Lewis Hamilton has resoundingly returned to the winners’ circle with an imperious drive to win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, leading home Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and McLaren team-mate Jenson Button. Pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel finally had a dud race day, spinning off the circuit on the first lap and into retirement with a puncture.
With McLaren surprisingly failing to secure pole after being the pace-setters in all three practice sessions at the Yas Marina circuit, the silver cars were always going to deliver a close fight to Vettel, who claimed a record-equalling fourteenth pole position of the season.
But matters would quickly be turned on their heads just seconds after the starting lights went out. Vettel led the pack into Turn 1, but as he turned into the Turn 2 left-hander, the rear of his car suddenly snapped away as his right-rear tyre spontaneously deflated.
He slid sideways into the run-off as the rest of the field – now led by a gleeful Hamilton – tore past, limping back to the pits to get the errant Pirelli tyre attended to. But his rear suspension was shot, and the German posted his first DNF since his engine blow-up at last year’s Korean Grand Prix.
Hamilton now led, and a superb start from Fernando Alonso saw the Ferrari driver pass Mark Webber on the opening lap, before he set about nailing Jenson Button for second place along the long back straight. Behind them, the two Mercedes drivers of Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher engaged in a fierce, but brief, battle for track position.
Behind them, Sergio Pérez pitted his Sauber with a damaged front wing, and Bruno Senna peeled his Renault in the pits to get rid of the slower ‘Medium’ compound on which he had started the race. Pérez’s team-mate Kamui Kobayashi also pulled into the pits early on to perform a similar strategy play as Senna, and it worked for the Japanese driver, who collected his first points’ finish the German Grand Prix with tenth place.
Up at the front, Hamilton set about building an early lead, although he was pushed hard by Alonso, who drove the wheels off his Ferrari to try and keep in touch. In the end, Hamilton was only out of the lead during the pit stop visits, going on to claim his third win of the season with a margin of over 8 seconds to the Spaniard.
Button, meanwhile, found himself under continued attack from Mark Webber. It would later turn out that the McLaren driver’s KERS had packed it in, and it was only by dint of running a lower drag set-up that he managed to keep Webber at bay for the final podium slot.
For Webber, it was definitely an opportunity missed to show what he could do out of Vettel’s shadow. But his now-customary poor start and slow opening stint confined him to slim hopes of a lower podium result, and his cause wasn’t helped by a slow first pit stop, coupled with the team’s decision to run him on a three-stop strategy (soft/soft/soft/medium) that relied on him gaining positions to build enough of a margin before making his final stop.
He would eventually get by Button with a rather forceful move before his final stop, but he didn’t have enough of a margin to stay ahead, and chased Button over the finish line in fourth.
Behind them, Massa showed improved pace and also looked likely to challenge Button and Webber for third. His pace was perhaps the best seen all season, but his ragged season was typified when he had a spin at Turn 1 late in the race, all but cementing yet another fifth-placed finish.
Finishing sixth and seventh were the Mercedes GP pairing of Rosberg and Schumacher, with Rosberg crossing the line over 23 seconds of his team-mate after fighting his way by him on the opening lap. Schumacher’s race was spent engaged in a tight battle with Force India’s Adrian Sutil, with the duo crossing the line just 1.1 seconds apart.
Behind Sutil, Force India team-mate Paul di Resta drove a sensible race to claim ninth, giving Force India a healthy points’ haul to all but secure it sixth in the Constructors’ Championship, with chief rivals Sauber and Toro Rosso only claiming a point between them.
Toro Rosso’s hopes of a good result were dented on the twentieth lap when Sébastien Buemi – who had battled hard with di Resta in the early phase of the race – slowed and retired with an hydraulics failure. It was a devastating blow for the Swiss driver, who’d had the measure of team-mate Jaime Alguersuari all weekend, and desperately needed a good result to keep alive his hopes of remaining with the team in 2012.
The Faenza squad’s ambitions were then left resting on Alguersuari’s shoulders, but the Spaniard’s fight for a points’ finish was put to bed when he was delayed in his first pit stop, finishing 15th. He’d also earn a 20-second post-race penalty after holding up faster cars when he was being lapped.
But Alguersuari was the bridesmaid when it came to bad on-track manners, with the top gong going to Pastor Maldonado – a man whose poor reputation for circuit etiquette needs little argument – who was hit with two separate penalties who wandering into the leaders’ paths as they came up to lap him.
Finishing twelfth behind the Sauber pairing of Kobayashi and Pérez was Rubens Barrichello, who salvaged some pride for Williams’ worst-ever starting result (he and team-mate Pastor Maldonado lined up on the back row) with a hard-charging drive up the order. Certainly, he was given some help courtesy of dramas for other midfield riders, but this was a reminder of the Brazilian veteran’s skills, although it will probably go unnoticed by many amid ongoing rumours that he won’t be with the team next year.
The Renaults were again nowhere, continuing their pathetic second-half form as the team looks to 2012 and the possible return of Robert Kubica, although even that remains an unknown timeframe. Vitaly Petrov had the measure of the unimpressive Senna once again, but when you’re crossing the line in 13th after hitting the giddy heights of a podium back in April, few will notice…
Both Lotus cars saw the chequered flag , with Heikki Kovalainen showing really solid race pace to run with the lower midfield in the early stages. A seventeenth place was hardly a great result on paper, but the Finn’s stock continues to rise as he yet again overshadowed the increasingly underwhelming Jarno Trulli. The Italian has been the subject of many rumours that – despite his contract being extended with the team – he won’t actually be behind the wheel next year, and he’s hardly doing his candidacy any help with another bland display.
The scrap at the bottom of the timesheets was fun to watch, with the HRT and Virgin Racing runners mixing it well with each other. Sadly, half of the focus was removed with a retirement from each team – Jérôme d’Ambrosio and Daniel Ricciardo doing the honours – but Timo Glock and Vitantonio Liuzzi kept the battle raging, finishing two laps behind the winner Hamilton.
A word as well for the effectiveness (or otherwise) of the two DRS zones in use at Abu Dhabi. Certainly, this race produced much more overtaking than we’d seen at the previous two races held here, although that is hardly much of an achievement on paper.
And while the added speed afforded to drivers down the track’s two long straights allowed them a shot at getting past one another, a driver who was overtaken into the Turn 8/9 chicane could simply rely on having DRS for the following straight to redress the balance. It definitely gave the racing a decidedly artificial feeling, and circuit bosses really need to address the more glaring issue of the track’s woeful design instead of resorting to gimmicks.
2011 Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (55 laps):
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-26||55||1:37:11.886|
|2.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro F150° Italia||55||+ 8.457|
|3.||Jenson Button||Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-26||55||+ 25.881|
|4.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing – Renault RB7||55||+ 35.784|
|5.||Felipe Massa||Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro F150° Italia||55||+ 50.578|
|6.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes GP Petronas F1 Team W02||55||+ 52.317|
|7.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes GP Petronas F1 Team W02||55||+ 1:15.964|
|8.||Adrian Sutil||Force India F1 Team – Mercedes VJM04||55||+ 1:17.112|
|9.||Paul di Resta||Force India F1 Team – Mercedes VJM04||55||+ 1:41.087|
|10.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber F1 Team – Ferrari C30||54||1 lap behind|
|11.||Sergio Pérez||Sauber F1 Team – Ferrari C30||54||1 lap behind|
|12.||Rubens Barrichello||AT&T Williams – Cosworth FW33||54||1 lap behind|
|13.||Vitaly Petrov||Lotus Renault GP R31||54||1 lap behind|
|14.||Pastor Maldonado*||AT&T Williams – Cosworth FW33||54||1 lap behind|
|15.||Jaime Alguersuari**||Scuderia Toro Rosso – Ferrari STR6||54||1 lap behind|
|16.||Bruno Senna||Lotus Renault GP R31||54||1 lap behind|
|17.||Heikki Kovalainen||Team Lotus – Renault T128||54||1 lap behind|
|18.||Jarno Trulli||Team Lotus – Renault T128||53||2 laps behind|
|19.||Timo Glock||Marussia Virgin Racing – Cosworth||53||2 laps behind|
|20.||Vitantonio Liuzzi||HRT F1 Team – Cosworth F111||53||2 laps behind|
|DNF.||Daniel Ricciardo||HRT F1 Team – Cosworth F111||48||Electrical|
|DNF.||Sébastien Buemi||Scuderia Toro Rosso – Ferrari STR6||19||Hydraulics|
|DNF.||Jérôme d’Ambrosio||Marussia Virgin Racing – Cosworth||18||Brakes|
|DNF.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing – Renault RB7||1||Puncture|
|Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing – Renault RB7||51||1:42.612|
* Denotes 30-second time penalty applied post-race for ignoring blue flags
** Denotes 20-second time penalty applied post-race for ignoring blue flags
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