Arabian Nights’ Highlights

I generally refrain from writing first-person pieces when it comes to Formula 1; however, my latest first-hand experience rendered this style the best form of communicating not only the main talking-points of the 2013 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but also to share the emotions running high at any F1 race.

SONY DSCUnlike the only other grand prix that I had attended live, the Yas Marina event was exhilarating, albeit little informative. Arguably, we had the best seats in the house: the balconies and terrace of the Yas Paddock Club offered fantastic views of the island, but more importantly – a direct overview of the start and finish lines, and the pitlane just below us. This positioning allowed for fantastic footage of the beginning of the race, as well as the chequered flag and the podium ceremony; but apart from the growing gap between one Red Bull passing our viewing point and the other one (what felt like) miles behind, it was almost impossible to establish what was actually happening on other parts of the track. The somewhat scarce action below was still a more attractive option than keeping one’s eyes peeled on the screen across from our balcony, and since there was no commentary accompanying the images, we could not even get valuable audio information on how everyone else, apart from the top three, were doing.

In these circumstances – and since, as they say, pictures speak louder than words – I decided to approach this grand prix report slightly differently. Below you can find a gallery-style review from the race, with pictures taken by yours truly.

And don’t miss the video, below.

Seb’s Seventh Showdown

Despite a surprising underperformance in Saturday’s qualifying, which saw the already crowned 2013 champion start the race from second place on the grid, when it mattered Sebastian Vettel stuck to what he does best – winning. He effortlessly took over his pole-sitting team-mate Mark Webber on the first corner and sprung to the lead, to finish lap one with a 1.9sec advantage. From then it was only upwards and forwards, with his lead extending to over 40sec over the car in second at some times that afternoon – the quiet on the circuit when he came and went felt heavy on the ears, and was only interrupted by some lapped Caterhams, and then two Ferraris, following the champ’s perfectly-timed pitstop, after which he held his original position.

A scandalmonger could see a proof of favourism towards one Red Bull driver when a big-fish party, led by Bernie Ecclestone, who payed a flying visit to the pre-race grid, seemed to only focus their attention on the young German, before making a swift departure to some more comfortable spectators’ area… But then again, not often does one meet the youngest ever four-time champion, who now bagged himself a record-equalling seventh GP race in a row – even if you are a sheikh.

Reality kills Mark’s Arabian dream

The result of Yas Marina’s qualifying came as an exciting promise for a breath of fresh air into the 2013 season – even if it only meant swapping one Red Bull driver on top of the podium for the other. Webber’s top Q3 time – 0.118s faster than his team-mate’s – brought a smile to more than one face.

However, when D-day came, the Aussie didn’t deliver; poor start left him not only fading in Vettel’s shaddow, but also gradually falling behind the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg, who overtook him on the first corner. From then on Webber was playing catch-up to the two Germans, only managing to move up one grid place on lap 20 – a place which he maintained until the finish line, arriving 30.8 sec behind Vettel.

“Seb was on another planet today and was very, very strong in the first stint,” Webber said after the race.

“He was super quick and his tyres didn’t wear out, which is a recipe for disaster for the rest of the opposition, me included.”

Although he looked content with – as he claimed – his highest realistic result, Webber’s chances for his last goodbye Formula 1 win are fading rapidly – and surely for this Aussie second place finish will not be good enough in the final two races of the season.

Nico wearing the laurels again

The “other” Mercedes driver was back in top form during the Abu Dhabi weekend. He could hardly be faulted for falling behind the two Red Bulls, who didn’t have their work cut out anyway, as Rosberg fought Webber off brilliantly, until it was just too much to ask of the visibly inferior Mercedes. The podium finish – his fourth this season – strengthened the team’s second-place position in the Constructors’ Championship, pulling away from the threatening Ferrari.

Although his team-mate contributed to that result, Lewis Hamilton did not have the best of weekends. After a spin-off on his last qualifying lap due to a wishbone failure on his car, he then struggled to gather speed in the race and maintain position. He dropped from fourth at the start to seventh across the line, behind Grosjean, Alonso and di Resta.

“My race just didn’t quite come together and I’m not really sure why as I gave it my all out there,” Hamilton said after the race, baffled by his recent lack of form.

Romain delivers under Kimi’s absence

Emotions were running high in the Lotus garage in Abu Dhabi, and not merely because of their performance on track, or Raikkonen’s exclusion from qualifying after his car failed a floor deflection test. The 2007 champion had threatened to give the rest of the season if the team would not resolve its financial issues, which included a back-payment of his wages, allegedly in excess of $15 million. Eventually the Finn was “persuaded” to compete in the final three races – but his Abu Dhabi appearance ended as quickly as it started, following a contact with Giedo van der Garde’s Caterham on the first corner. The team defended their decision to start him from the back of the grid following his disqualification in stead of the pitlane, which however suggests taking some of the blame for the Finn’s untimely exit – but Kimi’s motives were still questioned by the general public.

Raikkonen’s absence was brilliantly filled by Romain Grosjean, who once more fought for the podium, narrowly missing out to Rosberg, but bravely defending from Alonso – giving Lotus even more reassurance  that they can still stay on top, even without a champion on board.

Ferrari falls behind theme park grandeur

With the Ferrari World in view from certain parts of the Yas Marina circuit, the weight of tifosi expectations on the two Formula 1 drivers could only be imagined. Fernando Alonso crumbled as early as second round of qualifying, to start the race from 11. His team-mate Felipe Massa was fairing better and looking strong on Sunday afternoon – at least until the “wrong” tyre decision by his team, which, he argued, cost him speed and points. Having led Alonso throughout the race, he had to cede just 11 laps before the finish line, as the Spaniard benefitted from a fresh set of tyres (having narrowly avoided a crash with Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne as he was exiting the pitlane, for which he received the Frenchman’s praise). In the end, Massa finished eighth – a minor contribution to the team’s pursuit of a second place in the Constructors’ Championship.

Paul fighting fierce for Force future

Following weeks of disappointments and DNFs, Paul di Resta finally found his ground to reproduce his form from the start of the season – with a sixth place finish in Abu Dhabi. If there ever was a right time to make a return, this is it, as talk about di Resta’s substitute for 2014 started gathering strength.

In the meantime, his team-mate Adrian Sutil, who was generally believed to have his contract for next year secured, finished in tenth, scooping the last GP point.

“The eight points are just what we needed and everybody in the team deserves credit for the big effort that has gone in this week. That’s two strong weekends in a row and we will move to Austin determined to keep up the momentum,” di Resta said.

Jenson fades in Sergio’s shadow

There were no miracles taking place at the McLaren garage in Abu Dhabi; the team’s lowest form in years kept on the momentum with only one of its drivers scoring points on the Yas Marina circuit – and it wasn’t Jenson Button.

The Brit finished the race where he started – in 12., following a first-corner contact with di Resta, which forced him to stop on lap three for a front wing change and saw him trail behind the pack until the first lot of pitstops.

“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,” Button said.

“It’s a real pity to keep on having first-lap incidents, especially when the car is working reasonably well now.”

Although the Brit admitted things weren’t going his way recently, he still believes the team can up their game for the last two outings on the year.

That is surely the hope of his team-mate, who was the victorious one on this occasion – in the given circumstances. The ninth place finish added mere two points to the team’s tally; but more importantly, scored the Mexican some extra points for his future in the sport. As the team says it is closing down on their driver line-up decision for 2014, their choice lies between Perez and Formula Renault 3.5 champion Kevin Magnussen.

And with the next grand prix taking place in Austin, Sergio is hoping for some neighbourly and home support to give him once more the edge over his team-mate.

For a general feel of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2013 – from the Paddock Club balconies – watch my video below.


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