It has already been proclaimed the best race of the season: no one could have predicted how dramatic the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix would turn out to be – or how many surprises it would carry within.
After four consecutive victories it seemed Sebastian Vettel had hit a brick wall. He hardly managed that fastest time in second prectice session; he hardly appeared in the third practice at all as his team worked away for most of the session trying to resolve a break problem. When he was penalised for abandoning his car on track with not enough fuel left in the tank for post-qualifying analysis and he was demoted from third place to the back of the grid, it seemed the title race had made another U-turn, to Alonso’s advantage.
And yet, the reigning World Champion pushed through and climbed 21 places from his starting position to cross the finish line in third, and prove his worth.
Whether it was yet again down to the Red Bull engineers is hard to confirm as Vettel’s team-mate never made it to the end. His podium chances were slipping away fast when his second grid place was quickly snatched by charging Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen, and soon after by Fernando Alonso in his Ferrari. But the final blow was a contact with Sergio Perez, who, the stweards decided, was responsible for the Red Bull and Romain Grosjean’s Lotus leaving the race early.
They were among the seven retirees of the Abu Dhabi thriller. The first one, Nico Hulkenberg, crashed out on the first corner of lap one, with some help from William’s Bruno Senna. Then, Nico Rosberg launched his Mercedes off the back of Narain Karthikeyan’s HRT for a spectacular (although dangerous looking) end to the race for both; luckily, neither of them was hurt, other than for their pride.
However, the most heart-breaking retirement came on lap 19, when the leader’s McLaren suddenly stopped on track…
Lewis Hamilton was clearly dominating the weekend on the Yas Marina circuit. He was the fastest in two practice sessions to then claim pole in qualifying; he dedicated the position, and the potential win, to the team that he is soon to abandon.
On the first few laps he bravely thought off Raikkonen who was threatening to overtake him in a surprisingly-fast looking Lotus; afterwards he was developing a good gap – until he lost power in the engine due to a fuel pressure problem, and had to leave the track early, once more, of no fault of his own.
Whilst the race was still on, he went to the McLaren garage to thank the team.
“I’m gutted; I’d had really good pace all weekend and I feel certain we could have won today,” he said after the race, adding: ” I hope we can get back to the front – I’d love to take a win or two more for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes before the end of the season.”
It sounds like a touching commitment; and yet, further reliability problems might have been the ultimate confirmation for the Brit that moving to Mercedes was the only right option.
Hamilton’s outing had nothing to do with swaying the championship leader-board – and neither did Kimi Raikkonen’s victorious run to the top of the podium. It was the Finn’s first win since his comeback to Formula One, first one since the Belgian GP in 2009 to be precise; yet, he didn’t seem too ecstatic about it, admitting that for him, it was just another win. “It meant much more to the team,” he added.
Indeed, it was Lotus’ first top podium finish since Ayrton Senna’s United States GP in 1987, and they were sure planning on celebrating hard. However, the Red Bull had more reasons to pop an extra champagne open.
Despite a signature fierce charge from sixth on the grid to second on the podium, Alonso did not manage to reclaim the championship-leader title. With Vettel right on his doorstep in third, the Spaniard narrowed the gap to his rival by mere three points, currently standing ten points behind the Red Bull Champ, with 245. With two races to go and 50 points to claim the game is still on, of course; but it seems that it is the German driver who holds the upper hand.
Yet, Alonso is far from giving up: “I repeat, they have the quicker car, we have the better team. Everyone fights with the weapons they have at their disposal: we will not manage to turn our car into the quickest of the pack with a wave of a magic wand, but we will counter their performance with the perfection of our team.,” he said after the race.
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, previously referred to as the one “making Formula One look boring” has undergone a thorough transformation. Just like its Ferrari theme park, it provided a roller-coaster of emotions to the teams, most of whom saw only one of their drivers crossing the finish line, as well as viewers, who – like myself – were left exhausted after watching the two hour drama.
And as any roller-coaster, after turning everything upside-down, it virtually left the Championship leaderboard just the way it was before – with a bit of that uneasy feeling of what could possibly come next…