10:30PM AEDST: I’m looking set for a late night for tonight’s Abu Dhabi GP. Courtesy of the race being run in the twilight hours to satisfy the European TV audience, the viewing hours in the Antipodes are a little less civilised and I’m looking at venturing to bed at about 2AM!
Our local broadcaster, OneHD, is running a repeat of "F1 Rocks Singapore", with the concert highlights from the F1 weekend in the world’s cleanest city. Hosted by the very
chemically surgically enhanced Lindsay Lohan, it features many of the F1 fraternity interacting with the VIP glitterati at the event. Currently, Adrian Sutil is shown racing a radio control F1 car with Gwen Stefani! Oh, to be an F1 driver…!
Anyway, enough about me. Let’s talk about the 2009 season finalise. It’s time to say goodbye to a thrilling (if controversial) 2009 Formula 1 season, and with it: BMW, Max Mosley, refuelling, KERS… and probably Romain Grosjean and Kazuki Nakajima.
11:00PM AEDST: The F1 pre-show is now starting, hosted by our own Greg Rust and Cameron McConville, a local touring car driver. Plenty of aerial shots of the Yas Marina facility, and I have to say it has to rank as one of the most spectacular venues I’ve ever seen. Apparently the average worth of each citizen in Abu Dhabi is a cool $17M!
SpeedTV’s Peter Windsor is now shown broadcasting one of several pre-show spots and reports that he does for OneHD. Sweating like a farm animal even at night, it’s clearly stinking hot over there. With his departure to the world of an F1 team owner for USF1, this is the last time he’ll be broadcasting and reporting, and the F1 circus will the poorer for his analysis, wisdom and good humour.
11:45PM AEDST: First live shots of the grid, and more celebrities have been spotted in addition to those reported earlier. Steve Tyler, Boris Becker, Naomi Campbell (minus her phone), and King Juan Carlos of Spain are spotted milling among the grid.
So who do I fancy to take victory in the final race of 2009? If things go according to plan then Lewis Hamilton should lay down his marker for 2010 by storming to the chequered flag. He starts on pole for McLaren and even when the amount of fuel on board was taken into account he still claimed pole by a half a second – that means he is seriously quick. The Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber are also expected to fight it out for the podium places.
11:59PM AEDST: One minute ’til Monday over here, and the parade lap starts.
START: The lights are out and we are GO for the final race of the 2009 season. Good KERS start from McLaren’s Hamilton into Turn 1, the Red Bulls are right behind, followed by the Brawns of Barrichello and Button.
Lap 1: Hamilton gets away well and already you can see he has a massive advantage with his KERS button on the long straight (the longest on the F1 calendar), streaking away from Vettel in second. Webber, in third, and Barrichello touch at the first corner – and is there damage to the Brawn or a puncture for Webber? Button overtakes his Brazilian team-mate on the first lap. Robert Kubica and Jarno Trulli joust for 6th place, and it’s resolved in Kubica’s favour – a crucial move as he is the lightest-fuelled on the grid and needs to make up places.
Lap 2: Hekki Kovalainen has made the best start from 18th place (courtesy of a five-place penalty for a gearbox change) – he’s already made up those places and is 13th.
Lap 3: A replay of the start shows Webber being squeezed into Turn 1 by Vettel and then turning in on Barrichello as he vies with his Red Bull team-mate. As Webber and Barrichello collide, a bit of the Brazilian’s car flips up and gets stuck in Jenson Button’s sidepod. Brawn are now standing by in the pits with a new nose for Barrichello.
Lap 4: Alonso gets past Renault team-mate Grosjean for 17th place. Brawn engineer Jock Clear tells Barrichello that the only car faster than him is Hamilton, so apparently no problem for the Brazilian in spite of the earlier damage to his front wing. Hamilton is only 1.3 seconds ahead of Vettel, so he isn’t exactly charging away at the front as we expected.
Lap 6: This isn’t quite going to plan for Hamilton. He sets the quickest lap of the race so far, but Vettel immediately responds. The gap is now 1.6 seconds. Hamilton stopping two laps earlier than Vettel.
Lap 8: Webber now posts a purple lap. The Red Bulls are absolutely flying out there. Hamilton’s lead has actually shrunk a bit to 1.5 seconds. If Hamilton does not improve his pace, he will lose out to one, or both, Red Bulls at the first pit stops.
Lap 11: Hamilton locks up and runs wide in the triple right-hander and he loses a whopping eight-tenths. Lead now less than a second. He’s obviously got a different set of tyres and he clearly doesn’t have the grip or the pace he’s had throughout the rest of the weekend. He’s going to be overtaken by Sebastien Vettel at the first stops.
Lap 16: Kubica and Barrichello makes the first pit stops and take the harder compound tyres.
Lap 17: In comes leader Hamilton… No problem and he avoids traffic as he comes out. Button is also in and emerges just ahead of Kamui Kobayashi – who is immediately all over the Brit. The Toyota man dives this way and that and eventually gets past in a neat move. Well done!
Lap 18: Webber comes in for his first stop – but comes out behind Hamilton. That’s the first bit of good news for the outgoing world champ since the race started. But wait for it… "We may have a right rear brake problem. We’ll keep you posted," McLaren tell him. Oh.
Lap 19: Vettel posts a fastest lap and then makes his first stop. He emerges comfortably ahead of Hamilton.
Lap 20: Hamilton retires his stricken McLaren.
Lap 22: We’ve got yellow flags. Jaime Alguersuari – who earlier accidentally overshot his pit bay stopped at the Red Bull pit instead of Toro Rosso’s – has ground to a halt at Turn 14. I cannot believe I’ve just seen that. Well, I suppose the liveries of the two Red Bull stables do look quite similar… I reckon he’s out of fuel…
Lap 24: I’m struggling to keep up. More coffee required. The top six: Vettel, Webber, Kobayashi (on a one-stop), Button, Barrichello, Raikkonen (one-stop) and Kovalainen (one-stop). Kobayashi is doing a great job of securing himself a Toyota drive for next year, and looks good for a points finish.
Lap 29: The floodlights are doing their bit and it’s now very dark at Yas Marina. Vettel’s lead from Webber is exactly nine seconds and Webber’s lead from Kobayashi in third is four seconds. Raikkonen comes in from seventh for his only stop and he’s now on soft tyres.
Lap 32: Kobayashi and Kovalainen make their sole pit stops, with the Toyota rejoining in 12th.
Lap 33: Fisichella takes a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pitlane – tut tut. His nightmare run as Ferrari’s stand-in continues. Apparently he wants a race seat with another team on top of his testing role with Ferrari – one hopes the prospective team managers haven’t forgotten about his stellar effort at Spa Francorchamps, because the remainder of his season since switching to Ferrari has been bloody awful!
Lap 34: Your new top six: Vettel, Webber, Button, Barrichello, Heidfeld, Trulli. BMW look set to score good points and overtake Williams for sixth place in the constructors’ championship. The battle is on for third between McLaren, on 71, and Ferrari, on 70, but neither team looks like getting a car into the points at this stage.
Lap 35: Alonso finally makes his only stop of the race, coming in from 11th. Not really the way to end his career with Renault – but not unexpected.
Lap 39: Things seem to have settled down, although we still have the second pit stops that could spice things up. While the Yas circuit looks incredible, there have only been a couple of passing moves of note – it seems like it’s incredibly dusty off-line in the braking zones. At least this Tilke-Drome is not as boring as Valencia from a racing perspective.
Lap 40: Webber makes his final stop and rejoins behind Trulli, who is due to pit shortly.
Lap 41: Barrichello and Heidfeld pit from 3rd and 4th – this is BMW’s last F1 pit stop.
Lap 42: Kubica goes wheel to wheel with Sebastien Buemi – but it’s the Pole who comes off worse as he spins in a clumsy move, and hands his ninth place to Nico Rosberg. Meanwhile, Vettel and Button into the pits… Button out ahead of his team-mate Barrichello and in third. Vettel still leads.
Lap 46: Button is closing the gap on Webber in second. Could we have some late drama?
Lap 48: Button takes another half second out of Webber. He has eight laps in which to catch the Red Bull and the gap is now three seconds.
Lap 50: Button is flying, Webber is not and battling with oversteer and shot rear tyres by the looks of it – and the world champion is now right up with the Red Bull. What a way this would be to finish what has been a largely event-free race.
Lap 54: Less than two laps remaining. Vettel coasting to victory – but Button hasn’t given up on taking Webber. The world champion has a couple of half-looks – but nothing doing yet.
Lap 55: VETTEL WINS THE INAUGURAL ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX! Button gave it absolutely everything on that last lap and even got past Webber a couple of times, but couldn’t make it stick. All credit to Webber. Vettel is cheering down the radio as he celebrates his fourth win of the season, and Red Bull’s sixth in all and third in a row.
1:40AM AEDST: And that means Vettel takes second in the driver’s championship standings behind Button – the Brit celebrates his first podium since Monza.
1:42AM AEDST: So the top eight: Vettel, Webber, Button, Barrichello, Heidfeld, Kobayashi, Trulli and Buemi.
A great finish to the race and an historic and exciting season to boot.
[Images from ITV-F1]