The four-dimensional championship showdown in Abu Dhabi could be resolved in any number of ways.
But with a precious eight-point championship lead and his closest rival behind him on the grid, the cards are stacked in Fernando Alonso’s favour.
The start is an important moment of any race but with a world championship hanging in the balance between four drivers, all of which start in the top five, the opening corners take on critical significance.
From the one F1 start here last year plus various GP2 races, starting off-line does not seem to too great a disadvantage at Yas Marina. Sergio Perez powered into the lead from second on the grid in Saturday’s GP2 feature race – a heartening sight for Lewis Hamilton, who starts there in the Grand Prix.
Most of Red Bull’s advantage over McLaren is in the last sector of the lap, so expect Hamilton to give pole sitter Sebastian Vettel a very hard time in the first few corners.
The McLaren may not have the straight-line speed advantage they enjoyed at the beginning of the season, but Vettel’s was the third-slowest car through the speed trap in qualifying, giving Hamilton a 3kph advantage.
There’s a clear difference in approach between Hamilton, second on the grid, and Alonso, third. Hamilton is ready to throw caution to the wind:
On the grid tomorrow, I don?óÔé¼Ôäót have to worry about who?óÔé¼Ôäós around me ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ they all have to worry about who?óÔé¼Ôäós around them! I?óÔé¼Ôäóve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. It?óÔé¼Ôäós the other drivers who?óÔé¼Ôäóll have to worry; I don?óÔé¼Ôäót have to be cautious at all in the race. Perhaps they need to think about that.
I?óÔé¼Ôäóm not focusing on winning the drivers?óÔé¼Ôäó title; I?óÔé¼Ôäóm just focusing on winning this race.
Whereas Alonso knows he has to stay out of trouble:
Normally after the first ten or twenty meters you understand if you had a good or bad start.
If you are that good, you can think of attacking. If you feel that something is going wrong, you try to defend your position, so it will be a reaction or action that we need to take tomorrow after the first ten or twenty meters, but in general I think we will not win the championship in corner one. The only thing we can do is to lose it, so we will see.
Even so, Hamilton has run in front of Alonso in both of the last two races – only to go off and lose the position.
Alonso has another McLaren to worry about behind him on the grid, in the form of a rejuvenated Jenson Button.
Alonso’s principle title rival Mark Webber hasn’t made the best getaways from the start line in recent races. Hamilton was able to get alongside him in turn one at Interlagos and has lost places on the first lap on several occasions this year.
It’s imperative for him that he avoids that happening tomorrow, as he would likely end up stuck behind Felipe Massa – which would be another blow for his ever-diminishing championship hopes.
The Abu Dhabi pit lane, with its unique tunnel exit, is second only to Shanghai in terms of the amount of time the drivers lose making a stop. Coming into the pits costs them 20.5 seconds (according to Williams), plus the amount of time the car spends stationary.
That means the front runners could be left out a while until they have enough of a gap behind them to make a pit stop.
Webber’s best hope for improvement in the race could come from his strategy. Red Bull have excelled in this area this year – bringing him up to third at Singapore, for instance.
Ferrari’s poor pace on high fuel on Friday is likely to be less of a problem tomorrow now that the track surface has had chance to rubber in.
But it remains to be seen whether McLaren’s improved pace this weekend has been matched by improved tyre wear, which they struggled with at Interlagos.
As usual, everyone in the top ten is starting on the softer tyres, which this weekend are the super-softs.
Alonso may only be ahead of one of his championship rivals on the grid, but it’s the one that matters most – Mark Webber, who’s eight points behind him in the constructors’ championship.
That means that were the top five drivers to finish in the order they qualified, Alonso would be world champion.
The most realistic threat to Alonso’s title hopes heading into the race is likely to come from Vettel. If he wins the race, Alonso has to make sure he finishes in the top four.
Were he to fall to fifth – behind, say, Button and Webber – he would end the race level on points with Vettel, and lose the championship due to Vettel having more fourth place finishes.
In that case his new best friend could come into play – Lewis Hamilton, who may pose the biggest threat to Vettel on race day.
Of course Alonso only needs to gain one place on his starting position to be guaranteed the championship regardless of what happens to his rivals.
How do you think the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will unfold – and how will the championship be decided? Have your say in the comments.
Don’t forget to join us for live comments during the race here at F1 Fanatic to see the race unfold. We set started one hour before the Grand Prix gets underway.
And keep track of how the race finishing order could decide the destiny of the title using the Championship Calculator.
2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
- 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: the complete F1 Fanatic race weekend review
- Drivers’ and teams’ end-of-season photographs
- Alonso’s role in Ferrari strategy revealed in pit messages
- Hamilton: McLaren learned a lot in 2010
- Button vows to address qualifying weakness
- Vettel ends season on a high to snatch title
- Ferrari hit back at criticism of race strategy
- McLaren rediscover their form at final race
- New engines help Renault to best result of 2010
- Schumacher not blaming Rosberg for crash
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