It may have been another crushing victory for Sebastian Vettel and his Red Bull team, but there is still plenty of interest and intrigue from the weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to analyse and digest. How did he do it? Why did Fernando Alonso end up in hospital? And just why did Mercedes experience a race of two halves? Read on…
Red Bull – Webber’s pole position start was only ever going to be an advantage if the Australian managed to get off the line well; he didn’t, and Vettel was duly allowed to execute his ideal strategy to pat. As proven by the Japanese Grand Prix, beating Vettel when the German is on his ‘secondary’ strategy is hard enough so once he was in clear air nothing short of a mechancial failure was going to halt his progress toward that seventh successive win. Webber needed to get back past Rosberg quickly if he was to avoid becoming cannon-fodder for Grosjean and possibly Alonso at the end of the race, so his move past the German on lap 9 was crucial to securing that 1-2 finish. Weekends don’t get much better than this if you’re Red Bull.
Mercedes – While Nico Rosberg managed to hold position behind the rampant Red Bull’s and fight off the attentions of Romain Grosjean, Lewis Hamilton experienced only frustration as he slipped backward from his P4 grid slot. Why? Rosberg damaged his rear Pirelli’s while running ahead of Webber in the first stint, an indication of how hard the German was pushing just to stay in touch with race leader Vettel. Once Webber was past he had to deal only with the comparatively slower Lotus of Grosjean, a task which did much to preserve the lifetime of his tyres. Meanwhile, Hamilton lost out on the run down to turn one and running behind Grosjean meant his own fiery brand of driving quickly diminished the grip available; it was a matter of time before a pitstop dropped him behind Paul Di Resta on his converse strategy and this, in turn, blunted Hamilton’s chance to make headway on his final set. When Alonso came calling he had no reserve grip to call on and suffered as a result. Rosberg executed his strategy perfectly and 3rd was a good reward.
Lotus – Starting Raikkonen from the back of the grid after his post-qualifying penalty was as good as it got for Lotus with Raikkonen this weekend. That he was racing at all is a small miracle given how sour his relations with the team are at present. He was unlucky to get caught up in the turn one melee and starting him from the pitlane might have been a safer option. Romain Grosjean meanwhile laid the foundations for his own impressive Grand Prix with an opportunist move around the outside of Hamilton in turn one that put him on the tail of Mark Webber. He never looked like challenging the Red Bull though, and running with Rosberg for much of the Grand Prix was a clever but ultimately doomed move to try and make it through on a one stop. Having said that, Lotus reacted in time to save the 4th place finish, for which they must be given credit. Grosjean once again proved he is flavour of the month in the paddock.
Ferrari – A weekend of contrast for the Scuderia, from mid-grid toil to a double points finish on Sunday. Alonso’s 11th in qualifying was not a disaster by any stretch, merely disappointing compared to Felipe Massa’s efforts. It set him up perfectly for a race based on strategical nous, something the Spaniard is adept at. He played his part perfectly and his moves on Vergne, Di Resta and Hamilton near the end were text-book. A visit to hospital to have a back check-up after bouncing over the kerbing while negotiating the Toro Rosso was the only downside, but he soon recieved the all-clear. Massa may not have finished ahead of the Spaniard, but his race performance was just as impressive – not least his opportunistic overtake on Hulkenberg and Hamilton early doors. His ‘downfall’ was being on older tyres at the end of the Grand Prix.
Force India – After an improvement in India, things got even better in Abu Dhabi as both cars returned to the points. Paul Di Resta’s ambitious but perfectly-executed one stop race put him ahead of faster cars at the end of the race and he couldn’t quite hold back Alonso, but he resisted the attentions of Hamilton to be the top-scoring Brit. Sutil’s run to lap 28 of the Grand Prix was nothing short of incredible and he also made a single stop; but his soft tyres were well past their best when Perez attacked him and he couldn’t hold the Mexican back. 10th was his reward, and it was a satisfying weekend for the team in their battle with Sauber for 6th in the constructor’s championship.
McLaren – Jenson Button repeated his nightmare weekend of the Indian Grand Prix by tagging Paul Di Resta’s rear wing early on and damaging his car, necessitating another early stop that destroyed his race strategy. But for that he could have been around the P7/P8 mark come the chequered flag. Perez drove excellently all weekend and duly delivered 9th place after taking Sutil with a single lap left, but it was another dire weekend for the British team.
Sauber – After Nico Hulkenberg’s recent heroics Abu Dhabi was something of a letdown. The German drove well to run in the top ten during the first stint, but Sauber failed him at his first pit stop with an unsafe release in front of Perez that cost them a drive-through penalty. After that it was difficult to come back and he finished in 14th, behind team-mate Gutierrez who struggled on a strategy that never saw him in real contention.
Toro Rosso – No points for the Italian team after a lakclustre weekend. This was like the Toro Rosso of old, and both cars languished well down the order throughout practice and qualifying. Vergne’s moment alongside Alonso while running deep into the race on prime tyres was their only worthwhile TV exposure, and a botched strategy saw both cars well out of the running for points.
Williams – Williams’ new aero package offered more than it delivered this weekend and both Bottas and Maldonado felt hampered by their strategy choices. Bottas got stuck behind the Caterhams in his first stint, while Maldonado spent much of the race running around in P13 and never really got going on his softer tyres at the end of the race.
Caterham – Van Der Garde surivived being hit by Raikkonen at turn one and went on to be the fastest of the two Caterhams, beating Pic to P18.
Marussia – Bianchi again comfortably outperformed Chilton but it was to no avail as both were well off the pace of the Caterhams. With only Raikkonen as a retirement, their battle was always going to be over the final finishing positions.
Who was hot?
Sebastian Vettel – His seventh win of the season takes him withing touching distance of equalling Michael Schumacher’s 2004 record of 13 wins in a single season. A win in Austin would also make him the first ever man to triumph in eight consecutive races.
Force India – Back on form and doing what they needed to do to rebuff Sauber’s late-season charge toward 6th in the constructor’s championship.
Nico Rosberg – Finished ahead of Hamilton in two consecutive races and in convincing fashion. Following a mid-season drought he is aiming to overhaul the Briton in the points stakes before season’s end.
Who was not?
Jenson Button – Damaging his nose at the start led to another weekend of misery in a season that embodies the word.
Sauber – Accidentally releasing Hulkenberg into the path of Perez blew their chances of points and perhaps their chance of overtaking Force India for 6th in the constructor’s championship.
Kimi Raikkonen – Contractual disputes and qualifying mishaps added up to his first-corner retirement – the first for the Finn since 2006.