Ahlan wa sahlan! Formula 1 moves once again to the desert for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit. The 5.554 km circuit is an interesting mix between speed and downforce. A fast first sector turns into a slower, more technical back end. Think, a similar package to the Indian Grand Prix, finding the balance between downforce to get traction in the slower corners, while remaining competitive on the long straights. It’s not often that a pit lane can be considered interesting during a race weekend. The Yas Marina Circuit’s pit lane breaks rules of being boring to sweep underground, and under the track for drivers to re-emerge at the exit of turn 1.
Red Bull showed considerable strength in qualifying, once again locking out the front row of the grid. Though it was Mark Webber who put in a fantastic effort to secure the fastest qualifying lap of 1:39.957. The Australian’s RB9 was the only car to qualify within the the 1:39s. Vettel qualified just behind his team mate, with a 1:40.075. The German making it clear that he wasn’t about to lift the throttle after his championship victory last weekend.
Mercedes were consistently on the pace throughout qualifying, yet again on track to bother the Bulls in tomorrow’s race. Rosberg looked particularly controlled throughout the third sector, proving enough to position himself right behind Webber on the grid in P3. Hamilton lost the back of his F1 W04, and span off the track in turn 14. Despite his little excursion, his best lap time was enough to put him next to his team mate in P4.
Kimi has chosen to run the short wheelbase over this weekend, giving the car better airflow and downforce, while Grosjean qualified in P7 on the longer wheelbase. The strategy seemed to favour Kimi in qualifying, as the E21 looked very controlled through the tricky middle sector, putting him ahead of Grosjean in P5. Kimi’s qualifying time was later disqualified by the Stewards after his floor deflected more than the 5mm regulations. Lotus now have the choice to start him from the pit lane or back of the grid. Grosjean proved tyre blankets unnecessary, after his sticky tyres took off some of the concrete garage floor, resulting in a reasonably bumpy ride. Although that is one way to ensure his E21 met the weight requirement**.
Hulkenberg once again proved to be the fastest Ferrari on track, putting in a very impressive lap time of 1:40.576 in P6, only 0.034 seconds off the man he is rumoured to be replacing at Lotus. Gutierrez showed good control through the middle sector, but was ultimately lacking in straight line speed. The Sauber will line up P17 on the grid.
Felipe’s Ferrari yet again out qualified his teammate, lining up P8. While Alonso failed to make it out of Q2, only managing to put himself in P11. In another disappointing session for the team, the Spaniard’s F138 was noticeably lacking on the pace in the middle sector.
McLaren had a bipolar qualifying session compared to practice. Perez set a lap time quick enough to secure him P9 on the grid, though Button found absolutely no pace in the car. Button, who’d initially looked strong in the first sector, failed to make it out of Q2 and will start P15.
Daniel Ricciardo looked quick throughout the circuit, after momentarily sitting fourth on the time sheets, will start P10 on the grid. While Vergne had no issues through qualifying, and will start P14.
Force India were another team to have a bipolar qualifying session for their drivers. Di Resta found a little luck and a little pace to start P12. Though Sutil’s VJM06 couldn’t find the control or the pace in today’s session, and after a luckless session, will start P18. It was a truly unlucky session for both Williams after looking quick through practice. Neither driver made it out of Q2, with Maldonado starting P15, ahead of Bottas in P16.
The back of the grid is rounded out by Caterham and Marussia. Bianchi put in a timed lap faster than his team mate despite having KERs issues from his touch with the barriers in FP3. The Frenchman will start from the back of the grid, after receiving a 5 place grid penalty after the team elected to change the Marussia’s gearbox. Max Chilton got confused by his DRS button, opening and closing it again until his pit wall radioed him to stop. Good one Max.
The world of Formula 1 wants to see Webber win a race before he retires. Meaning that for Webber, his start is more important than ever tomorrow. He is at a real risk of being leap frogged by Rosberg off the line, not to mention a quick getaway from Vettel. With a top ten grid separated by just over 1.1 seconds and a non-Vettel pole, tomorrow’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix should be unmissable.
* Though probably a bad idea.