Before the Abu Dhabi race began who would have doubted that Sebastian Vettel didn’t have this race in the bag? Of course he did. There was never any doubt. He is now the 2013 F1 World Champion, a four times world champion. Red Bull have continued driving forward, improving and overcoming obstacles whereas other teams have clearly lost their way and not managed to solve the issues.
It is an interesting time for Formula 1 as the season comes to a close. Not only does there appear to be financial issues at Lotus, but they have lost Raikkonen to Ferrari, and were, in my opinion, publicly very poor in how they handled it. Raikkonen still claims that he hasn’t been paid all season and is now possibly refusing to race the last two races of the season if the matter isn’t resolved. McLaren have been so close to having a great car yet not quite managing to get there. Williams are struggling … and then there’s Ferrari. Well what can you say about the Scuderia? To be straight to the point it’s not good enough. I needn’t say any more than that. There has been a bit of unrest at times which to a certain degree is not surprising considering the words “passionate” and “Italian” do tend to go together! But at the end of the day this is big business on a world stage that is scrutinised in detail and requires a clear direction and a harmonious work force / team. Red Bull very much have this. Ferrari don’t appear to.
What I love about the Abu Dhabi GP is the change from dusk to dark. This brings huge challenges to the teams due to changing conditions as the temperatures fall. The track itself has lower than average speeds and is technically challenging, certainly in the later stages. The lap times get quicker as the temp falls, which was reflected in practice and qualifying. 15% of the time you’re on the brakes.
For the first time this year Alonso was out in Q2, finishing in p11 with Massa out-qualifying him in p10. Both Ferraris struggled all weekend, not a great result displayed in the shadow of Abu Dhabi’s Ferrari World. The other former world champion also not to make the final qualifying session was Jenson Button. He stated that the car was good all weekend. It looked like they took a bit of rear wing off to adopt balance in the cooler temperatures but it just didn’t work out.
Red Bull again dominated with a qualifying one two, but this time it was the departing Mark Webber who took pole. Vettel so carries his heart on his sleeve, shaking his head in frustration as he alighted from his car. Some people just don’t like this. He’s passionate, a perfectionist. He is interested at every level that the car is conceived, designed and constructed. No wonder there are comparisons to his royal highness Michael Schumacher.
Mercedes were looking strong again. Hamilton was on a flyer in Q3 till a rear end wishbone failure spun him off track. More problems for Lotus, with Kimi Raikkonen excluded from qualifying results due to the front floor specifications failing FIA scrutiny for the second time.
The race was as expected, Vettel launching past Webber . Of course, if anyone had any luck it wouldn’t be Webber. Yet again KERS not fully charging on his RB9. Strange how it always seems to be his car and not Sebastian’s.
Sadly Raikkonen was out on the first lap though I have to say there were some great overtaking moments during the race by Massa and Alonso, certainly towards the end of the race. On the final pit stop Alonso made a sensational pit lane exit. Flat out and re-entering the race track Alonso squeezed out in front of Jean-Eric Vergne’s Torro Rosso for 7th position, all four wheels appeared to be over the white lines and therefore off the track, though it was difficult to tell considering that he launched the car airborne off the high kerb. The stewards investigated the incident post-race but no penalty was given. Unfortunately Alonso has suffered severe back pain due to hitting the kerb at high speed. He has undertaken a series of medical tests which fortunately have shown no injury and is expected to be fit for the Austin GP in Texas.
Whilst paddock rumours are that Alonso has a lack of motivation the race to the finish line with a few laps to go, overtaking Hamilton then Di Resta for 5th certainly didn’t display this.
The world championship is already decided. Red Bull are the constructors and driver world champions. Perhaps this was not the most thrilling race either but every valuable point counts. It is now a battle for second place in the constructors championship between Ferrari and Mercedes.
Following Vettel’s £20k fine for “doughnuting” his Red Bull on the track in India, Vettel just had to do it again here at Abu Dhabi celebrating his victory. He said the fans like it, it looks and sounds great and he had enough fuel post-race for FIA scrutiny unlike last time. I like his justification, though the gearbox and engine might not, according to Christian Horner.
With Vettel winning and Webber second the best of the rest was a consistent Rosberg in his Mercedes in third.
This was Vettel’s seventh consecutive victory, Only Schumacher and Ascari in 1953 have achieved this previously. It is also his 11th win this season. Astonishing.
The paddock is still brimming with rumour. Perez believes he is safe at McLaren. (Yes, we are a bit slow posting Steve's report -ed) Martin Whitmarsh described his performance as ‘disappointing’. However there is talk they are negotiating with relatively unknown 21yr old Kevin Magnussen to replace him. Magnussen became McLaren’s development driver last year. They are still trying to secure Alonso for 2015, and those talks are still going ahead. Maldonado to Lotus? Well he would take revenue to them which they need.
As for this week’s reporting by the press that Kimi is just having his seat fitting at Maranello, that may be a nice press opportunity but I feel that that was done some time ago. According to my source the seat spec for the 2014 cars went to manufacturing in October which I carefully mentioned on Twitter. To me that demonstrated that Ferrari knew their drivers for sure. The information was that both measurements that went to manufacturing for 2014 were similar in seat size, with one of them being substantially larger than one of the current 2013 seats. Of course Massa is smaller than Raikkonen. And Alonso is similar to Raikonnen. It’s all speculation of course.
This weekend wasn’t just about the possible driver changes for next year. It’s rumoured that Mercedes's Ross Brawn will retire. He has Benneton, Ferrari and Brawn championship titles under his belt. What a catch he would be if he was convinced not to retire.
2014 will be an interesting season. All new 1.6L V6 Turbo engines. Bigger KERS / hybrid battery, energy recovery and power output. New chassis that will no doubt bring aerodynamic and mechanical grip issues, and of course reliability. That will be key.
With all eyes as far as development is concerned focussed on 2014 the last two races will determine that second place, but I can’t help but think of Ron Dennis’s quotation: “Second place is first place of the loosers”. It probably is.
Click here for FIA lap chart.
Stefano Domenicali:“Considering our start positions, the outcome of this race is positive and we leave Abu Dhabi aware we have limited the damage. We knew we had a difficult weekend ahead of us and we paid the price for our results in yesterday’s qualifying. Despite that, I am pleased with the performances from Felipe and Fernando, because both of them managed to give it their all on a track that was hostile to us. Given the situation, today we could have ended up further away from Mercedes in the Constructors’ classification and yet we managed to pull out a bit on Lotus and limit the points lost in the battle for second place”.
Fernando Alonso: “Given the gap to the top four, I certainly couldn’t have done more. Starting from further back, we knew we would find ourselves in traffic, therefore having done well at the start, I tried to overtake as much as possible. When we saw that we were always behind another car, it became impossible to think in terms of a single stop and it was clearly better to switch to two and attack. As the Mediums were holding up quite well, we thought we’d use the Softs for a short stint to try and do a series of quick laps. Now, if we don’t want to give up our fight in the Constructors’ Championship, we absolutely must do better and finish the last two races on the podium”.
Felipe Massa: “Today I was competitive from start to finish and pulled off a lot of passing moves with a car that handled well. It was a great race. Our strategy was based on a single stop, but when we realised that the pace was too quick for the rear tyres and the wear was greater than expected, we decided to make a second stop so as not to take any risks. Fitting the Mediums rather than the Softs was not the best decision, because the softer compound was quicker by at least a second per lap: I’d managed to do 19 laps on them in the first stint and it would not have been a problem to do the same in the final part of the race”.