tight right hander that feeds into another set of 90 degree bends, the right hand Turn 18 followed by the left hand Turn 19.
Out of Turn 19, careful of the barriers lining the track, the cars accelerate up another short straight, drifting to the left of the track to approach the right hander Turn 20, careful not to run to wide as the cars pass the pit entry on the approach to the final corner, the right hander Turn 21 which winds the track back onto the start finish straight.
TYRES WITH PIRELLI:
This year’s Formula 1 world championship comes to a close in Abu Dhabi, with the drivers’ title set to be decided at the final race. Pirelli is bringing the three softest compounds in the range to Abu Dhabi: P Zero Purple ultrasoft, P Zero Red supersoft, and P Zero Yellow soft. The ultrasoft is being used for the first time since Singapore, marking its fifth appearance of the year.
THE CIRCUIT FROM A TYRE POINT OF VIEW:
- Yas Marina has a very smooth track surface with a wide variety of corners and speeds, as well as warm weather that is consistent all year round, which makes it a favoured venue for testing.
- Because the circuit is quite varied, teams tend to run a medium downforce compromise set-up.
- Overtaking tends to be quite tricky at Yas Marina, so strategy can help boost track position.
- The smooth surface generally leads to quite low levels of tyre wear and degradation.
- The grand prix starts in the late afternoon at 5pm and ends in the evening, which means that track temperatures tend to vary from start to finish, sometimes dropping off dramatically.
- Traction is a key aspect of tyre behaviour in Abu Dhabi, with all the acceleration out of corners.
- Like Brazil, Yas Marina is an anti-clockwise lap, which is not typical of the rest of the season.
THE THREE NOMINATED COMPOUNDS:
- Yellow soft: seen at every race but is the hardest compound available this weekend.
- Red supersoft: used previously at Abu Dhabi and like the soft, it’s a mandatory available set.
- Purple ultrasoft: this has a speed advantage, so puts an interesting variable into strategy.
HOW IT WAS A YEAR AGO:
- Nico Rosberg won the 55-lap race with a two-stop strategy for Mercedes, starting on supersoft and then stopping for softs on laps 10 and 31. Two stops was the most popular option.
- Best alternative strategy: Sebastian Vettel also stopped twice but with two initial stints on soft followed by a final stint on supersoft. This allowed him to climb from 15thon the grid to fourth.
PAUL HEMBERY, PIRELLI MOTORSPORT DIRECTOR:
“Abu Dhabi is one of the circuits we know best, having completed a number of tests there previously, including some of the recent 2017 wider tyre tests that we have been carrying out since August. The new element to this year’s race is obviously the ultrasoft tyre, which should provide some extra speed on a circuit that forms a good all-round test for the tyres. In fact, all the compounds nominated for this year are very well suited to Abu Dhabi, opening up a number of different possibilities when it comes to strategy. Although the attention is on the finish of the 2016 season, we’re already looking forward to 2017, with a presentation to media before the start of the grand prix, then the first test with all three mule cars on track together with 2017 tyres, on the Tuesday after the race.”
- Abu Dhabi will also be the final grand prix for the current generation of cars, before the new 2017 rules come in that should increase lap speeds by five seconds compared to 2015.
- As well as the F1 drivers’ title, both the GP2 and GP3 championships will conclude in Abu Dhabi. Italy’s Antonio Giovinazzi is in contention for the GP2 title in his rookie year of the series.
- Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton have made exactly the same tyre selections for their title showdown. The most aggressive choice is from Nico Hulkenberg, with eight ultrasoft sets.
- On the same evening as the final F1 test in Abu Dhabi (29 November) the 2017 Pirelli calendar will be launched in Paris, shot by German photographer and director Peter Lindbergh.
OTHER THINGS THAT HAVE CAUGHT OUR EYE RECENTLY:
- Pirelli supplied both the FIA GT and F3 World Cup at the world famous Macau Grand Prix last weekend. Antonio Felix da Costa won the Formula 3 race, while Laurens Vanthoor triumphed in the GT encounter.
- The FIA European Rally Championship has announced its 10-round 2017 calendar, with Pirelli confirmed once again as exclusive tyre supplier for the Junior series, and a new round in Italy.
It’s hard to look past Lewis Hamilton keeping up his end of the bargain and winning from the front in Abu Dhabi. Lewis looks unstoppable, while Nico seems to be focused on not dropping the ball and giving away his shot at the title through a mistake. One chink in Lewis armour this season has been his starts, but these have improved of late. Of course, starting on pole position is always an advantage, but Nico has had the upper hand over Lewis at Abu Dhabi, out-qualifying him every year of their partnership at Mercedes, and claiming pole position the last two years. If Nico can manage to recapture that qualifying performance and nail his start he would make his life a whole lot easier – leaving Lewis battling for space with the Ferrari’s and Red Bull’s. Ferrari…what to say…last throw of the dice. It’s been a miserable season by the Scuderia’s high standards (or should that be expectations). The car seems to be able to do better than the team extract from it every race, and they will certainly be going all out to end the season on a positive note. Last year was a good effort from the Scuderia, and they will be hoping to get in the mix, but it’s hard to see them taking victory from Mercedes. Red Bull’s form has been impressive over the latter half of the season, but the long straights of Abu Dhabi will not play to their advantage. Still, through the twisty third sector the Red Bull will likely be the cream of the crop, and the emerging battle between Verstappen and Ricciardo promises to be one of the highlights of Formula One over the next few years, so they can be expected to make life very difficult for the Mercedes drivers given the opportunity. Further back, Williams hopes of taking fourth place from Force India have all but evaporated, with the Grove team needed a miracle performance, much like the one they produced two years ago to have any hope. Force India however have looked strong in recent races, and could well cause trouble for the Ferrari’s and Red Bulls if they can get the job done in qualifying. In the battle for survival at the back, Manor were dealt a serious blow in Brazil, as Felipe Nasr’s 9th place looks set to have relegated them outside the prize money paying positions, but their only hope would appear to be a race of high attrition.
2010– Ferrari fail at Abu Dhabi as Vettel crowned champion while Alonso sits in traffic
The 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was supposed to have been a victory parade for Ferrari and Fernando Alonso. Coming into the race, the final round of the 2010 season, Alonso was firmly in the driving seat in the race for the championship, with the Ferrari ace having the momentum after coming on strong at the end of the season as the Red Bulls and McLarens slipped up, and it seemed a Ferrari title was Alonso’s to lose. But as is always the way, protecting a lead can make teams and drivers hesitant, with the fear of losing overcoming the drive to win.
Four drivers started the day with a mathematical chance of the title. Alonso led the way with 246 points, from the Red Bull duo of Mark Webber (238) and Sebastian Vettel (231), with McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton the rank outsider (222). For Alonso, who entered the race having won 5 Grand Prix already that season, the maths meant simply if Webber won he had to finish second, or if Vettel won he would need to finish fourth. For Webber the task was also straight forward, win the race with Alonso third and be champion. So would Red Bull be using Sebastian Vettel as the blocker to hold up Alonso and allow Webber claim the driver’s title? Vettel himself had a clear path to victory, but one that looked unlikely – for Vettel to become champion he needed to win with Alonso doing no better than fifth (Vettel and Webber had won 4 races each to that point, so even with Webber finishing second in the race and tying Vettel on points Vettel would lead on race victories). Vettel’s hopes seemed to rest with the McLarens spoiling Alonso’s day then, with the Woking outfit having won 5 races themselves that year. Lewis Hamilton, who had won three of those races, could in theory be champion with another win and a run of disaster for his rivals, but most likely would be playing the spoiler, as would defending champion Jenson Button (no longer in the title hunt, but having won a couple of Grand Prix himself in the McLaren).
In qualifying, things went reasonably well for Alonso and Ferrari. Vettel took pole positon (his tenth of the season), with Lewis Hamilton alongside him on the front row. Alonso was in third, with the second McLaren of Jenson Button back in fourth place ahead of Mark Webber in the Red Bull, with Alonso’s team-mate Felipe Massa alongside Webber on the third row. So far so good for Alonso and Ferrari, everything under control.
The race was to be the last Grand Prix for tyre supplier Bridgestone prior to Pirelli taking over as the sole supplier, and would play a critical role in the race. If the race remained dry (a fair assumption!), then each driver would have to use one of each compound brought to the race, the super-soft and medium being the tyres selected.
As the race started things went wrong for Alonso, with Jenson Button getting past him on the run down to the first corner, as Vettel led from Hamilton. Still, as it was Alonso was in a championship winning position, but the seeds of disaster for Ferrari were sown on that opening lap, as behind the front runners Ferrari legend Michael Schumacher went into a spin trying to hang on around the outside against his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg, the Mercedes facing the wrong way on the track and Schumacher seeing the Force India of Vitatonio Liuzzi come straight on and drive up and over him, the Force India coming to rest on top of the Mercedes. Both drivers were fortunate to escape serious injury, but the safety car had to come out. Schumacher’s accident would inadvertently start a chain of events which would lead Ferrari to their downfall. Under the safety car a number of cars dived to the pits, swapping from the super-soft to the medium tyre in the hope of going the rest of the race without stopping. The key two drivers to pit at this point would prove to be the surviving Mercedes of Nico Rosberg, and the Renault of Vitaly Petrov, not cars that would be expected to play a decisive role in the race. When the safety car pulled in on lap 5 racing resumed, with the front 6 holding station.
At this point, everything was still under control for Alonso and Ferrari, but their pre-occupation with protecting their lead was about to add another nail to the coffin of Alonso’s Ferrari title dream. Vettel was pushing at the front, while Webber was losing ground stuck between the Ferrari’s of Alonso and Massa, Alonso not matching the pace of the front runners. This suited Ferrari, with Alonso sitting pretty in fourth Vettel could not win the title. Webber was beginning to struggle on his tyres, sending sparks flying as he brushed the Armco barrier on lap 8 as he slid wide , and Red Bull decided to pit him early to get him onto the medium tyre. Webber came in on lap 11, and resumed down in 16th place, behind the Toro Rosso of Jaime Alguersuari (who had also taken the opportunity to stop under the safety car on lap 1). Surely Red Bull wouldn’t allow the Toro Rosso to hinder Webber’s title charge?
As Webber lost time stuck behind the Toro Rosso of Alguersuari, Ferrari sense the opportunity to get Felipe Massa ahead of Webber and provide Alonso with a blocker, and pulled Massa in on lap 13, but Massa’s stop wasn’t a good one, trouble with the right rear meaning he lost a second and a half in the pits on Webber, and he rejoined behind the Red Bull. With Massa setting fast sector times and Webber slowed up for another half lap before Alguersuari let him by, if Ferrari have waited another lap to bring him, or had the stop been a bit quicker, would Massa have been able to pass Webber? Either way the opportunity was gone, and Ferrari now made their crucial mistake (hindsight as the say, is 20/20 vision). Ferrari decided that having failed to get Massa ahead of Webber, and seeing Webber post impressive lap times having cleared traffic on his fresh tyres relative to the front runners, they had to bring Alonso in to cover Webber. Alonso came in on lap 15, and duly re-joined ahead of Webber. But Webber’s fast lap times were being achieved in fresh air, and the strategy meant they were both behind a number of cars on the road who would not need to stop again. Alonso and Webber were soon up to the Renault of Vitaly Petrov, and this is where the wheels finally fell off the Ferrari championship challenge. Alonso was on his tail by lap 18, and that would be that, the two leaders of the championship unable to find a way past the Renault for the remainder of the race.
To give some perspective, the Renault was damn fast in a straight line and Petrov had shown he was no shrinking violet who would meekly allow the more popular drivers on the grid to waltz past him, with Alonso having learned that lesson in the Turkish Grand Prix where he had endured a frustrating time behind Petrov, before an error from Petrov allowed Alonso to force his way through. There were no such errors from Petrov this time though, with Alonso running off the track on lap 23 as he tried in vain to force a pass, the Ferrari getting partially alongside the Renault before locking up and running wide as Petrov shut the door. That was as close as Alonso would get all day, and in the end the Ferrari would come home a frustrating 7th position, with Nico Rosberg who stopped early and also Robert Kubica in the second Renault finishing ahead of him, such was the loss of time suffered behind Petrov.
Up ahead, Lewis Hamilton waited until lap 23 to pit, with Vettel following the next lap. Vettel emerged in second on the road behind Button who had yet to stop, but Hamilton was behind Robert Kubica’s Renault, Kubica having started on the medium tyre. Just as Alonso was frustrated behind Petrov, Hamilton was unable to find a way past Kubica until the Renault driver eventually stopped on lap 46, at which stage Vettel was out of reach and had the championship in his grasp, with Kubica managing to come out ahead of the Petrov-Alonso-Webber train. When Button finally pitted on lap 39 he would rejoin in fourth behind Hamilton, moving up to the final podium position when Kubica stopped.
For Vettel, who had not led the championship at any point in the year prior to Abu Dhabi despite his impressive pace all season, it was a case of everything coming together perfectly when it needed to, the German becoming the youngest driver to win the world championship in the most dramatic fashion as Red Bull celebrated their first constructor’s title. For Ferrari, it was a shattering loss, left to rue a series of what if’s:
What if Alonso had beaten Button off the line?
What if Schumacher had not spun into the path of Luizzi bringing out the safety car?
What if the Bridgestone tyres weren’t able to last a full race distance?
What if Ferrari had managed Massa’s stop better and got him ahead of Webber?
What if Ferrari had kept focus on the front of the race and kept Alonso on the same strategy as the leaders?
What if Petrov would have only been a soft touch?
For Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel, there were no questions, only celebrations, and the marking of a new championship driver and team, and a new era in the sport had truly arrived.
2012– Kimi knew what he was doing but Seb got the job done
Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) and Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus) – these three world champions led the championship standings coming into Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2012,round 18 out of 20.
Vettel was the defending champion, driving for the favoured Red Bull team, and the title seemed to be in theory his to lose, with Red Bull and Vettel hitting their stride at the end of the year, winning the four previous Grand Prix to take the lead in the championship. Fernando Alonso, desperate to deliver a title for Ferrari, had fought valiantly throughout the year, consistently dragging the best out of a Ferrari which was far from the class of the field, but had seen his midseason lead in the championship decimated by Vettel’s run of form, a DNF in Japan three races earlier following an opening lap collision with Kimi Raikkonen dealing a devastating blow for Alonso’s title hopes. Alonso was now 13 points behind Vettel, and with the Ferrari looking no match for the Red Bull (and indeed struggling against the likes of McLaren and Lotus), the chances of a first Ferrari driver’s title since 2007 seemed to be fading.
Next up in the championship standings was the man to deliver that title in 2007, Kimi Raikkonen. Although a long way back in the title chase (67 points behind Vettel), Raikkonen form in 2012 was one of the stories of the season, his consistent finishing elevating him in the championship despite the lack of a race win. After winning the title in 2007 in his first season with Ferrari, Kimi’s form had dipped, with some questioning his desire, and he was ultimately sacrificed by Ferrari to make way for Alonso’s arrival in 2010. As a result, Raikkonen left F1, and spent a couple of years trying his hand at rallying and NASCAR, but for 2012 he was lured back to F1 with Lotus, who had been a distant fifth badged as Renault in 2011.
In qualifying for the Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton, already confirmed as moving to Mercedes for the 2013 season, took pole position for McLaren, with Vettel’s Red Bull team-mate second and Vettel third. Alonso could only manage 7th, almost a second back on pole man Hamilton. It really did seem as if Alonso’s only hope for the title was a recurrence of the reliability problems Red Bull had suffered earlier in the season , where alternator trouble had cost Vettel 2 retirements. But after qualifying Ferrari were offered a lifeline as Vettel was demoted to the back of the grid, Vettel having stopped on track at the end of qualifying to save fuel, the stewards ruled he did not have enough fuel to give a sample, and he was thrown out of qualifying. A tough penalty perhaps, but with Lewis Hamilton having suffered the same fate after setting the fastest time in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix earlier in the year, the outcome seemed inevitable.
So to the race. Red Bull opted to start Vettel from the pits, giving them the chance to work on the settings of the car, to allow greater straight-line speed to help him deal with traffic as he tried to salvage what he could from the race. Before the race started Vettel was given a free pass of Pedro de la Rossa’s HRT, as the backmarker was pushed into the pit lane behind Vettel, having failed on the grid. As the race started Hamilton made a clean start, while Mark Webber made his customary poor getaway, being engulfed by the Williams of Pastor Maldonado and the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen, who had started third and fourth respectively after Vettel’s penalty with Kimi coming out on top to exit the first corner in second place, while Webber dropped to fourth behind Maldonado. Alonso, who started sixth held station behind fifth place started Jenson Button (McLaren). Behind, Red Bull were delighted to see more drama in the midfield make Vettel’s recovery drive that bit easier. Four into one simply does not go, with the two Force India’s of Nico Hulkenberg and Paul DiResta on the inside and the Sauber of Sergio Perez and Williams of Bruno Senna coming up the outside as they approached Turn 1, inevitable collision moved cars out of Vettel’s way, with the Force India’s colliding and Hulkenberg bumping into Senna, with Di Resta suffering a puncture and Hulkenberg was out on the spot. Not a bad start to the race for Vettel, who still hadn’t left the pits! A further collision between Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes and Romain Grosjean’s Lotus would mean a trip to the pits for both as well with a puncture, further improving Vettel’s chances. Alonso was doing his part, muscling his way past Button as Button ran wide out of Turn 1, and diving past Webber at the end of the long straight into Turn 11, the Ferrari now up to fourth, with Vettel 20th as they crossed the line at the end of the first lap.
Up front Raikkonen was applying pressure to Hamilton, trying for a pass on lap 2 after Hamilton ran wide and allowed the Lotus a shot down the long straight, but Hamilton hung on, and started to pull away. All eyes were on Vettel, who was clearly in no mood to mess around, but he nearly came to disaster as he was too hasty in trying to clear the Williams of Bruno Senna, Vettel clumsily lunging up the inside from too far back and damaging his front wing off Senna’s rear tyre as Senna came up to pass the HRT of Narain Karthikeyan on lap 2. The Red Bull crew were ready to pit Vettel for a new nose, but Vettel continued, first getting by the HRT and then passing Senna safely on the straight on lap 3, and taking the Marussia of Charles Pic with him in the same move for good measure. Vettel moved passed the remaining Marussia and Caterham’s before getting a break, as on lap 9 Nico Rosberg (a first lap puncture casualty), got his breaking all wrong and ploughed into the back of Narain Karthikeyan, the Mercedes bouncing up over the HRT in a huge smash and bringing out the safety car.
It all seemed to be falling Vettel’s way, with the safety car bunching the field up, Vettel up as high as 13th place and set to renew his push when the safety car pulled in, but there was drama to come under the safety car. As the world was played the radio message from the pit lane showing Red Bull were not worried about the damage to Vettel’s front wing, leaving any change to a planned pit stop, Vettel was caught napping and had to jump on the brakes and smash into a DRS board to avoid the Toro Rosso of Daniel Ricciardo as the cars weaved and braked to warm their tyres under the safety car. The result was too much for the Red Bull front wing, and Vettel was forced to pit for a new nose, but at least he would be on fresh tyres when he rejoined, now back down in 21st place.
The race resumed on lap 14, with Vettel on fresh tyres make light work of the cars immediately ahead of him. He had a slight drama as he passed Romain Grosjean on lap 16, the two going side as Vettel battled to move up the order, with Vettel impatiently putting all four wheels off the track as he lined up to pass Grosjean down the straight, but Red Bull gave the call to hand the place back, and the following lap he made the move stick legally, breezing past the Lotus with the aid of DRS.
Up front race leader Lewis Hamilton suffered yet more frustration with McLaren, once again retiring from a race that looked to be his for the taking as his McLaren ground to a halt on lap 20. Vettel once again breezed past the Caterhams and Marussia of Timo Glock, as well as the dutiful Toro Rosso of Jean Eric Vergne, to move back up to 12th, while up front Fernando Alonso gave Ferrari something to cheer about as he passed Maldonado for what was now second place on lap 21. Vettel was back up to the Williams of Bruno Senna, and while Kimi Raikkonen was famously telling his pit, and the world, “just leave me alone I know what I’m doing” as he was offered information on the gap to Alonso, Vettel would get past Senna on lap 22, while ahead the sister Red Bull of Mark Webber got in a tangle as he tried to go around the outside the Williams of Pastor Maldonado on lap 23, with Maldonado refusing to accept defeat and punting Webber into a spin. Button soon managed to take Maldonado cleanly for third place (the trick with Pastor is to go down the inside!). Vettel meanwhile continued to pick off the midfielders, and passes on Ricciardo and Mercedes Michael Schumacher brought him right up behind Webber, who did his team-mate a favour by getting himself in more trouble on lap 26 as he went around the outside of Massa, with the Red Bull bumped wide and the Ferrari spinning as Webber came back on track, with Vettel now up to an amazing seventh behind Webber as a result of the Ferrari spin.
One by one the race leaders began to make their pit stops, with Vettel up to second place behind Raikkonen before Kimi made his stop, the last of the leaders to do so. Kimi dived for the pits on lap 31 and manageds to resume in the lead, with a two second margin over Vettel, and Alonso in third. The question now was if Vettel could make it to the end without stopping again?
In the end Red Bull decided it was too risky, the risk of falling off the cliff too great, and pulled Vettel in on lap 37, but he was able to re-join in fourth position, with Button up the road ahead of him in third. Just two laps later things turned again as the safety car was back out. Paul Di Resta passed Romain Grosjean on the straight into Turn 11, with Sergio Perez following him through, the Sauber and Force India running side by side through Turns 11 and 12 before touching on entry to Turn 13, with Perez running wide on the outside. Perez kept his foot in, coming back across the track and being collected by Grosjean as they turned into Turn 14, with the Lotus being spun around and collected by the Red Bull of Mark Webbber, who limped to the side of the track as the safety car was deployed with Grosjean’s Lotus stranded on the track.
Once again the field was bunched up, and Vettel had not only the gap to Button wiped out, he now had the fresher tyres to chase down the McLaren. The safety car pulled in at the end of lap 42, and Raikkonen responded well, opening a gap out to Alonso, who was under immediate pressure from Button. Button though was coming under pressure from Vettel on those fresh tyres, and their scrap for third allowed Alonso to pull clear, with Vettel making several attempts to pass the McLaren, before making the most of any fortune that had come his way by bravely going round the outside of the McLaren into Turn 11 on lap 52 of the 55 lap race (Vettel fortunate that Button didn’t defend to the extreme as Maldonado had on Webber!). Alonso, had kept the pressure on Raikkonen, but was unable to close the gap, and Kimi took the chequered flag to record his first victory since his return to Formula One. Alonso claimed a second place that looked unlikely on Saturday afternoon, but despite cutting Vettel’s lead in the championship, must surely have been disappointed at seeing Vettel stand alongside him on the podium. Kimi knew what he was doing alright, but one way or the other Vettel had gotten the result he needed to keep him on track for a third consecutive driver’s title!
As well as the climax of the F1 season, Abu Dhabi will bring the curtain down on the GP2 and GP3 seasons as well, with the title fight going down to the wire in both the junior categories.
In GP2, Pierre Gasly has already had to deal with the disappointment of missing out on the Toro Rosso drive, and heads into this weekend having lost his lead in the series to teammate Antonio Giovinazzi, who looks to be peaking at the right moment with victories in the last two feature races. Giovinazzi, who enjoyed a run in Ferrari’s simulator after his victory in Monza, has recently been linked with a DTM role with Mercedes, and is looking to become the third Italian to win the series after Giorgio Pantano (2008) and Davide Valsecchi (2012). Giovinazzi is determined to grab the opportunity presented to him, and while he will be aware that being successful and Italian is no guarantee of a place in F1, it surely can’t hurt his chances. Giovinazzi has turned down a WEC test with Audi to focus on the GP2 finale, coming into the final weekend he holds a slender lead over Gasly, with just 7 points between them, so it is all to play for this weekend. For Gasly, the disappointment of being overlooked for the seat at Toro Rosso should be tempered by the fact that Red Bull have shown to be capable of making decisions mid-season before. The fact that they have not dropped him means he still has hope of clawing his way onto the F1 grid, but there is nothing Red Bull like more than a winner, so victory in Abu Dhabi will be crucial for Gasly’s career prospects after a season where he has flashed his potential but more often than not failed to convert his pace into a result. With 3 feature race wins each (Giovinazzi also having claimed a pair of sprint race victories), and Gasly securing 4 pole positions to 2 for Giovinazzi, the pair are evenly matched, and we should be in for a cracking finale. Former Ferrari academy driver Raffaele Marciello, who has enjoyed a solid season, scoring consistently even though he has not taken a victory, can still mathematically take the title, but he sits 39 points behind and looks unlikely to get the results he would need (In GP2 and GP3 there are 48 points up for grabs on a race weekend, 25 points for a feature race win, 15 points for a sprint race win, with 4 points for pole and 2 points available for fastest lap in each race). However in GP2 anything is possible. Sergey Sirotkin and Jordan King stand 4th and 5th in the table, both having taken victory this season, and will certainly pose a threat to the chances of the championship contenders in the final rounds – this pair may have a better chance of being close to the F1 grid next year than the series champion, such is the way of F1!. Also one to watch out for will be Louis Deletraz, the Renault junior driver who will make his GP2 debut having finished runner up in the Forumla V8 3.5 category this season.
In GP3, Ferrari Academy driver Charles LeClerc is in the driving seat, with a 29 point lead over Alexander Albon. LeClerc, who like his title rivals is likely heading up to GP2 next year, has already run four FP1 sessions for Haas this season but has given up a FP1 outing with the American outfit in Abu Dhabi to concentrate on his bid for the GP3 title – with a title win earning him the remaining points required to qualify for an F1 superlicence he will have every motivation needed to secure the crown and put himself in the frame should any opportunity arise during the 2017 season. Antonio Fuoco (also a Ferrari Academy driver) can also win the title, but is 45 points adrift and would need a perfect weekend with a disaster for LeClerc in order to take the title.
|2013||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
|2010||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
|2009||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|