ROUND 18 - Abu Dhabi 2-4 November 2012
Circuit Length:5.554 Km
Lap Record:1:40.279 = 199.387 km/h, S. Vettel (Red Bull Renault) 2009
2011 ResultsPole Position: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault); 1:38.481 = 203.027 km/h
1st: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 1:37.11.886 (av. race speed = 188.494 km/h)
2nd: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), 8.457s behind
3rd: Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes), 25.881s behind
Fastest Lap: Mark Webber (Red Bull Renault), 1:42.612 = 194.854 km/h on lap 51
YAS INDEED: SHOWDOWN SHIFTS TO THE DESERT
Yas Marina joined the F1 calendar one year after Singapore in 2009, but the UAE venue has established its own unique day-for-night identity by starting the race in daylight and ending it under lights. Only two men have won here: Sebastian Vettel in 2009-10 and Lewis Hamilton last year after Seb fell out with an instantly deflated tyre on the opening corner. They are also the only two drivers to have started from the front row in the three Abu Dhabi events so far.
With just three races remaining, let’s do Yas by the numbers. The phenomenon called Vettel has now led the last 205 Grand Prix laps, since the 23rd lap of Marina Bay in Singapore. He has 240 points, Fernando Alonso 227. Whatever happens Vettel can’t win his third straight title in Abu Dhabi, but he can take another giant step towards it. If Seb wins and Fernando is second, it’s a 20-point margin in the German’s favour with two to go. If Seb wins and Fernando no-scores, it’s a 38-point margin and the Spaniard’s hopes are slim. If Alonso’s Ferrari is first and Vettel’s Red Bull second, it’s back to just six points and all to play for. If Alonso wins and Vettel fails to score, Alonso turns it around and leads by 12. But one or two others might like to have their say – like our own Mark Webber.
Webber, looking for his third win of 2012, is in a three-way tussle for third place overall. His third place in India vaulted him to 167 points, two beyond Lewis Hamilton, into fourth. But Webber is now only six points behind Kimi Raikkonen, the Lotus man currently sitting in third place behind Vettel and Alonso. We should factor Jenson Button into the equation but McLaren’s second man is on 141 points, 24 behind his teammate.
“I like the twilight element to the race – starting in the day and finishing at night,” says Webber, who has good and bad memories of Yas Marina. The bad: eighth place in 2010 when he was so close to the title. The good: one of his finest defensive races here in 2009 when he kept new World Champion Jenson Button at bay to finish second. “The facilities are world class,” says the Aussie. “For the track itself, you need good traction – there are slow and twisty corners, as well as a good top speed. It’s a phenomenal spectacle and I’m looking forward to racing there.”
Felipe Massa, continuing his strong finish to the season, will be out to sprint past Romain Grosjean and Nico Rosberg and into seventh place overall – not for his own sake but to keep the scarlet team clear of McLaren Mercedes in second place in the constructors’ standings. Red Bull are pretty well untouchable on 407 points, in fact Christian Horner’s men could wrap up their third straight title this weekend. With 43 points on offer at each race, they need to leave Abu Dhabi with an 86-point margin, and they currently have 91 over Ferrari and 101 over McLaren.
Speaking of McLaren, Hamilton and Button were fourth and fifth last time out in India. That was the team’s 55th consecutive points-scoring finish in a streak which began in Melbourne in 2010. It equals the all-time record held by Ferrari so it’s a reasonable bet that McLaren will go out on their own at Yas Marina.
A double no-score in India has left Sauber in with a greatly reduced chance of catching Mercedes for a top-five slot, but that hasn’t deterred Nico Hülkenberg. On Wednesday at Yas Marina Sauber announced they have signed the 25-year-old German from Sahara Force India for 2013. “We’ve been observing Nico for some time now and his performances have been very persuasive,” said Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn. “That was the case in GP2 and has continued into Formula One.”
Hülkenberg, currently 12th, one point behind current Sauber driver Kamui Kobayashi in 12th place, sees the Swiss outfit as an up-and-coming force: “The Sauber F1 Team is currently going through a very positive development and I’m certain that together we can achieve a lot,” he said. “It’s a well-placed team and very competitive. Plus it’s a team in which young drivers have repeatedly delivered exceptional performances. I would like to take up that baton.”
One driver not on the move is Kimi Raikkonen, who will be staying with Lotus for another year. It was in Abu Dhabi that Raikkonen had his last race before retiring at the end of 2009. Now, coincidentally, the Finn, who has just turned 33, will have his first race there since re-signing. “To be honest, I didn’t expect to be fighting for the Drivers’ Championship this season when you look at where the team was in 2011, so it has been great to be on the podium so many times and to score points on a regular basis,” he said after putting pen to paper at the start of the week. “I feel very comfortable with Lotus F1 Team and we share the same philosophy of racing.”
Yas is another circuit with an enormously long main straight calling for medium downforce, but this year there are none of the regular support races, including GP2, to clean the dust off the track. There will, on the other hand, be Australian V8 Supercars as the single category on the undercard. The F1 cars will be set up to assist with traction out of the slower corners, and Pirelli will bring a combination of medium and soft tyres to help cope. It will be the last time we see the P Zero Yellow (soft) option for 2012. It’s really a three-part lap: two fast sweepers before the hairpin in the first, two long straights joined by a sharp right-left, then the sinuous final section with almost half of the 21 turns.