Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Vettel of Arabia

It was a Red Bull 1-2 finish at tonight’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, though unsurprisingly it was Sebastian Vettel who took the top step ahead of teammate Mark Webber. For the second week in a row, Mercedes man Nico Rosberg took to the podium, this time on the third step.

The race got underway with Webber as pole sitter, ahead of his soon to be podium pals of Vettel and Rosberg. Webber had a slower getaway, and let room for Vettel to launch himself into the lead by the first corner. To add insult to injury, Webber also conceded a place to Rosberg while trying to close the door on Hamilton. The rest of the field made it through the first corner relatively unscathed, with the noticeable exception of Kimi Raikkonen. The Lotus, electing to start from the back of the grid, made contact with a Caterham at the exit of turn 1 and damaged his E21’s suspension.

Red Bull were more than competitive throughout the race. Sebastian Vettel extending his lead with ease, setting fastest laps to the point of the team radioing him to stop to save the tyres. Webber didn’t have the best getaway from the grid, however still put in an impressive drive. Webber looked at complete ease passing Rosberg through the chicanes on lap 20. There was no catching his teammate it seemed, so today the Australian is happy with P2.

Mercedes held up their end of the bargain to bother the Bulls in today’s race, albeit only one of them. Rosberg put pressure to Webber and kept in close range, despite the F1 W04 being considerably slower than the RB9. Nevertheless, the Mercedes looked very controlled through the chicanes while keeping up the pace. Down further in the field, his teammate struggled for grip from the tyres. Hamilton ran in dirty air until lap 19 when he was finally able to pass Sauber’s Gutierrez.

Romain Grosjean was unlucky to miss out on a podium finish today. The Lotus driver, starting P7 remained on the pace throughout the race, proving that the E21 is still a competitive car. Following Grosjean’s pit on lap 38, he managed to keep both Ferrari’s of Massa and Alonso behind him from his pit lane exit, in a move that a year ago could have been careless. Grosjean eventually finished 1.2 seconds behind Rosberg in P4. Kimi was the only retirement from the race, and not bothering to stick around, left the track quickly*.

Alonso appeared to lack pace in his F138 down the long straights, costing him valuable positions in the race early on. In an attempt to leap frog the spaniard up the field, the team tried for a one-stop strategy. Eventually Alonso had to admit defeat on the degraded tyres and pitted again on lap 44. It was a messy exit for the Ferrari, coming out in the path of Vergne followed closely by Massa. Alonso was very close to exceeding the track limits to maintain his position in front. A move that was investigated and later dropped by the Stewards. Alonso held a good position for the remaining laps, finishing P5. Talk of Ferrari today seemed to surround Massa’s ongoing job-interview-style race pace. Prior to Massa’s first pit stop, the Brazilian was ahead and lapping faster than his teammate, sparking comments from the commentators that Ferrari should “Fire him at the start of every season, and rehire him again at the end”. If a little race seat pressure was what Massa needed to get back on form, then maybe the team should have. In one of the more exciting battles of the race, on lap 26 Massa squeezed through Hamilton who was defending from Sutil, and then slip streamed passed the Force India, making up two places. Massa later finished behind his team mate in P8.

Di Resta brought home some well needed points to the Force India garage after successfully managing a one stop strategy, and finishing in P6. Sutil put pressure on the rest of the field, in particular a slippery Hamilton who failed to get passed the VJM06, despite running on the same one stop strategy as his team mate. Sutil contributed to the team’s double points finish with P10.

Perez had a good clean race, doing well to stay inside the track limits and not cause any collisions this year. The McLaren was forced to take evasive action while Maldonado ran wide and back onto the track, though luckily no contact was made. Finishing ahead of his teammate this week in P9, Perez was the only McLaren to score points. Button suffered front wing damage in the opening lap and was forced to make an early pit to change the nose and tyres. The McLaren did well to finish in P12, after making his way from the back of the grid in a less than competitive car from qualifying.

Maldonado noticeably struggled for grip throughout the race, possibly leading to his run off the track. Despite the difficulties, the Williams driver made up four places in the race to finish just outside the points in P11. Valterri Bottas looked strong on the pace in his FW35, managing his tyres well for a two stop strategy. Bottas’ final stint on the faster soft compound tyres proved not quite quick enough, with the Williams finishing P15.

Gutierrez drove defensively in the race today, making up for a less than optimal qualifying position. The Sauber driver put pressure on Hamilton during the first leg of the race, and then had a brief battle with a more experienced Ferrari defending his position to Alonso. In the final laps, the Sauber looked as if to challenge Button for position. However, the Sauber couldn’t make the move and finished P13. Getting further caught up in the Sauber’s, Alonso and Hulkenberg had a scrap for position through the twisty middle sector. With Hulkenberg able to weave through the inside and then the outside line with Alonso, eventually ending the battle by diving into the pits on lap 27. The Sauber seemed unable to get his tyres to the end of the race on a two stop, and fell back to finish just behind his teammate in P14.

Ricciardo found it difficult to overtake in today’s race, failing to make up positions from his first pit stop on lap 7. After a very disappointing race for the Toro Rosso driver and a strong qualifying position, Ricciardo finished in P16. Vergne was having a very competitive race up in the front on the field. The Frenchman was quick on the pace in the DRS zones, and kept good time in the middle sector. Only in the final three laps did Vergne’s tyres finally give up, toppling back down the field ten places to finish P17.

Both Caterhams and Marrusia’s finished the race today, with Van der Garde lapping slightly faster than Pic. Bianchi finished ahead of Chilton, who seemed to get the hang of his DRS button today.

To say that Vettel finished ahead of Webber is a bit of an understatement. The German’s RB9, having lapped half the field, crossed the line 30 seconds in front of the Australian’s RB9. It is incredible to see just how much difference two drivers can get out of the same competitive car. It makes it a little clearer of Vettel’s deserving to lead races. It’s hard to walk away from today’s race without feeling slightly robbed of what could have been a great race by Kimi. However, there are not “ifs” or “buts” in Formula 1, so we must wait until the Texas Grand Prix to see Kimi compete. Until then, tesbah ala kheir.

– Alex

* Presumably to one of three bottle shops in neighbouring Emirates

Qualifying Pole Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Podium Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Fastest Lap 1:43.434 Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)


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