Sunday 13 November 2011

Abu Dhabi GP Report: Seb's pressure loss is Lewis's gain

Well, that was unforeseen. In a season wherein we've got used to Sebastian Vettel progressing confidently and often untroubled at the front of the pack, today his challenge ended after all of two corners, with a mysterious puncture.

Lewis Hamilton took a fine win at Abu Dhabi
Credit: / CC
This put Lewis Hamilton into the lead where he stayed for the duration, aside from pitstops. It would be wrong however to assume that it was an easy run to victory for him. He was under pressure all the way from a meteoric Fernando Alonso, but Lewis was fast and smart, keeping his McLaren at arm's length from the Ferrari while being sympathetic to his tyres to ensure their life, in a way that he hasn't always done this season. There are definite signs, on and off the track, that the mighty Lewis of old is beginning to re-assert himself. It bodes well for constructing another championship challenge in 2012.

Vettel led off the line from pole, which is sort of standard, but almost immediately he was broadside on the outside of the second turn, his right rear tyre without air. It was such an unexpected fate for Vettel that you briefly had to compose yourself in case you were imagining things. But Seb's afternoon was over: he hobbled back to the pits at a slow speed but his race ended there. The puncture was mystifying and still hasn't been explained by the team. There was nothing unusual in the line Seb took at the first corner, nor was there any contact or debris to be seen. At the time of writing the team were investigating the possibility of the car's bodywork rubbing against the tyre.

It was a reasonably diverting race, certainly the best of the three Grands Prix at Abu Dhabi so far (though you could contend that's not saying much), and it was made by a tight, absorbing mano-a-mano battle between Hamilton and Alonso at the front. They left the rest behind in double-quick time and neither made a mistake that I saw at any point. While there was always the nagging suspicion that Lewis has something in hand, Alonso as we've come to expect left nothing out on the track. It's amazing how rarely we've seen such a battle at the front between those two since their notorious 2007 season as team mates. Today's was certainly appreciated.

Fernando Alonso's run to
second was impressive
Credit: / CC
Alonso's pace was as impressive as it was unexpected. He made it up to second place within a handful of corners, going around the outside of Mark Webber at turn one then, more substantially, outbraking Jenson Button on the outside of turn 8. But rather than back the pack up, which his practice pace suggested he might, he instead never gave Lewis a moment's peace from that point on, and it continues his remarkable efforts this year in getting his Ferrari to places it really doesn't deserve to be.

This all left Button trailing in third, though he still looks good for second place in the drivers' standings, only something unusual happening in Brazil will deny him in all probability (and he's now guaranteed to finish up ahead of his team mate). Today, he was compromised for a lot of the way by a temperamental KERS, sometimes there sometimes not, and for a lot of the time Felipe Massa and Webber were not far behind. Webber wasn't helped in his efforts by a goofed-up first pit stop, and he eventually adopted a contrary strategy, pitting three times, the final time on the last lap to minimise his time on the harder tyre. This got him ahead of Massa (aided by Massa spinning at a vital moment) but gave him little chance of troubling Button for third and salvaging more from Red Bull's unusually difficult day.

Massa's fifth place is the ninth time he's finished in the top six this year, but amazingly he's finished no higher than fifth in any of them. If he doesn't finish in the top three in Brazil he'll become the first Ferrari driver to drive for a full season and not score a podium since Didier Pironi in 1981. He usually goes well at Interlagos, and it looks like he'll need to if he's not to get an unwanted record.

After that it was two-by-two. Nico Robserg was the better of the two Mercs on a race day, which he hasn't always been lately, finishing sixth, over twenty seconds up the road from team mate Schumi in seventh. Then it was the Force Indias, with Adrian Sutil ahead of the two for the second race on the bounce. Paul Di Resta seemed to draw the short straw strategy-wise, undertaking a one-stopper which left him brick slow in the early part of the race. I suspect the strategy required a safety car to make it work better, but none was forthcoming. The six points are vital for Force India though, and have probably secured sixth in the constructors' table, even if they'll most likely run out of races to overtake the lame duck Renault.

And Kamui Kobayashi completed the scorers by coming home tenth. He's had a tough second part of the year, and he'll hope that this will arrest the slide.

But the main stories of today were Lewis's continuing rehabilitation, Alonso's usual tenacity, and Vettel's unusual dosage of bad luck.

Race results


  1. Simply true. Alonso maintained a qualification pace, something that few can achieve.

    Actually, he has been massively humble and quiet this season. Hopefully the next one will give him something to talk about.

  2. Yes I've also been really impressed with Fernando Alonso this season, both on and off the track. It looks like the mistakes and (occasional) temperament of last season are gone, and the formidable competitor of 2005 and 2006 is well and truly back.

    Let's hope that next season Ferrari give him a car worthy of him. Watch him fly if they do!