Sunday 14 November 2010

Abu Dhabi GP report: Vettel times it to perfection

Well, few of us saw that one coming. Sebastian Vettel is 2010 F1 world champion.

It's astonishing as it required him overturn a 15 point deficit to Alonso in the last race. It's also the first time he's led the championship ever, let alone this season. This seems an amazing stat as he's consistently been the fastest package this year, and he would have won the championship long ago but for various bouts of unreliability. For these reasons it's hard to argue that he is not a deserving or worthy champion.

Indeed, the most impressive thing about his performance in 2010 is the way he recovered in fine style from his troubles mid season, including after Spa where there seemed to be a concentrated effort to destroy him mentally from certain quarters (you know who you are, Whitmarsh...). He responded to this in the best way, with his best driving form of the season, and he was fastest everywhere from Singapore onwards.

He continued this pattern in Abu Dhabi. From pole, and getting a bit tight with Hamilton in the first corner, he led and won comfortably. And the question of who would win was resolved definitively after the first stops, wherein he managed to clear Kubica's late stopping Renault, which got in Lewis's way for several subsequent laps.

Of course a win itself for Vettel wasn't enough to hand him the title, and Alonso, who led the table going into the last race, came in seventh. He lost a place off the line to Button, but where things really went wrong for him, as things turned out, was when Liuzzi parked on top of the backward facing Schumi (who had spun - the accident could easily have been a lot more serious) on the first lap, bringing out the safety car. This brought a number of cars in for their mandatory pitstop, meaning they would not have to pit again. This included Rosberg's Mercedes and Petrov's Renault.

Still, fourth was good enough for Alonso, with Webber in fifth and struggling. Webber then pitted on the early side on lap 11, dropping him to P16 and behind Rosberg and Petrov, among others. This is where Ferrari made their crucial error, having pitted Massa, trying and failing to get him ahead of Webber, they then brought Alonso in for his stop, seemingly to cover Webber. This brought him out ahead of Webber, but it crucially meant he had to overtake at least two cars, Petrov and then Rosberg, to be champion. This was catastrophic for them, as Alonso was not able to make his way by Petrov, on a track which is surprisingly hard to pass on (only four overtakes were made here in the whole of the 2009 race). Vettel and the two McLarens, meanwhile, lapped strongly on the option tyres in clear air, and were then able to pit and still be clear of (most of) the traffic. Kubica was also able to clear Alonso when he pitted, meaning Fred came home seventh. A surprisingly subdued Webber followed him home in eighth.

It was rather disappointing to see Alonso gesticulate at Petrov on the slowing down lap, though we've all done things we regret under extreme emotions, and he was fairly magnanimous after the race (wherein he claimed the gestures were about an incident on the last lap, which we didn't see).

Still, the Alonso-Ferrari relationship has made massive strides in the second half of this season, and I certainly wouldn't bet much money against them being champions next year. But neither would I with Seb, this will surely be the first title of many, and Adrian Newey has a double diffuser ban for him to play with and again steal a march on the competition. It could be a battle to rival 2010!

Elsewhere, McLaren completed the podium with Lewis ahead of Jenson. Their new rear wing seems to have really got them back into the thick of things. Rosberg's 'non-stop' run got him fourth, followed by the two Renaults with Kubica ahead. Surely a few complimentary cans of Red Bull energy drink will be heading Renault's way after the rear gunner services both cars performed today! Seemed odd though that Kubica never got penalised for crossing the white line after leaving the pits. Petrov may just have done enough today to save his seat for next year.

Alguersuari, continuing his recent good form, came home ninth (if the Webber-Red Bull relationship does implode over the winter is there a better candidate for that seat than Jaime?), and Massa completed the point scorers in 10th (again not doing much to help Alonso, though he did look a bit more on it in qualifying than he has done recently).

But Seb's success is the big story of the day, and the emotional reaction from a really straight-down the-line, friendly guy was rather moving. He becomes the youngest F1 world champion, just like he's youngest F1 just about everything. I suspect we'll be hearing a bit more of this guy!

Race results

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