Abu Dhabi produces a thriller as Sebastian Vettel edges closer to a third title
Sky Sports F1's Martin Brundle on the incredible thrills and spills of Abu Dhabi, how Sebastian Vettel went from pitlane to podium, and the contrast between Kimi Raikkonen's on and off-track performances...
Last Updated: November 5, 2012 8:54am
It's a funny business this F1 lark.
As we head into the closing stages of an otherwise fine season a scenario of predictable one-stop races dominated by Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull looked on the cards. Whilst Abu Dhabi is undoubtedly the finest facility on the calendar it has tended to generate some unremarkable races. And then Sunday unfolded in front of disbelieving eyes with a crash-fest, safety car-affected thriller which was won by eight tenths of a second after one hundred and six wild minutes. By a driver who seemed totally underwhelmed by the whole thing.
It was Lewis Hamilton's race to lose and due to car problems sadly that's exactly what happened. McLaren may well have set a new record for 56 consecutive points finishes (remembering nearly half the grid goes home with points in their party bag now) but that will be of little consolation. It was a bitter blow after a dominant display.
This left Kimi Raikkonen in the lead and finally with some fresh air in front of him to unleash the latent race speed in his 'Lotus' which has been apparent since the opening race. He had the strength of mind, fitness and pace to handle safety cars and the ever relentless Fernando Alonso until the chequered flag which is deeply impressive.
I can't remember ever laughing so much in commentary when he was telling his team to stop bothering him on the radio, he knew what to do with his tyres and his pace and he demonstrated that point admirably.
I was much less impressed by his podium performance. To be so underwhelmed by a great victory on his comeback is very Kimi but the fans deserved more insight and emotion for their time, support and appreciation. And his team, let's call them Team Enstone, deserved a huge vote of public thanks after some difficult years since their last victory in 2008. An opportunity missed.
Ferrari's race simulation predicted somewhere between fourth and sixth place for Fernando Alonso and so once again he outperformed. His post-race comments were interesting, 'Red Bull have the best car, we have the best team' which is more supportive from him than India the weekend before. The points for victory, and an extra race win in the bag in case there is a countback in the case of a points tie with Vettel at season end was tantalisingly close. But even he wouldn't begrudge Raikkonen that victory.
Vettel had nothing to lose starting from the pitlane as he belatedly set about the race. Other than his front wing it seemed. He rather carelessly dangled it out front for Senna to run over in turn eight, and then behind the first safety managed to have a near miss with Daniel Ricciardo who was warming his brakes as Seb was lighting up the rear tyres.
The resulting avoidance swerve meant he had a fight with a polystyrene DRS board which they both lost badly. The resultant pit-stop would put him near the back again and needing to cover 42 laps on the soft tyre if he was to one stop. In the end the team found a traffic window to make a second stop and we'll never know if he could have made the finish ahead of Alonso and Button anyway without the extra tyres.
Crucially, even through traffic he was able to stay just over 20 seconds behind the leaders, at least when Hamilton dropped out. His pace and race craft definitely looked world championship class thereafter.
He was helped by several incidents and retirements. There was a definite 'four cars into the space of one doesn't work' theme to proceedings which claimed Nico Hulkenberg in the very first corner and would later include Romain Grosjean and Mark Webber to generate the second safety car to clear up the mess.
Grosjean managed to have three separate close-combat contacts which is rather worrying but the third and final one was caused by Sergio Perez sweeping back on the track. Naughty but inevitable - and Grosjean should have seen it coming nonetheless.
The move of the race was Vettel on Button to take the final podium spot. It was total class from both drivers in terms of being on the limit of grip whilst racing wheel to wheel and not crashing. It can be done even if JB will be licking his wounds a bit on that one.
Both Williams drivers made it into the points with fine drives, Pastor Maldonado without KERS for much of the race and Bruno Senna recovering from that first corner incident very well, as did Paul Di Resta for Force India.
The shunt between Nico Rosberg and Narain Karthikeyan was scary. The HRT suffered power steering failure and so Narain lifted off just as Nico Rosberg was lining him up for an outbrake into the tricky fast and blind double right hander sequence. The survival cells and wheel tethers did a good job for everybody in the vicinity. They benefitted from the death and injury of many other drivers before them and the hard work of the regulators and designers.
And so on to Austin. The track looks spectacular but the race will have to go some to beat Abu Dhabi this year.