2009 Abu Dhabi GP

And here we are. After eighteen races in seventeen countries, a total of 5,491 km raced and with wins between five different different drivers, it comes down to this one weekend to decide who will be the 2010 World Champion.

Never in the history of modern-era Formula 1 have we had four drivers from three different teams still in contention for the World Championship crown at the final race, but in many ways this has been a fascinating, history-making season.

There are a host of different scenarios under which either Fernando Alonso, Mark Wbber, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton can win the championship. So much is riding on a good result, and one tiny slip-up for any of them will effectively put paid to their championship ambitions.

Here is our preview of this weekend’s all-important Abu Dhabi Grand Prix…

The Circuit

Date: 14 November 2010 No. Laps 55
Lap Length: 5.554km Race Distance: 305.361km

Lap Record: 1:40.279 – Sebastian Vettel (2009, Red Bull)

In 2009, the Yas Marina circuit was seen as yet another one of the ubiquitous Hermann ‘Tilkedromes’ cropping up in the Middle and Far East, and certainly concerns were raised given that – with Bahrain already hosting a Formula 1 event of its own along with Turkey – the Arab world might be overdosing on hosting Formula 1 races without the motorsport culture or the capacity crowds to back it up.

Pleasingly for event organisers, drivers, and fans, the inaugural race – the season finale last year as well – was a roaring success and one of the few events in the GFC era that sold out all of its tickets.

A flying lap of the Abu Dhabi circuit with Hamilton

In designing the circuit,Tilke certainly set out to raise the bar in Formula 1 venue design, and he certainly achieved it with what is among the most visually stunning venues on the F1 calendar.

The event was scheduled with a sunset timeslot to suit the European TV audience, but it proved popular with the drivers and teams in that they weren’t having to race in the heat of the day.

But where the venue has come in for some criticism is that the Yas Marina circuit – with scarcely an undulation worthy of the name – is a rather dull track. There are little in the offering in terms of high-speed corners, and the track layout is largely a mix of long straights succeeded by tight corners, or a series of follow-my-leader slower corner sequences. The bigger straight should have theoretically produced some overtaking during last year’s race, but the 2009 race was largely devoid of this.


The History Bit

Last year, the Drivers’ and Championship titles had already been sewed up by the time the F1 circus arrived for its end-of-season bash at Abu Dhabi, giving the event a more relaxed, end-of-term atmosphere than we have traditionally been used to, with many previous seasons coming right down to the final race to determine the championship outcome.

In what had been an up-and-down season for Lewis Hamilton, the McLaren driver took an excellent pole position and led from the start of the race, only to have his chances of a certain race victory slip through his clutches when his brakes packed it in.

This left Sebastian Vettel to win as he pleased ahead of team-mate Mark Webber, who was chased hard in the closing stages by Jenson Button.

Another highlight from last year’s race was a mature performance from Kamui Kobayashi in just his second F1 race outing. With his debut race having gone well enough, the young Japanese driver drove an incredibly mature race on a one-stop strategy to finish sixth in his Toyota, and it was this drive that convinced Peter Sauber to hire the young man for the 2010 season.


What to expect?

After the sun has set in Abu Dhabi, one of the four championship contenders will achieve their dream of a World Championship after the most closely-fought championship season in the modern-era history of the sport.

Fernando Alonso For Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, success will simply add to their tally of past world titles, but for Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, it would be their maiden F1 world championship.

Alonso has seemingly come from nowhere to hold an 11-point championship lead heading into the final round. Over 50 points behind at the halfway mark of the championship, he boldly claimed that he would win the championship with a string of podium finishes, and was scorned by many in the press for his assertions.

Yet incredibly, the Spaniard has managed exactly that in the second half of the 2010 championship season, picking wins in Germany (albeit it assisted with the implementation of team orders) and back-to-back wins in Singapore and Korea.

The Ferrari driver is best positioned – literally, and in terms of experience – to win the championship, having twice managed the feat in 2005-6. To describe him as persistent would be an understatement in the truest sense of the word.

Mark Webber Mark Webber is the sentimental favourite to win the championship this year. The Australian has well and truly bounced back from his broken leg suffered in the 2009 pre-season, and delivered a string of super drives to vanquish the opposition at various times.

The Australian needs to win with Alonso finishing in third to take the title, and he’ll be hoping to reverse the run of form that has seen him finish behind his team-mate at every round since Italy.

The up-and-coming Sebastian Vettel sits slightly further adrift with a 15-point deficit to Alonso heading into the final round. The young German has proved he has bundles of speed to back up his talent, and the last few rounds have seen a more disciplined style of driving from him, in comparison to his rather error-riddled drives we saw earlier in the season. Coming off a streak of two race wins in the last three rounds, he certainly has the pace, but he just hasn’t had enough lucky this year.

Sebastian Vettel The other factor has been the rather acrimonious relationship between the pair virtually all season, and it certainly begs the question – despite Red Bull management’s clear assertions that it would not instructs its drivers to influence the outcome of a championship – as to whether Vettel will help his better-placed team-mate to the championship crown.

If recent form is continued where Vettel finds himself leading and Alonso second, maintaining the status quo will see Alonso take the title, but if Webber should find his way to the front of the field, then the title becomes his. The question is, will Vettel do the right thing by his own team-mate?

Lewis Hamilton The rank outsider for the crown is Lewis Hamilton, who really requires something quite bizarre in order to take his second Drivers’ Championship crown. His McLaren has certainly been very quick, but the problem for Lewis is that the Red Bulls and Ferraris have simply proven to be quicker. Can he make the impossible happen this weekend? If anyone can, it’s likely to be the man from Stevenage.

In reality, all eyes are going to be at the front of the field on the top-four runners, who will all be hoping that their cars hold together long enough for them to stake their claim for the championship.

The circuit design doesn’t favour any particular exclusively, with the different sectors of the long lap at Yas Marina rewarding different cars.

There are an incredible array of factors that will influence the outcome of the 2010 World Championship, but one certainly can’t ignore the fact that a young German and his moral dilemma could ultimately be the deciding factor…

[Original images via LAT, Sutton Images & The Cahier Archive]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.