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Seven For Seb, Second For Mark

ROUND 17 – Abu Dhabi, November 3, 2013

1st: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault) 1hr 38m 06.106s (186.758 km/h)
2nd: Mark Webber (Red Bull Renault) gap: 30.829s
3rd: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) gap: 33.650s

Fastest Lap: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1:43.434 = 193.305 km/h on lap 55

Pole Position: Webber 1:39.957 = 200.030 km/h

World Championship: Vettel 347 points • Alonso 217 • Raïkkönen 183

SEVEN FOR SEB, SECOND FOR MARK

It was a ruthless performance. Upset with himself for not qualifying on pole, Sebastian Vettel forced his Red Bull Renault into the lead at the start of the 55-lap Abu Dhabi race, opened a gap at the astonishing rate of around two seconds a lap, stopped twice and won by half a minute. In the process he extended his winning streak to seven races, matching the sequence achieved by Michael Schumacher for Ferrari almost a decade ago. Only Alberto Ascari, with nine straight wins in 1952-53 for Ferrari, has more.

“People see seven races,” said a clearly emotional Vettel. “People don’t see the challenge it takes, every single race, to nail it. It’s exceptional that we got everything right: smooth pit stops, reliability, all these things need to come together. The numbers are not that important to me but equally they make me very, very proud. The guys you talk about are the most special drivers in the world – I don’t think I’m old enough to realise, honestly.” Just for the record, the numbers now include 11 wins this year and 37 in all – just four short of Ayrton Senna’s own record.

Australia’s Mark Webber again dwelt slightly on the line and lost the advantage a brilliant pole position had given him, losing out to both his teammate and Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg. “I don’t think the start was decisive,” said Webber generously. “Sebastian was in another category today so probably this was the maximum result even if I’d got away in front. It was then obviously a recovery job against Nico, who got a better start than both of us!” Webber redeemed himself with a brilliantly opportunistic pass on the German after 20 laps as they both closed in on Force India’s Paul di Resta and had the consolation of completing Red Bull’s third 1-2 finish of the year and their 15th in all. Webber’s pole was his 13th, taking him equal with the great Sir Jack Brabham.

Rosberg admitted he had got the balance of the Mercedes wrong for his second stint and was struggling to get past Di Resta. He used all his KERS up on a vain attempt to overtake the Scot into Turn 8 and was then literally powerless to keep Webber at bay on the next long run down to Turn 11. “Anyways,” he said, “third place is still a good result, lots of points!” Teammate Lewis Hamilton added six points for seventh place, but felt there should have been more after struggling to get past Gutierrez’s Sauber. “My race just didn’t quite come together and I’m not really sure why as I gave it my all out there. I had some problems with grip and, of course, it’s so difficult to overtake here when you are in traffic but we also need to figure out why I’m not getting the maximum performance from the car at the moment.” Still, those points keep Mercedes in a strong position to finish second overall in the Constructors’ Championship.

That is partly because of another relatively low-key weekend for Ferrari, with Fernando Alonso fifth and Felipe Massa eighth on the back of a poor qualifying performance. Never one to give up, Alonso provided some late-race on-track fireworks just before the real ones exploded over the Yas Marina setting. Pitting for Pirelli’s soft compound with 11 laps to go, Alonso set a string of fastest laps, culminating in the fastest of all, a 1: 43.434 on the 55th and last lap on his way to fifth.

Last year’s Abu Dhabi winner Kimi Raikkonen provided the first and perhaps biggest talking-point of the race – indeed of the whole weekend. Involved in a bitter dispute with his Lotus Renault team over money and the rude exchanges over team radio in India, Raikkonen turned up late, was demoted to last on the grid when the floor on his Lotus failed a post-qualifying deflection test, and parked it by the side of the track after a couple of corners. It followed a clash with Giedo van der Garde’s Caterham that left the Lotus with a broken track rod and its driver with a keen desire to get away from Yas Marina, which he did before the race had reached quarter-distance.

Jenson Button earned warm praise from the pit wall for the way he managed his McLaren’s tyres on a difficult evening. The Englishman made a set of Pirelli Primes last 44 laps from lap 12 to the finish, this after another first-lap incident had cost him early time. “You make your own luck when you start down in 12th – where first-lap congestion is inevitable – and, sure enough, there was a little bit of argy-bargy into Turn One,” he said. “I duly locked-up both my front tyres, couldn’t slow the car down sufficiently, and drove into the back of Paul , which broke my front-wing end-plate.” Sergio Perez forced his way past Sutil for ninth place. The Woking team now has two races of its worst season since 1983 to endure, with the first podium of 2013 still a distant prospect.

The other Aussie, Dan Ricciardo, again came away empty-handed despite qualifying his Toro Rosso 10th and starting ninth when Raikkonen was demoted. For the West Australian, the start was decisive: “The car didn’t get off the line well and then, at Turn 1 there was a bit of chaos as I dropped back into the group behind me. I had to run wide to avoid some accidents and from then on, my race was pretty much over,” he said. Teammate Jean-Eric Vergne tried a one-stop strategy that simply didn’t work when his tyres ‘fell off the cliff’, as this season’s saying goes, dramatically near the end.

Conversely, Force India made a one-stop strategy work as Di Resta came home sixth and Sutil 10th, their second double points haul in a row. “The whole team can feel very proud of today’s result, which sets us up nicely for the final couple of races,” said deputy team principal Rob Fernley. “With nine points in the bag the sixth place in the championship is looking much more realistic and we are only 18 points away from fifth place.”

Coming up: round 18 in Austin

Seb was not too pleased when Lewis Hamilton claimed the historic first win at the magnificent Circuit of the Americas last year. Watch for the German extending that sequence to eight…

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