Questions, questions: Abu Dhabi GP preview
Will Vettel continue to lead from the front? Can Ferrari finally find some single-lap pace? The key talking points heading to Yas Marina...
By Pete Gill, James Galloway, William Esler and Michael Wise. Last Updated: 01/11/12 4:41pm
Will anyone but Vettel finally lead a lap again?
Not since Lewis Hamilton's season-changing retirement midway through the Singapore GP on September 23 has any driver other than Sebastian Vettel led a lap in F1.
In India, Vettel made a form of history by becoming the first driver since Ayrton Senna in 1989 to lead every lap of three successive races and were he to repeat his now familiar trick during Sunday's race then he would also be on the cusp of beating Senna's record of leading 264 consecutive laps.
But he wouldn't quite better the Brazilian's haul; Vettel's run currently stands at 206 and the Abu Dhabi GP is only 55-laps long. Nonetheless, the enticing possibility is obvious: a flags-to-lights victory this weekend would see Vettel poised to not only usurp Senna's leading-laps record in America but also dislodge the Brazilian as the youngest three-times World Champion in the sport in what will be Sebastian's 100th grand prix. Game on. PG
Can Ferrari get Alonso further up the grid?
As underlined by Stefano Domenicali's comments on Wednesday, qualifying is currently the buzzword at Ferrari with the team aware that they need to be in a position to challenge Red Bull into the first corner if they are to check Vettel's stunning run of form. For all the protestations that the F2012 isn't in fact a very good car, recent races have suggested that in race trim the machine lags behind only the RB8 for competitiveness over the longer distances. Yet, as eight of the last nine races have made abundantly clear, it's pretty difficult to win from anywhere other than the front row in F1 at the moment. With upgrades arriving at Yas Marina with this goal in mind, judging by the Q3 timesheet in India Ferrari need the package to deliver around two tenths of a second to dislodge the McLarens from row two and a further two tenths to worry the Red Bulls. Asking a lot? We'll find out come Saturday. JG
Will the big three stand together?
This one is a steal from Martin Brundle's Twitter feed but after 98 races Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton have never all shared a podium together. Surely it has to happen sooner rather than later, doesn't it? PG
How will Britain's new F1 hope perform?
Reigate-born Max Chilton will make his F1 practice debut with Marussia this weekend, and in wake of Sauber hopeful Esteban Gutierrez's rather underwhelming bow last week, many eyes will be on how the latest GP2 hopeful gets on. If you don't know much about him then one thing Chilton's CV thus far shows is he has never been a driver to do things gradually and has 'jumped in at the deep end' throughout his career. He skipped the traditional Formula BMW and Formula Renault Championships going from T-Car straight to British F3 - and from there to GP2 in 2010, for example.
Understandably then, the raw statistics don't make great reading - leading some to rather unkindly speculate that he had reached this stage of his career thanks to 'daddy's money'. This season seems to have been a breakthrough year, though, with two GP2 victories and consistent performances for Carlin. During the Silverstone young driver test, Chilton looked comfortable in the Marussia and his fastest lap on the first day of 1:36.558 was significantly quicker than either race driver managed during the GP - given mixed weather conditions the race is the only comparison we can take. Having driven at the Yas Marina Circuit in GP2 and for Force India in the young driver test last year, Chilton knows the track well and anything within a second of Timo Glock would be a good performance. WE
Will Red Bull wrap up the Constructors' Championship?
In all honesty the answer to this particular question is something of a formality given the way Red Bull have dominated the last month. Four straight wins from Sebastian Vettel, combined with a return to form for Mark Webber, has lifted the team to the brink of their third straight constructors' crown - a feat only previously achieved by F1 luminaries Ferrari, McLaren and Williams. With 91 and 101 points leads over Ferrari and McLaren respectively heading to Yas Marina, and only a maximum of 129 points left to play for, the mathematics are relatively simple: Ferrari must outscore Red Bull by six points this weekend (owing to the fact the latter would win on the countback of race wins rule should they end up tied), or McLaren claim 15 more than the reigning Champions, to take the 'fight' on to Austin. On current form that appears a rather tall order. JG
Who will win that all-important sixth place in the constructors' table?
Force India's 'home' race was, on the whole, a fairly muted affair. Concerns off the track occupied the attentions of the local media but while Vijay Mallya swanned through the paddock as if without a care in the world, Paul di Resta was wearing his heart on his sleeve. Busy grappling with a car in which he had no confidence at all, the Scot was the first to admit that he was having a tough time of it. Nico Hulkenberg saved the day with another strong race result, one which helped close the gap slightly to Sauber, who picked up no points at all in India.
The deficit now stands at 23 points and with 93 on offer, claiming sixth place in the Constructors' Championship remains a difficult task - but not an impossible one. On the face of it, this weekend's race certainly represents an opportunity for them given the similarity between the Yas Marina track and those in Valencia and Singapore. Both have proved happy hunting grounds for Force India this year. Di Resta will be stringly motivated to hit back this weekend, while Hulkenberg is clearly riding the crest of a wave at the moment. Can they close the gap? MW
Will Abu Dhabi finally hit the sweet spot?
The form of a certain Sebastian Vettel may have something to do with the ultimate answer to this, but ahead of its fourth staging, for all its bright lights and world-class facilities the Yas Marina circuit remains largely unloved by the watching F1 millions. The go-kart-like layout around the hotel at the back of the circuit may be a good place to watch the sport's stars wrestle with their cars, but come race day you want rather more than that. To be fair, with the aid of two DRS zones, things improved substantially in terms of overtaking last year with 50 - yes, fifty - wing-assisted passes during the course of the 55 laps with six further 'normal' overtakes. But in a glass completely full or completely empty kind of way, the fact the two zones were situated on the circuit's back-to-back long 'straights' meant any move in the first was often immediately cancelled out in the second - as Webber in particular discovered to his frustration. It therefore felt overly artifical and not particularly fulfilling. What might finally do the trick for Yas Marina, however, is an overdue wheel-to-wheel Vettel/Alonso duel. Here's hoping. JG