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. “Firstly, congrats to Vettel and Red Bull, they had the best car this season, deserved the tittle (at least the WCC).
    Secondly, Ferrari’s strategy made it easy to RB in yesterdays race and I think it will be considered as one of the biggest team errors in F1 history.”
    I’m sorry your favourite didn’t manage to win the title but you should be fair and admit that Fernando screwed it up for himself or was not good enough.He was only third at the start because he was slower than 2 title contenders in front of him on the grid.Once they get going he is overtaken by Button for third position ,yet another driver that was faster than him.
    And then(drumroll),still in the very first lap, the unpredictable happens ,Schumacher almost gets scalped by Liuzzi(unavoidable crash)and the SC has to come out.
    So how do you think his team should have responded?
    Bring him in on the first lap like a bunch of backmarkers and Rosberg and Petrov?
    Certainly not if Webber who’s in fifth stays out and might well jump him for this crucial fourth poziisjon(as he would put it).
    No,they have to stay out and try to race a gap that is around 22 sec. or more to get rid of the early pitters.
    A feat they(FA and MW)never manage to accomplish and never had a timeframe in which they could have(bar lap 1).To cut a long story short the couple ends up after their pit stop behind a very good Rosberg and an impressively fast and perfectly driving Petrov.
    I’ll even tell you that if Mark was not held up for about a full lap by Alguersuari(sister team,),FA could have saluted the chequered flag as the eighth best of the race.Would you really want him to win a championsheep like that?

    • chemakal said on 15th November 2010, 18:41

      Many words for a short reply: Ferrari should not have called Alo so early to the pits to cover position vs Webbber, that was the huge error and that’s it. Couldn’t find that option in your long post. A team error that will be remembered for years. Couldn’t find anything about Valencia in your post either… Love your nick though

  2. earnst said on 15th November 2010, 19:26

    McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton blames Red Bull’s “step-teammates” Renault for preventing him from catching Sebastian Vettel to win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

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