Vettel aims for rare feat of five-in-a-row in Abu Dhabi

2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix preview

Start, Yas Marina, 2011“I?m sure for the people watching from the hotel it must look pretty hardcore,” says Heikki Kovalainen of the last sector at Abu Dhabi, “but from inside the car it?s not too much of a challenge”.

A lap of Abu Dhabi is defined by two things – the slow final sector of the lap, and two massive straights leading into heavy braking zones. It is every millimetre the model of a modern F1 track, with vast hectares of flat run-off, a drearily long lap and too many chicanes.

Had the 2010 championship situation not made that race a nail-biter there would be nothing memorable about any of the first three Abu Dhabi Grands Prix.

But there is cause for optimism. Valencia had never seen a great F1 race until this year. Soft tyre compounds and a fortuitously-timed safety car period created a race which F1 Fanatic readers judged the best of the year so far. Perhaps we’ll get lucky again this weekend.

Abu Dhabi’s twilight race means the teams face unusual variations in track temperature during the weekend. The first and third practice sessions are held earlier in the day and in hotter temperatures than qualifying and the race.

Yas Marina circuit information

Lap length 5.554km (3.451 miles)
Distance 55 laps (305.4km/189.7 miles)
Lap record* 1’40.279 (Sebastian Vettel, 2009)
Fastest lap 1’38.434 (Lewis Hamilton, 2011)
Tyres Soft and Medium

*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix

Yas Marina track data in full

This is another venue where the ‘evolution’ of the track surface is important. With no GP2 support races this year, the track may not clean up as quickly as before, although F1 is sharing the event with Australian V8 Supercars.

One welcome change to the track for 2012 is the addition of higher kerbs to discourage corner-cutting. These were used at turns eight and nine last year (the chicane between the two longest straights) and have been added at turns five, six, twelve to fourteen, eighteen and nineteen.

Last year Pirelli supplied the medium and super-soft tyres but for this weekend’s Grand Prix the super-soft has been replaced with the soft. Sauber’s head of track engineering Giampaolo Dall?Ara reckons this “might be a little bit on the conservative side”.

As we saw in India, the swing towards less challenging rubber has reduced the variety we saw at the front of the field earlier this year. Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari lined up one after the other on the grid.

The way it’s going, this season which began with seven different winners in as many races may see just one driver win the final seven rounds.

The teams are being seriously stretched in the final phase of the season. This will be their fourth Grand Prix in five weeks and after one weekend off another back-to-back pair of races will follow. For Red Bull, McLaren, Lotus, Sauber, Toro Rosso and Caterham there is even less respite, as they will remain in Abu Dhabi for next week’s Young Drivers’ Test.

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix team-by-team preview

Red Bull

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Buddh International Circuit, 2012Sebastian Vettel is edging ever closer to a third world championship but Fernando Alonso won’t let him have it easily. Vettel has now amassed five wins to Alonso’s three yet is just 13 points ahead of him in the championship.

Leaving Abu Dhabi with a lead of more than 25 points – the value of a win – would be a major psychological boost. But as impressive as Red Bull’s performance is at the moment, nothing can be taken for granted.

Last year’s race provides proof of that. Vettel skidded off with a puncture on the first lap, ending his hopes of victory.

Should Vettel win this weekend, he will become only the seventh driver in F1 history to string together five consecutive wins. It’s a reminder that sustaining this kind of success is extremely difficult. And several of those who did so before arguably had greater car performance advantages than Vettel.

McLaren

McLaren have still not got their reliability problems sorted, particularly in the gearbox department, which caused trouble for both drivers during the Indian Grand Prix weekend.

But how the MP4-27s perform this weekend could have significant consequences for the championship. Will they act as a buffer between Ferrari and Red Bull, as in India? Or could they put Vettel under pressure for pole position and potentially give Alonso something to work with on race day?

Hamilton is particularly handy around here – he and Vettel are the only drivers to have won or set pole position at the previous three Abu Dhabi Grands Prix.

Ferrari

Vitaly Petrov, Fernando Alonso, Abu Dhabi, 2010Yas Marina can’t be Alonso’s favourite circuit, haunted by memories of how he lost the world championship to Vettel two years ago. It would be fitting if his title hopes were reignited here.

Alonso had an excellent race at Yas Marina last year, coming close to snatching victory off Hamilton.

India showed that if he can qualify higher up the grid he might have the race pace to trouble Vettel. But Ferrari might have to keep an eye on Lotus, who believe they could have qualified better in India and have an update for the E20 this weekend.

Mercedes

Mercedes are having a truly rotten end to the season with their streak of point-less races now stretching to three. It’s hard to believe this is the same car which was in contention for pole positions and victories earlier this year.

Their downturn in form appears to have coincided with their attempts to add a Coanda exhaust to their car following the Mugello test. Other teams have found this a considerable improvement but it could be the source of Mercedes’ problems

On top of that tyre temperatures seem to be a persistent concern for the team. You only have to spend a few minutes listening to the team radio to hear one of their drivers being advised about the state of their rubber. There will be no respite from that in the heat of Abu Dhabi, so points could be a challenge once again.

Lotus

Lotus’s exhaust tweak, designed to recover some of the straight-line speed lost since its Coanda exhaust update, can’t come soon enough. Both drivers were clearly hamstrung by a lack of straight-line speed in India.

If it all works as planned – and Lotus’s upgrades have not always done so this year – they may have a stronger weekend here. But this team also appears to be suffering from Pirelli’s tendency to pick more conservative tyres in the latter part of the season.

Force India

Paul di Resta, Force India, Buddh International Circuit, 2012Tough times for Paul di Resta. His team mate is moving on at the end of the season and McLaren passed him over for Sergio Perez.

Nico Hulkenberg has been claiming the lion’s share of the points of late. Di Resta complained of a problem with excess drag on his car in India. “That is as much as you’re going to get out of me in a race,” he said after crossing the finishing line. “As much as you’re going to get – the whole race.”

He’s hopeful the team will make progress this weekend: “We?ve seen some things in the data so hopefully we can get on top of them and back up to speed right from the start of practice on Friday.”

Sauber

Sauber have been presented the opportunity they were looking for to take fifth in the constructors’ championship off Mercedes. But they haven’t capitalised on it as well as they should, with Kobayashi’s 15 points for third in Japan their only score during Mercedes three-race stint out of the points.

The team are in the awkward position of ending the season with two drivers who may not be racing for them next year. Sergio Perez is McLaren-bound, Nico Hulkenberg is joining the team and there are rumours Kamui Kobayashi needs to bring a sponsor on board to hold onto his seat.

Toro Rosso

Daniel Ricciardo had a good run in last year’s race, beating HRT team mate Vitantonio Liuzzi.

But this will also be an important race for Jean-Eric Vergne, who has plenty of F1 experience at this track from testing there in 2010 and 2011, and has an opportunity to show what he can do.

Williams

Bruno Senna had a good race in India, though once gain his qualifying performance let him down. However it indicated that Williams understand their recent loss of form.

“We have had a balance inconsistency in the car over the last few races and we managed to isolate the cause in India and fix the issue,” explained chief operations director Mark Gillan.

Caterham

Vitaly Petrov, Caterham, Buddh International Circuit, 2012Vitaly Petrov has made gains on Heikki Kovalainen since Tim Wright became his race engineer at the Singapore Grand Prix. Petrov has out-qualified his team mate three to one since then.

But the team’s focus is on trying to claw back tenth in the constructors’ championship for the team. Abu Dhabi’s typically low attrition rate is not likely to help their cause.

Giedo van der Garde will drive Petrov’s car in first practice ahead of his longer spell at the wheel in next week’s test.

HRT

HRT’s persistent braking problems must have their drivers quite worried. Narain Karthikeyan had high-speed failures in Canada and Korea. Pedro de la Rosa suffered one in India too.

Abu Dhabi is another track where the brakes get a lot of punishment, so HRT have to get to the bottom of this. Team principal Luis Perez-Sala admitted they were ‘running to the limit from the start’ in India.

Ma Qing Hua will get his third run in the car during Friday practice in place of Karthikeyan.

Marussia

Max Chilton will make his debut in an official F1 session this weekend as he takes over Charles Pic’s car for the first practice session.

2012 driver form

Q avg R avg R best R worst Classified Form guide
Sebastian Vettel 4.24 4.56 1 22 16/17 Form guide
Mark Webber 6.41 6.29 1 20 17/17 Form guide
Jenson Button 6.47 7.6 1 18 15/17 Form guide
Lewis Hamilton 4.82 5.64 1 19 14/17 Form guide
Fernando Alonso 6 3.47 1 9 15/17 Form guide
Felipe Massa 10.18 8.63 2 16 16/17 Form guide
Michael Schumacher 9.53 9.6 3 22 10/17 Form guide
Nico Rosberg 9.12 8.07 1 15 15/17 Form guide
Kimi Raikkonen 7.82 5.41 2 14 17/17 Form guide
Romain Grosjean 7 7.64 2 19 11/16 Form guide
Paul di Resta 11.41 9.69 4 14 16/17 Form guide
Nico Hulkenberg 12.18 10.19 4 21 16/17 Form guide
Kamui Kobayashi 11 9.85 3 18 13/17 Form guide
Sergio Perez 12.12 8.17 2 14 12/17 Form guide
Daniel Ricciardo 14.41 12.13 9 17 16/17 Form guide
Jean-Eric Vergne 16.76 12.57 8 16 14/17 Form guide
Pastor Maldonado 11.12 12.23 1 19 13/17 Form guide
Bruno Senna 14.71 12.5 6 22 16/17 Form guide
Heikki Kovalainen 18.24 16.75 13 23 16/17 Form guide
Vitaly Petrov 18.82 16.57 13 19 14/17 Form guide
Pedro de la Rosa 21.69 19.33 17 22 12/16 Form guide
Narain Karthikeyan 23.13 20.2 15 23 10/16 Form guide
Timo Glock 20.44 17.33 12 22 15/16 Form guide
Charles Pic 21.59 18.08 15 20 13/17 Form guide
Jerome D’Ambrosio 15 13 13 13 1/1 Form guide

Are you going to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix?

Bruno Senna, Renault, Abu Dhabi, 2011If you’re heading to Yas Marina for this weekend’s race, we want to hear from you.

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Who do you think will be the team to beat in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix? Have your say below.

And don’t forget to enter your predictions for this weekend’s race. You can edit your predictions until the start of qualifying:

2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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Images ?? Yas Marina Circuit/LAT, Red Bull/Getty images, Renault/LAT, Sahara Force India F1 Team, Caterham/LAT, Renault/LAT

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55 comments on Vettel aims for rare feat of five-in-a-row in Abu Dhabi

  1. @keithcollantine – Alonso has won three times so far, not twice. It’s in the bit about Red Bull.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 31st October 2012, 15:41

      Corrected, thanks.

      • William Brierty said on 31st October 2012, 18:42

        Can you also cut the bit about Alonso nearly “snatching the victory off Hamilton”, because, let’s face it Hamilton had him covered. Hamilton spent the race at 99%, so saying that is a bit like saying Alonso nearly snatched the victory off Vettel in Valencia 2011; they were close on track but not in ultimate pace.

      • Younger Hamii (@younger-hamii) said on 1st November 2012, 9:37

        And this too…

        Last year Pirelli supplied the medium and super-soft tyres but for this weekend’s Grand Prix the super-soft has been replaced with the soft.

  2. raymondu999 (@raymondu999) said on 31st October 2012, 15:46

    Barring any force majeure, I really cannot see Vettel not winning this one. Add to that the two McLaren drivers who always go well here (Button is also quite good here – he has placed P3 on all 3 races) and I can see a McLaren 2-3.

    Mark Webber has never been able to maintain a good feel of the track surface at Abu Dhabi, and always ends up hurting his tyres more while being slower than Vettel – so I can see Alonso placing P4.

    The Lotus – we’ll have to see

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 1st November 2012, 9:53

      Exactly what we thought last year, right :-)

      I know, its unlikely, and I sersiously do not expect Lotus to improve that much with their tuned exhausts, nor Ferrari (Alonso) to finally nail their DRS to perfection to get ahead, nor do I think McLaren will pull a rabbit out of the hat and beat Vettel in this Red Bull. But lets wait and see.

  3. andae23 (@andae23) said on 31st October 2012, 15:47

    Keith, do you have prophetic powers? When I click the picture on the right, it says: “Start, Yas Marina, 2012″

  4. Alfie (@alfie) said on 31st October 2012, 16:27

    d’Ambrosio got a Marussia drive starting with Fridays..so did Pic (I think)
    A sign?

  5. I’m afraid I won’t be watching this one, even if it is live on BBC. Just have no desire to watch it

    • turbotoaster (@) said on 1st November 2012, 18:44

      Agreed. The false passing and Vettel’s fantastic car have ruined the second half of the championship.

  6. KaIIe (@kaiie) said on 31st October 2012, 16:55

    If McLaren continue their strong-ish form, I can see Vettel being challenged by Hamilton – for some reason both have done very well here in the past. This might be bad news for Alonso; if Vettel wins, there could be two or more cars between the championship contenders (Ham and Webo).

    I’m actually looking forward more to the V8 races than the GP itself – although V8′s previous visit to the track produced pretty dull racing.

    Hopefully the changed kerbs make the track a bit more challenging, but I can still see plenty of drivers straight-lining the chicanes at the end of the straights. Lock a wheel? No worries, just easy off the brakes and carry on…

    • Timothy Katz (@timothykatz) said on 31st October 2012, 18:16

      Are the V8′s using the full track this time? I think they used a shortened version with a linking part that cut out the far hairpin last time. Anyone?

      • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 31st October 2012, 18:19

        @timothykatz They did use the slightly-shortened version last time. I expect they’ll use the same configuration as F1 this time – it would be very odd to have races on different track configurations on the same weekend, and spectators who bought tickets for that particular hairpin would no doubt be a bit miffed!

        • Timothy Katz (@timothykatz) said on 31st October 2012, 19:59

          I should have checked the official site first, shouldn’t I? You’re right Keith, here it is chapter and verse from the V8 Supercars site

          It will also be the first time the V8 Supercars have raced on the full 5.5-kilometre Grand Prix length circuit after using a 4.7km version for the last two events.

          According to the official timetable http://file.yasmarinacircuit.com/uploads/download/F1_2012_SCHEDULE.pdf the V8′s have a two hour practice session (to clean the track up!) before F1 first practice on Friday. Then there are two V8 races or scrub-clean sessions on Saturday before F1 third practice (starting at at 14.00 local time) and then qualifying at 17.00 local time.

    • Baldry00 (@baldry00) said on 1st November 2012, 7:06

      Dull racing, the i think you will find the final laps of the race last year were better than any F1 finish this season. Also note, i think that F1 should use the short version that they use in the video, it would be more exciting, with that corkscrew esque downhill S curve.

  7. matt90 (@matt90) said on 31st October 2012, 17:22

    Had the 2010 championship situation not made that race a nail-biter there would be nothing memorable about any of the first three Abu Dhabi Grands Prix.

    It’s an awful circuit, but I disagree with this. Button and Webber duelling at the very end of the race in 2009 meant that the year didn’t end quite as dully as it could have on that circuit.

  8. TommyB (@tommyb89) said on 31st October 2012, 17:29

    “It’s a reminder that sustaining this kind of success is extremely difficult. And several of those who did so before arguably had greater car performance advantages than Vettel.”

    Thank you, Keith. Thank you.

  9. Tifoso1989 (@tifoso1989) said on 31st October 2012, 17:31

    Many expert said that India was less suited to Red Bull than Abu Dhabi ,& giving the circuits layout 2 long straights 80% of the lap on full throttle Red Bull will be so dominant in qualifying i’m not expecting anyone that can threat them,according to Auto Motor & Sport (i hope that Keith or anyone in the Forum can explain to us the article in english) their advantage is coming from the”TripleDRS” (Singapoor updates),when the wing is opened, it activates an air flow that integrates the functionality of the diffuser (my Goodness) & that they are the team that extract the maximum of their rear wing (Ferrari weakest component)
    this will make life very hard for Fernando
    Vettel is going to win this weekend unless something happened with his car Fernando is no quitter & never gives up but he can only hope for 2nd place at the best
    I really don’t hope that this weel’s gp will not “Korea Part 3″

    • They seem quick on most circuits now, we don’t really have a good indicator of what their true competitiveness on most circuits is since they were so dominant the last two years (Monza is probably the only track they simply aren’t competitive on usually). But yes there are many traction zones in which the Red Bull seems particularly strong.

  10. Eggry (@eggry) said on 31st October 2012, 17:42

    I hope whoever except Vettel got the pole then the race would be much exciting. Also we would able to see how RB8 performs behind others.

  11. AdrianMorse (@adrianmorse) said on 31st October 2012, 17:49

    Last year Pirelli supplied the medium and super-soft tyres

    I don’t remember this. I found this on Wikipedia:

    “Tyre supplier Pirelli brought its white-banded medium compound tyre as the harder “prime” tyre and the yellow-banded soft compound as the softer “option” compound, as opposed to the previous year where Bridgestone brought the red-banded super-soft compound as the option.”

  12. Pirelli changing the goal posts in the latter part of the season has completely changed the face of the title, and nearly ruined it.

    i understand why, but in fairness to all involved as a sport the tyre selections should be consistent.

  13. Lets just pray, from a championship point of view, that Vettel doesn’t get pole then maybe has a dodgy start and drops a place or 2! I can see Hamilton up there for another win and hopefully Alonso can pull off a stunning quali lap! I want to see a final race decider!

  14. ME4ME (@me4me) said on 31st October 2012, 22:21

    The long straights should suit Ferrari rather than Redbull. But hey, it was the same in Valencia and we all know what would have happened. Besides Vettel has always driven great in Abu Dhabi. Still not too sure about it though, im thinking Hamilton might win this one.

    • @me4me – it’s the traction zones that the Red Bull is so dominant in. The RB8 has immense drive out of the slow-speed corners and Abu Dhabi is a pretty stop-start (and if I’m honest fairly terrible) track.

    • raymondu999 (@raymondu999) said on 1st November 2012, 2:09

      @me4me How many times have people said that about Abu Dhabi and Red Bull though? And yet were it not for a tyre puncture in 2011 Vettel probably would have a clean sweep of Abu Dhabi victories.

      If anything, Sector 3 is quite worrying for Ferrari, with all the piff-paff chicanes

      • Kingshark (@kingshark) said on 1st November 2012, 2:55

        And yet were it not for a tyre puncture in 2011 Vettel probably would have a clean sweep of Abu Dhabi victories.

        You can’t make a conclusion on that. He easily could’ve finished third you know, like what happened in Japan only a few weeks before that.

        Hamilton’s Mclaren failed him too in 2009.

        In 2010 AND 2011, despite the fact that it’s commonly accepted that Red Bull had the quickest cars during both seasons by quite a margin, Mclaren were able to match RBR on both occasions at Yas Marina, and were IMO slightly ahead overall.

  15. Anthony French (@anthonyfrench) said on 31st October 2012, 22:52

    Strange premonition (even though he has a good record there as mentioned above) but I can see Button winning this one for some reason…just a feeling…

    • raymondu999 (@raymondu999) said on 1st November 2012, 2:07

      @anthonyfrench Nah. He has 3 P3s, but let’s be honest – they came about by stealth. If the guy in P1 and P2 drop out of the race by reliability or anything (touch wood) then he will win – but I don’t think he will beat them in normal conditions.

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