How Alonso lost the championship in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix analysis

Vitaly Petrov, Renault, Abu Dhabi, 2010

Vitaly Petrov, Renault, Abu Dhabi, 2010

Ferrari snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Abu Dhabi.

Fernando Alonso’s race hinged on a critical strategic decision to pit early, which left him stuck behind Vitaly Petrov.

How did Ferrari get the crucial call wrong? Find out in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix analysis.

Lap 1

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix lap 1 position change

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix lap 1 position change

There were fewer changes of position on the opening lap than usual. But one that did happen was highly significant – Jenson Button passing Fernando Alonso for third.

With Sebastian Vettel leading, that made it imperative for Alonso not to lose track position to Mark Webber. Finishing fifth instead of fourth would cost him the world championship with Vettel leading.

Unfortunately for Alonso, Ferrari’s preoccupation with Webber meant they lost out to several other cars.

Pit stops

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix pit stops

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix pit stops

Ferrari brought Alonso in on lap 15, four laps after Webber pitted. It’s easy to criticise strategic decisions in hindsight – particularly one as costly as this – so it’s important to understand why they did it.

Webber was delayed by Jaime Alguersuari following his pit stop and Ferrari tried to take advantage of that by pitting Massa two laps afterwards in an attempt to get him out ahead of the Red Bull.

But this didn’t work: Webber made it past Alguersuari on the lap Massa came in, and the Ferrari driver lost 1.4 seconds more in the pits compared to Webber.

Ferrari’s concern now was that Webber was going to do the same as he did following his early pit stop at Singapore – keep picking off the cars in front of him quickly enough to stay in touch with the leaders. Some of these – Vitaly Petrov and Nico Rosberg – did not need to pit again following earlier stops under the safety car.

At that point Ferrari knew they had enough of a gap over Webber to bring Alonso in and keep him in front of the Red Bull. In essence, they were wagering Alonso’s ability to get past Petrov and Rosberg against Webber’s – and the gamble failed.

Their thinking was probably also influenced by the loss of pace the front runners were experiencing on the super-soft tyres at that point in the race. Look at how Vettel’s lap times increased from laps eight to 13 on the chart below – from 1’45.337 to 1’46.667.

Ferrari called Alonso in on the lap after that – just as the super-soft tyres came back to life and the other cars’ lap times improved.

Race progress

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Alonso came out of the pits ahead of Webber but behind Petrov. He had some experience of the Renault driver’s defensive tactics from Istanbul, where Petrov frustrated the Ferrari driver for 40 laps before Alonso finally got through with a rather physical move.

He couldn’t risk such contact with the championship hanging in the balance – at least, not until things got really desperate.

Some speculated that Renault were especially keen to keep Alonso behind because they are Red Bull’s engine suppliers.

A more realistic explanation for why Alonso had such a hard time passing the R30 is that Petrov was one of only two drivers on the track who used a new engine for this race. He was the third-quickest car through the speed trap in qualifying, 3.3kph quicker than Alonso.

Lap chart

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix lap chart

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix lap chart

The other driver who had a hard time getting past a Renault was Lewis Hamilton, stuck behind Kubica, who also had a new engine for this weekend’s race.

It seems McLaren had no choice other than to bring Hamilton in when they did. It’s clear from the lap times graph (below) he was no longer pulling away from Kubica and the gap between them (graph above) was never sufficient for him to pit and get out in front of the Renault.

That left Hamilton stuck behind Kamui Kobayashi (who he quickly dispensed with) and Kubica.

At first Hamilton’s attempts to pass Kubica cost the Renault driver some time (see lap 30). But Kubica was soon able to settle back into his rhythm, lapping 0.5-1s faster than Alonso.

That meant by lap 46 he had enough of a lead over Alonso to pit and come out in front of him. It was another nail in the coffin for Alonso.

Fastest laps

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After being released by Kubica on lap 46 Hamilton banged in the fastest lap of the race – 1’41.274, just one second off the lap record set by Vettel last year.

But he couldn’t sustain this pace and Vettel upped his to keep Hamilton in check over the closing laps.

With Alonso still tucked up behind Petrov, it was mission accomplished for Vettel.

Rank Driver Car Fastest lap Gap On lap
1 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1’41.274 47
2 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1’41.636 0.362 48
3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’41.711 0.437 52
4 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1’41.739 0.465 50
5 Robert Kubica Renault 1’41.753 0.479 51
6 Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1’42.196 0.922 52
7 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1’42.227 0.953 52
8 Vitaly Petrov Renault 1’42.311 1.037 52
9 Nico H???lkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1’42.397 1.123 51
10 Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1’42.573 1.299 50
11 Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1’42.669 1.395 50
12 Nick Heidfeld Sauber-Ferrari 1’42.673 1.399 52
13 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1’42.695 1.421 52
14 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1’42.725 1.451 52
15 Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1’42.727 1.453 49
16 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1’42.733 1.459 53
17 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1’45.378 4.104 52
18 Jarno Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1’45.979 4.705 42
19 Lucas di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1’46.126 4.852 50
20 Bruno Senna HRT-Cosworth 1’46.255 4.981 52
21 Christian Klien HRT-Cosworth 1’46.646 5.372 44
22 Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1’46.837 5.563 39

2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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155 comments on How Alonso lost the championship in Abu Dhabi

  1. Alex Bkk said on 14th November 2010, 22:31

    Great article Keith… I’m still in a state of shock from Alonso’s loss but this explains it nicely.

    Vettel got a break when he needed it the most… and it’s about time.

    Congrats to all the RB and Vettel fans on the WDC and WCC wins.

  2. Mr draw said on 14th November 2010, 22:41

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that Hamilton’s pitstop was too early.

    “It seems McLaren had no choice other than to bring Hamilton in when they did. It’s clear from the lap times graph (below) he was no longer pulling away from Kubica…”

    But in lap 22, just prior to his pitstop, he was still pulling away by 0.5 seconds. So delaying the pitstop by a few laps would have brought Hamilton in front of Kubica.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 14th November 2010, 22:47

      Yeah, in retrospect it looks like perhaps they could have left him out a bit longer.

    • maybe it was traffic ahead that decided – just guessing

      • BasCB said on 15th November 2010, 7:03

        I suppose it was trafic and expected tyre degradation. They must have feared Hamilton could have ended up behind Rosberg had he stayed out for longer.

        • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 15th November 2010, 8:59

          Or maybe they thought Vettel couldn’t clear Kubica either. This from their live commentary shortly after Vettel had pitted:

          Ham: “How’s he [Vettel] so far ahead?”
          Pit: “Pace through the pit stops, Lewis.”

          Vettel spent the least time in the pits of any driver during the race, he got in and out seven-tenths quicker than Hamilton.

    • Well he had problems with the tyres because he was asking for a new pit 20 laps after have already pitted.

      • You know, he is always saying this. Right after this bought of crying, he set fastest lap on those terrible flat-spotted tires, which he had been hammering in Kubica’s turbulence for so long. In Australia, he was crying about his tires, then he suddenly started gobbling up the Ferraris. I think his expectations are different than others’

        • Mr draw said on 15th November 2010, 17:00

          Lol… He must have been the only driver suffering from tyre-wear yesterday. Or didn’t he know that he lost downforce when he was driving closely behind Kubica? Anyway, McLaren’s small strategic error made life a lot easier for Fattle. Otherwise, he had to defend Hamilton, who had nothing to lose, for the remaining part of the race.

  3. bosyber said on 14th November 2010, 22:46

    If I remember correctly, during much of the 90ties, Alonso’s expectation that Petrov wouldn’t defend much against a championship contender was the norm – I seem to recall people saying “needs to pass X, but surely X won’t interfere with the championship” about fights with at least Senna, Hill, Schumacher and Villeneuve. Those were of course also the time when maybe two teams could compete for a win in a race, let alone the championship. And 5th place would regularly be a lapped car, with the top a second or more faster.

    I think it is good that it changed, due to being much more competitive – behind the top three of this season, the fight for points has been going on between Williams, Renault, Mercedes, and early on FI (now more often Sauber in races), so those teams have much more clearly something to fight for in each and every race too.

    In that sense extending the points to 10 does help make the fight/race more competitive. Pity they can’t really do much overtaking on some tracks with these cars, but maybe next year will be a bit better.

    • BasCB said on 15th November 2010, 7:08

      I fully agree. Great to see that the top 3 teams are in front only by constantly improving and only by a relatively small margin.
      The field is really competative right now, so let’s hope this continues next year.
      Renault and Mercedes might be improving next year, FI possibly getting back into it, Williams looking solid, Sauber being able to concentrate on next years car and both Lotus and HRT on a push to greatly improve next year with new technical support. And Wirth being able to use real data to improve his full CFD design. Only team i fear will lose out a bit is Torro Rosso, they need some new ideas.

  4. Vettel said the right thing long before the race: I leave the math to others – I just have to go flat out for this race. And he did, Alonso and Ferrari didn’t. They were thinking too much, focusing on keeping Webber behind Alonso, as if this was going to secure the title. Thus they more or less copied a very bad strategy of Webbers (which maybe could be justified with the problems he had).
    They started to drive defensive, because they were in the lead. Thus Alonso wasn’t even aggressive enough on Petrov – as he realized he couldn’t pas him, he could only hope for another Vettel engine blowup or brake issue. Webber also started to drive too cautious and defensive when leading the run for the title. Maybe Vettel only won it because he actually never was in the lead – or he was the only one not knowing it.
    If Alonso and Ferrari had focused on themselves, being aggressive and to bring Alonso home with as many points as possible he would have won the title. In F1 it seldom pays out to drive too defensive. We saw Button last year – he was in trouble sunday before the race in Brazil, because of a bad qualifying and most of the experts expected him to drive defensively to salvage just a little points and then do it in the final race. As we all know Button went flat out, made a lot of impressive overtakings and won the title that sunday.
    But a great result, made possible by Red Bulls policy of no TO, Mclarens improvement for this race, Buttons overtake of Alonso, Renaults great drives, Webbers problems and subsequent strategy and the safety car period after the crash between Schumi and Liuzzi – and how close was the Force India to Schumi’s helmet? That really got my pulse up, wow…Good to see him walk away from that.
    I also support the idea, that Alonso would have received active help from Massa had they not demoralized him in Germany. If they hadn’t done that Massa would probably have helped by taking effective points of the other front runners every now and then. So luckily the season’s result could indicate that TO isn’t only forbidden, it is also bad medicine for the total point score of both drivers in the team.
    And Alonso’s behaviour towards Petrov after the race confirms my view of him – great driver, but maybe not so great a human being:-)

    • Well, I think massa is enough intelligent, and earn enough money not to be so much affected by one result. Massa didn’t have his year and that’s because the team lost confidence in his posibilities.

  5. tharris19 said on 14th November 2010, 22:59

    The top three teams and their drivers had their chances to win the championship this year. They all made mistakes and had bad luck that frustrated them and their fans. But in the end Red Bull won it all hands down. They produced a car that was so superior that it allowed their drivers to make mistake and still win enough poles and races to sweep the season.
    They (Red Bull) have set a very high bar for all the teams in 2011. If Ferrari, Renault and McLaren produce cars equal to Red Bull it’s going to be a smokin season.
    Adios everyone!

  6. Canalla said on 14th November 2010, 23:01

    I can’t believe those who say it was a good strategy. Dudes, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and I hadn’t realized that Rosberg and Petrov had already pitted, so once I realized they had, it was pretty clear to me that Alonso had lost the championship (unless something out of the blue would happened, of course). I still can’t believe the teams acting like there were two different kind of tyres, when for LOTS of races we have seen they’re the same. Just remember Kobayashi in Valencia. When Webber pitted, it was so clear that he would lose a lot of time stuck in traffic, even if he was able to overtake all those drivers, that the strategy made absolutely no sense. Especially when you have just ruined Massa’s race, who wasn’t even able to overtake a Toro Rosso in 40 laps. If F-1 was something serious, a couple of heads would be chopped in Ferrari, but it isn’t.

    I had no computer, I hadn’t realized that some of the drivers that had pitted where in front of Webber, and when I was seeing Ferrari’s decision, I couldn’t believe it. And I’m no genious. This was probably the most ridiculous decision in F-1 history. They totally gave Vettel the driver’s championship on a silver tray.

    This was the key: Webber stuck in traffic, having to overtake lots of drivers, that means a lot of time lost, while you can happily drive and increase the gap with him just following Button. Pathetic.

    • BasCB said on 15th November 2010, 7:11

      Only problem with that is, they had no means of knowing that happily driving up front would have given them a lot better position. All teams at that time feared the super soft tyres would drop off dramaticly and they might end up behind the cars following them.

  7. Rob Wilson said on 14th November 2010, 23:08

    I heard the stig drove Petrov’s car today then sneaked out at the end and let Petrov do the post race interviews, clever.

  8. Malcom said on 14th November 2010, 23:23

    Alonso’s disgraceful fist waving display towards Petrov at the end of the race, highlights truly the arrogance, and sense of entitlement that Fernando feels that he has. If Hamilton had done anything like that…..he would have been crucified, by many journalists and fans, but with Fernando not a peep.

    • Adam Tate said on 15th November 2010, 1:04

      True that Malcolm.

    • Julian (@julian) said on 15th November 2010, 5:58

      I’m a big Alonso fan, and watching the fist waving disgusted me.
      That being said he did sort of acknowledge petrov’s drive as being a good one in the interviews after. But the fist waving was just disgusting.

    • chemakal said on 15th November 2010, 13:45

      Didn’t like Alo’s reaction either, although I can understand his frustation losing a tittle stucked behind the Renault and he made it up latr in the interviews.

      Malcom, are you saying the Alonso is well treated by the media!!!! Rubish saying that after the huge media roar and nasty journalism practidsed to Alonso after Hockenheim

      • tharris19 said on 15th November 2010, 13:54

        The media was after Ferrari, Alonso just happened to be the recipient of a flawed strategy and had to explain it to the media. That’s why he get the big bucks.

        • chemakal said on 15th November 2010, 17:19

          Oh no, it has been against Alonso again and again. How many times did you hear Alonso does not deserve the tittle ecuase of that move?
          Clearly, Massa and his engineer were to blame cos doing it so obvious

          • tharris19 said on 15th November 2010, 21:46

            I read it and heard it alot. But again it was about Ferrari. Had it been Alonso who had to pull over and slow down for Massa it would have been the same uproar. It was about the race not the driver.
            In Brazil the anger was directed at Massa for giving up the position without a fight. They did not like the fact that he was not man enough to standup for himself and then have a pitiful look on his face during the celebration on the podium. Some of my friends is Sao Paulo questioned his manhood in some very derogatory terms.

          • chemakal said on 16th November 2010, 13:26

            You obviously didn’t hear part of the public in Brasil insulting and screaming against Alonso. It was shown live on Spanish TV while interviewing Alonso before race start.
            Now, how many times have you seen or heard in the media that Alonso should get at least the 7 points off? Or even further being banned for the rest of the season?
            I’m with you, if somebody had to be blamed then Ferrari and more specifically Massa and his engineer becuase team orders do exist in all teams, the way it was done has been judged.
            I’m 100% sure that if Alonso would have pulled over to Massa the uproar would have been a tiny part in comparisson, specially in the British media…

          • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 16th November 2010, 13:29

            I’m 100% sure that if Alonso would have pulled over to Massa the uproar would have been a tiny part in comparisson, specially in the British media…

            Speaking as a British person who runs a website I can tell you the reportage on this site would have been exactly the same.

            If you have a problem with other websites I suggest you bring it up with them, instead of depicting everyone as if they all have the same opinion.

          • chemakal said on 17th November 2010, 15:15

            I’m aware that generalizing is not fair to everyone. But public opinion in the UK about Alonso is what it is especially since 07 as published in many comments from readers, including those in your site, hugely influenced by media. I therefore think Alonso is continuously mistreated by a big part of the British media.
            But I also admit that your articles are fair and have not doubt you would have written the same in the reverse case (Massa benefiting).
            As I have posted before “Keith, congrats and many thanks for your great articles and reviews, has been an exciting season and have learned a lot thans to your blog”

  9. We Want Turbos said on 14th November 2010, 23:31

    *Conspiracy Theory* Red Bull used Webber to draw Alonso (knowing Ferrari would cover the stop) in knowing full well they would both end up behind Petrov/Rosberg and needing to pass! :D There’s one for Webber to get his teeth into

    • BasCB said on 15th November 2010, 7:12

      Mate that would have been great team work by Red Bull. Webber was in no position to win anyhow from behind Alonso, so why not take the gamble?

  10. Christian said on 14th November 2010, 23:49

    One thing I noticed when I watched the replay of the race was Vettel coming out of the pits and Kobayashi going wide just as he did.

    In the end Vettel JUST made it in front of Kobayashi.

  11. Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 15th November 2010, 1:43

    You really do have to ask: who is responsible for Alonso failing to win the championship? It’s not a question with an easy answer. On the one hand, you have the Ferrari pit crew and their poor strategy choice – but you have to consider that they had to make a decision based on the information they had available to them at the time. They couldn’t know everything

    On the other hand, there’s Alonso. The strategy wasn’t the best one, but Alonso didn’t make it work. He simply couldn’t get past Petrov, which was a massive imbalance. Petrov said he’d let Alonso through if Alonso made an attempt at passing because he didn’t want to cause an accident, but Alonso never even looked like he could get the Russian. The few times he lined up with a pass ended in frustration and a trip off the circuit.

    So at the end of the day, blame for Alonso’s failure should be spread around equally. Ferrari didn’t give Alonso the best strategy, but Alonso didn’t capitalise on the opportunity – if he had gotten by Petrov, he could have reeled in Rosberg before Kubica ended up in front of him, and he would have stood a better chance at winning.

    • When did Petrov say that he ll let him pass ? He clearly said in post race interview that he is there to race and not to let others pass. He was right in doing so. THe problem was that he was as fast as Alonso and on such track , its impossible to pass unless u r significantly faster. But Alonso should have tried harder.
      I m gutted that Alonso dint win and I am his die hard fan but its goood that he was able to fight till the last race with a much superior Red Bull car.

  12. Massa was struck behind Alguersuari for the whole race?? So much concentration up front that I missed it.

  13. DaveW said on 15th November 2010, 2:34

    So it comes down to hubris. As Silva was trying to massage Alonso into passing Petrov on the radio, going on about his extraordinary talent, I was thinking, was this their plan, that Alonso would exert his great genius to make the Renault and the Mercedes fly off the road by force of will? Even if he was going to get by him, he would have to do so with Webber standing over him to snatch away his kill at the slightest slip.

    All he had to do was chase Button. Webber had no prayer in any scenario of doing anyting but getting tangled up in traffic in his attempt to fight through the field to overlap Alonso on his stop. Zero chance.

    They get no bye for misunderstanding the graining pattern of the tires. Every fan of the sport knows that graining be definition is not a wear condition, but often clears up to great effect. The fact that they thought the tires had dropped off completely at lap 12 was daft.

    I also think Keith’s observation about engine use is important. At this final race, there had to be the greatest diversity of engine wear, and it was likely that Alonso’s was long in the tooth, and the team wanted to spare it high revs in any event. The irony is that it is the infamously weak Renault engine that outran the Ferrari down those two runway-length straights.

    McLaren really also lost Hamilton’s race. Hamilton was clearly being held up by Vettel at the end of the graining phase and had a real window to jump him and Kubica. They didn’t get it right.

    • Julian (@julian) said on 15th November 2010, 6:12

      You’d be hard pressed to find any team that can get their strategy right 100% of the time. It’s easy to say that a team screwed up in hindsight and say what they should have done, but if you found yourself in a head engineers job, surrounded but ungodly amounts of telemetry, having to understand it all and then make a decision in a matter of seconds/minutes, while under an incredible amount of pressure, im sure you would not get it right 100% of the time let alone 50%. I know I wouldn’t :)

      And wow that was a big sentence :) haha

  14. Flying Finn said on 15th November 2010, 7:40

    Do ferrari even have people thinking up strategies?.
    Because all season they have been following RBR or McLaren into the pits. More like countering the guys from other teams.

    That eventful pitstop happened at a time when he was lapping more than competitively. McLaren may have been slow on devolopment this season but they have made the most number of impressive calls this season….

    • You make impressive calls when you run bad and have nothing to loose, as McLaren this year, especially with Button. But when you are defending the championship in the last race, you do what your opponents do. The problem is that Alonso had more than one opponents and who knows what would be better to choice.

  15. sunseeker said on 15th November 2010, 7:58

    well julian, they had about 7 minutes after webber pitted to figure it out, that is enough time to calculate more complex things than they had to……..

    the real problem is they never had confidence in their car with full load on options. from lap 12.(when webber pitted) they were on pace (even gaining a bit) with rosberg and petrov, and actually losing time to webber,on lap 15. graining was at it’s worse and they lost more than 1sec to rosberg and petrov, and even more to webber – at that time they still had enough time to pit and clear webber (as thay did)

    they were afraid and had no confidence how would car behave……..and that is the reason they lost championship – they were just not good enough. this is big flop from ferrari, they absolutely had to manage situation better!

    alonso really tried everything, but it was impossible to pass petrov, who made no mistakes and had much better straight line speed – it was so obvious how renault pulled away each time. alonso had no chance, but to crash at him, which he didn’t. lewis had much quicker car on the straight and still couldn’t pass…..

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