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. leotef (@leotef) said on 15th November 2010, 8:18

    Not sure but with an “IF”, the key reason of FA’s failure may be he lost his position from the start. Seeing JB keeping the pace with the one and two, it would have been much easier to remain in the T4 if he didn’t lose it to JB. Now comes the strategy? Seriously, it’s doubtful whether it might have made difference talking about race structuring when he could not earn anything from his driving… 7th is more than he deserve considering the mistakes he made not one, not two, three times at least behind Petrov.
    It’s disgusting farce when FA shook fist on Petrov. Big shame on himself.

  2. Stuartamc said on 15th November 2010, 8:46

    Am I the only one who’s a bit miffed that Vettel’s won the championship? I mean yes he’s very quick, but he’s far from the best racer. If you’re watching Alonso or Hamilton and sometimes Button too, and they have to pass people you’re excitedly waiting for some great overtaking moves. If it’s Vettel you’re wondering how long will this take him, and that he’s prob going to tag the other guy some way or another. I feel the car has earnt it more than him this season with such a big advantage, he hasn’t had to work so hard at it. To me the real winners have been McLaren who have really outperformed their cars.

    • chemakal said on 15th November 2010, 14:16

      Thats your opinion. RB was clearly the better car of the seasson, Ferrari has developed their car fast for the 2nd half of the seasson but generaly the 2nd best car of the seasson has been Mclaren in front of Ferrari,so Mclaren finished up where they should, 2nd in the WCC. The one that has outperformed his car has been Alonso

  3. aoxomoxoa said on 15th November 2010, 9:25

    Alonso’s hand waving at Petrov post race was nothing but sheer misplaced emotion. He was the first one to admit it himself, not only in the post race interview but on his candid tweet shortly after the race where he apologized to petrov.
    That to me shows that the ‘not a good human being’ criticism is perhaps equally misplaced.

    • tharris19 said on 15th November 2010, 21:54

      I don’t know whether or not Alonso is a good human being or not and I doubt if anyone who post on this blog know either. What I have glean from watching him race since 2005 is he don’t like to lose. Anyone who has been involved with sport understand where he is coming from. Don’t mean his behavior is positive, just understandable.

  4. skova265 said on 15th November 2010, 9:40

    happy that alonslo lost

  5. GeordiePorker said on 15th November 2010, 11:41

    Hi Keith – another great article. I only found F1fanatic this year and it’s awesome. Keep up the good work, your analysis is usually far better than the rest and the tech insights provided by [damn - epic memory fail!] are, in my opinion, far better than what you get on the supposedly official f1 site. So, thanks!

    There’s been a lot of debate about your ‘what if’ article which supposedly favoured Seb. Hmmm…so, would it have been Hamilton biased if he’d lost the most points? lol. Please keep and repeat that article (maybe twice in season and once at season end?) I thought it was fascinating.

    As for the championship battle – the most deserving driver won because he got the most points, end of. But I would be interested to hear your thoughts (and others) about what would have happened with Lewis, Fernando or (as a wild-card) MSc in the RB6? Would they have wrapped it up earlier? Or do you think Seb is the best (or at least one of the best) drivers on the grid? Personally, I think he’s quick but still lacks some of Alonso’s (usual) consistency. I think Lewis is faster but still needs to mature a bit (although he has done so a lot this year). But MSc I’m not sure of…

    Finally, will we be seeing an ‘end of term’ report for the year for each team? I would love to know what you really think about how the 3 new teams have done given their limited budgets and lack of time and your thoughts on their prospects for next year…

    Thanks again Keith!

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 15th November 2010, 11:53

      Thanks for the positive feedback!

      Someone else asked about the “what if…” article earlier – I think I will have to do something similar along those lines at some point. Still I doubt anyone lost more points either through unreliability or driver error than Vettel.

      And yes, there will be a big end-of-season review!

      • chemakal said on 15th November 2010, 14:39

        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

        Don’t forget Valencia for the “what if…” article..

  6. JCCJCC said on 15th November 2010, 11:59

    Alonso tactic was stupid and had no sense at all, Ferrari should have looked for the times, and for the differences, and they allways have to count that there’s no possibility of overtaking. Pitting in lap 16, knowing that they would return behind Rosberg and Petrov (who already pitted), and knowing that they would stay behind Button, Hamilton and Vettel, would mean that Alonso had to overtake Petrov and Rosberg on the track, thing that has we saw was impossible.

    Ferrari should have wait some laps, and pit only when they where sure to keep alonso in front of Rosberg (the difference was 16 seconds, so maybe some 5/6 laps more).

    The overtaking of Alguersuari by Webber was kind of easy, or not?

    • Shimks said on 15th November 2010, 12:17

      “The overtaking of Alguersuari by Webber was kind of easy, or not?”

      Of course. “Toro Rosso” means “Red Bull” in Italian. It’s the sister company. A Toro Rosso driver holding up a Red Bull driver for too long would have been criminal. They’re almost on the same team.

  7. “But I would be interested to hear your thoughts (and others) about what would have happened with Lewis, Fernando or (as a wild-card) MSc in the RB6? Would they have wrapped it up earlier?”
    Or would Vettel have clinched the title in the Ferrari/Mc laren with Hamilto/Alonso sitting in the RB6 experiencing the same amount of technical issues in a team where both drivers are treated equally?

  8. Typo, Keith: in the fourth paragraph – Button passed Alonso for third, not fourth.

    Great drive by Petrov, maybe enough to save his job. Interesting to note that Massa spent even longer failing to pass Alguersuari than Fernando did stuck behind the Renault.

  9. chemakal said on 15th November 2010, 14:33

    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.

    Read some comments saying that Alonso didn’t lose the tittle yesterday, that he made too many mistakes throught the year to deserve it. The fact is that all the tittle contenders made errors and their luck has been compensated throught the season.

    BUT there was a crucial race that no one is mentioning: VALENCIA – no driver erros there but a unsportive manouver by Ham and an intentionaly delayed penalty decission from Mr Whiting has resulted in (at least) 15 points less for Alono at the end. Even taking off the 7 points in Hockeheim, Fernando Alonso would be World Champion today!

  10. B-Movie about bad sportsmanship and BIG ego staring Fernando Alonso as himself:

  11. “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

  12. 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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