Alonso can get payback for 2010 in Abu Dhabi

2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix pre-race analysis

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Yas Marina, 2012Fernando Alonso has a major opportunity to overhaul Sebastian Vettel’s 13-point championship lead in a single race in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Vettel will start the race from the pit lane after being penalised for having insufficient fuel available for a sample following qualifying.

Two years ago Vettel snatched the championship from Alonso at this very track. Now Alonso has a chance to claim payback and stake his claim on the 2012 crown.

The start

Vettel’s demise means there are now four different cars in the top four places on the grid: McLaren, Red Bull, Williams and Lotus. The highest Ferrari, that of Alonso, is only sixth, and his start will be critical to how his race develops.

The run to the first corner is short at just 300m and the pole sitter has never lost the lead between the grid and the first corner. Even so Lewis Hamilton, who started from pole here in 2009, is anxious about making a clean getaway:

“At the start, it?s down to the team to make sure the clutch performs perfectly because the getaway will be incredibly important. Our race pace is very strong, but so is Red Bull’s ?ǣ and staying ahead will be tough, particularly with the double DRS zones.”

The only good news for Vettel is he won’t have to go through turn two on the first lap, which was where his race went wrong last year. As the field scream through the first two corners he will negotiate Abu Dhabi’s unusual underground pit exit and then go sprinting after them.

Strategy

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Yas Marina, 2012How Vettel’s race unfolds from there will be shaped to a large degree by how well-equipped the Red Bull RB8 is for overtaking. As we’ve seen in recent races the car is conceived around taking pole position and pulling away from the field. Straight-line speed isn’t its strong point (see below).

This was particularly clear in Belgium, where Vettel did a superb job to climb from 12th at the end of lap one to finish second. He struggled to pass cars in the DRS zone, but was able to use the RB8’s superior downforce to close on cars through the high-speed Blanchimont and make passes at the chicane.

Though he should have little difficulty picking off the stragglers in the DRS zone, Vettel may have to get creative once he finds himself in the midfield. Merely getting into the lower reaches of the points may prove a challenge.

As his car has been taken out of parc ferme and will start from the pits the team may be able to make some set-up changes to help him. But they’re unlikely to be able to radically transform the car’s top speed.

One factor that would considerably aid Vettel’s progress is a safety car deployment. That would close the field up and bring him closer to the cars in front. However in the past three races here it’s only come out once.

As the tyre selection for this race is again on the conservative side we are likely to see drivers making single stops for tyres during the race. This may give Vettel a strategic opportunity to gain places using an aggressive two-stop strategy.

There wasn’t much to separate the front-runners on their race fuel stints during second practice. However Raikkonen (speaking before Vettel’s penalty) believes his car is quick enough to take on those in front of him: “The car hasn?t felt fantastic all weekend but we decided we weren?t going to change the car?s set-up from where it was for the last race.

“It was the right choice because in the end the circuit came to us in qualifying where the car was the best it has been so far here. We?ll give tomorrow our best shot; Let?s see if we can make a good start to get right behind the Red Bulls, and then we?ll see what happens after that.”

Qualifying times in full

Driver Car Q1 Q2 (vs Q1) Q3 (vs Q2)
1 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1’41.497 1’40.901 (-0.596) 1’40.630 (-0.271)
2 Mark Webber Red Bull 1’41.933 1’41.277 (-0.656) 1’40.978 (-0.299)
3 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1’42.160 1’41.511 (-0.649) 1’41.073 (-0.438)
4 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1’41.981 1’41.907 (-0.074) 1’41.226 (-0.681)
5 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1’42.222 1’41.532 (-0.690) 1’41.260 (-0.272)
6 Jenson Button McLaren 1’42.342 1’41.873 (-0.469) 1’41.290 (-0.583)
7 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1’41.939 1’41.514 (-0.425) 1’41.582 (+0.068)
8 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’41.926 1’41.698 (-0.228) 1’41.603 (-0.095)
9 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1’41.974 1’41.846 (-0.128) 1’41.723 (-0.123)
10 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1’42.046 1’41.620 (-0.426) 1’41.778 (+0.158)
11 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1’42.579 1’42.019 (-0.560)
12 Sergio Perez Sauber 1’42.624 1’42.084 (-0.540)
13 Paul di Resta Force India 1’42.572 1’42.218 (-0.354)
14 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1’42.735 1’42.289 (-0.446)
15 Bruno Senna Williams 1’43.298 1’42.330 (-0.968)
16 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1’43.582 1’42.606 (-0.976)
17 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1’43.280 1’42.765 (-0.515)
18 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1’44.058
19 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1’44.956
20 Charles Pic Marussia 1’45.089
21 Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1’45.151
22 Timo Glock Marussia 1’45.426
23 Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1’45.766
24 Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1’46.382

Vettel’s penalty is a lifeline for Alonso. His championship chances initially suffered a setback in qualifying as he could only manage seventh. Technical director Pat Fry admitted that despite breaking the curfew twice and bringing a stack of new parts the team had not found the gains they needed:

“We had brought various updates here, some only fitted to Fernando?s car, because we do not yet have enough of them for both. Unfortunately, the whole package did not work the way we had expected before coming here, at least relative to the progress that the other teams have made.

“Both Felipe and Fernando did the maximum they could: unfortunately they had already reached the limit in Q2, which explains why it?s not by chance that Fernando did practically the same time three times in a row, while the others raised the bar in Q3.”

Sector times

Driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton 17.627 (1) 42.620 (1) 40.349 (1)
Mark Webber 17.760 (7) 42.681 (2) 40.501 (2)
Sebastian Vettel 17.756 (6) 42.691 (3) 40.543 (3)
Pastor Maldonado 17.867 (10) 42.701 (4) 40.658 (5)
Kimi Raikkonen 17.751 (5) 42.833 (8) 40.587 (4)
Jenson Button 17.711 (2) 42.715 (5) 40.864 (7)
Fernando Alonso 17.719 (3) 42.844 (9) 40.883 (8)
Nico Rosberg 17.940 (14) 42.724 (6) 40.939 (10)
Felipe Massa 17.821 (8) 42.761 (7) 40.998 (12)
Romain Grosjean 17.730 (4) 42.979 (11) 40.781 (6)
Nico Hulkenberg 17.904 (11) 42.960 (10) 41.155 (13)
Sergio Perez 17.823 (9) 43.137 (16) 40.906 (9)
Paul di Resta 17.937 (13) 43.023 (13) 41.182 (14)
Michael Schumacher 18.055 (16) 42.989 (12) 41.183 (15)
Bruno Senna 17.918 (12) 43.213 (17) 40.976 (11)
Kamui Kobayashi 17.977 (15) 43.093 (15) 41.373 (16)
Daniel Ricciardo 18.141 (17) 43.076 (14) 41.548 (17)
Jean-Eric Vergne 18.177 (18) 43.314 (18) 42.167 (18)
Heikki Kovalainen 18.351 (21) 43.831 (19) 42.694 (20)
Charles Pic 18.283 (19) 44.175 (23) 42.573 (19)
Vitaly Petrov 18.367 (22) 43.897 (20) 42.887 (21)
Timo Glock 18.305 (20) 44.165 (22) 42.930 (22)
Pedro de la Rosa 18.416 (23) 44.081 (21) 43.124 (23)
Narain Karthikeyan 18.604 (24) 44.309 (24) 43.230 (24)

Jenson Button was surprised at his gap to Hamilton, most of which came in the last sector, where Hamilton has tended to be strong:

“I shouldn?t really be starting this far back,” Button admitted. “All weekend, I?ve been pretty happy with the car, but, for some reason, we just couldn?t find the pace in qualifying ?ǣ and we don?t know why.

“Obviously, our car is very quick around here ?ǣ Lewis put it on pole by quite a margin ?ǣ so there?s some more time to find.”

Speed trap

Pos Driver Car Speed (kph/mph) Gap
1 Pastor Maldonado Williams 325.8 (202.4)
2 Bruno Senna Williams 323.0 (200.7) -2.8
3 Sergio Perez Sauber 322.2 (200.2) -3.6
4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 320.0 (198.8) -5.8
5 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 319.9 (198.8) -5.9
6 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 319.8 (198.7) -6.0
7 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 319.7 (198.7) -6.1
8 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 319.4 (198.5) -6.4
9 Narain Karthikeyan HRT 317.3 (197.2) -8.5
10 Pedro de la Rosa HRT 317.3 (197.2) -8.5
11 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 316.9 (196.9) -8.9
12 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 316.6 (196.7) -9.2
13 Charles Pic Marussia 316.3 (196.5) -9.5
14 Timo Glock Marussia 316.3 (196.5) -9.5
15 Romain Grosjean Lotus 314.8 (195.6) -11.0
16 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 314.5 (195.4) -11.3
17 Paul di Resta Force India 313.8 (195.0) -12.0
18 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 313.7 (194.9) -12.1
19 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 313.7 (194.9) -12.1
20 Jenson Button McLaren 313.5 (194.8) -12.3
21 Vitaly Petrov Caterham 311.8 (193.7) -14.0
22 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 311.7 (193.7) -14.1
23 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 311.4 (193.5) -14.4
24 Mark Webber Red Bull 311.2 (193.4) -14.6

Alonso’s strong straight-line speed was a major factor of his strong race in India.

But if anyone should feel confident about making passes tomorrow it’s Pastor Maldonado, who was comfortably the quickest in a straight line during qualifying.

Abu Dhabi has two DRS zones on consecutive straights, each with their own activation point. This may make it possible for a driver who is overtaken in the first DRS zone to re-pass in the second, as we saw last year.

Over to you

Can Alonso make it onto the podium? Where will Vettel finish after starting from the pit lane? And who will be leading the world championship in 24 hours’ time?

Share your views on the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in the comments.

2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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Images ?? Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo, Red Bull/Getty images

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91 comments on Alonso can get payback for 2010 in Abu Dhabi

  1. Nick Jarvis (@nickj95gb) said on 3rd November 2012, 22:00

    starting from the pitlane? thought it was from the back of the grid?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 3rd November 2012, 22:07

      @nickj95gb See the link on that text in the second paragraph for an explanation.

    • Dion (@infinitygc) said on 3rd November 2012, 22:09

      They will probably change gear ratios and some of the rest of the setup on the car, so that’s why.

    • Nick Jarvis (@nickj95gb) said on 3rd November 2012, 22:11

      got it, thanks. didn’t see that in the first article first time round.

      • Kingshark (@kingshark) said on 3rd November 2012, 22:18

        Starting from the pit lane is worse IMO. If Vettel started under normal circumstances from the back of the grid he at least has a chance to make up a few positions right away. When starting from the pit lane they wont release him until the cars have completed sector 1. :P

        • infy (@infy) said on 3rd November 2012, 22:51

          Well he can now change from a qualifying setup to a race setup. He could very well be the fastest tomorrow in the race, thanks to the changes.

          • Mike (@mike) said on 4th November 2012, 2:57

            Not sure if they can make drastic enough changes to the car to seriously alter it. However, anything helps at this point.

        • foleyger (@foleyger) said on 3rd November 2012, 22:55

          they don’t release him till all the cars have gone past him which is not the same as sector 1. sector 1 is around 19 seconds, they never wait that long to have a green light in the pit lane

        • BasCB (@bascb) said on 4th November 2012, 10:24

          I saw some tweets from journalists who asked Whiting how that will be handled. Apparently Whiting will wait until all cars get through turn 1 and are out of his sight before turning the light green. All that time Vettel will be waiting at the end of the pitlane right behind the HRT pitbox.

          On the other hand, Vettel will avoid any problems in the first couple of corners (remember the crashes at the hairpin last year?), have a bit of clean air in front and will likely still get past the back 4 in the first lap, not sure about Petrov though (Alonso might thank him this time!) and he will hope he won’t have to do them in the slower sector. The STR cars will probably just move aside, but then he will quickly run up to the backs of the Senna, Saubers, FI group, and Schumi where he will lose a lot of time, if he gets past at all without waiting for their pitstops. All in all, avoiding the chance to change setup and avoid fírst corner problems is fully worth catching them a bit later.

  2. Broom (@brum55) said on 3rd November 2012, 22:04

    I do hope Vettel gets stuck behind Petrov for a good 40-50 laps

  3. Stretch (@stretch) said on 3rd November 2012, 22:07

    What great news to wake up to! Alonso gonna need all the points he can get going into COTA and especially Interlagos.

    • Yoshi said on 4th November 2012, 2:02

      Best f1 news I’ve read for months…quoted SV “that’s what I’m talking about!” anyhow just glad to wake up and read the f1 news without any finger pics up your face for once in the headline!. FA had 2 bad luck being taken out of 2 races, it only fair that luck goes the other way. if luck also play a part of the Championship then that’s it.

  4. xjr15jaaag (@xjr15jaaag) said on 3rd November 2012, 22:09

    As he’s starting from the pitlane, can RBR change the gear ratios and aerofoil angles to aid overtaking?

  5. Dion (@infinitygc) said on 3rd November 2012, 22:10

    Pastor Maldonado for winning Abu Dhabi 2012 Grand Prix!

  6. Dave (@dworsley) said on 3rd November 2012, 22:12

    Alonso has an opportunity, but does he have the race pace?

  7. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 3rd November 2012, 22:15

    Magnificent picture that one!

  8. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 3rd November 2012, 22:21

    As the tyre selection for this race is again on the conservative side we are likely to see drivers making single stops for tyres during the race.

    Pirelli makes huge gambles at the start of the year in terms of tyre selection, but then they go all “Bridgestone”. They surely doesn’t want to be the one to blame if the end of the champion goes “radical” because of the weird tyres…

  9. HoHum (@hohum) said on 3rd November 2012, 22:25

    Seems Vettel was slower than Webber right through the session, does this mean he is running out of strong engines ? Fits my oft stated theory that Vettel gets the “full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes” strategy while Webber gets the “steady as she goes” strategy. Hopefully the team will be giving Webber every thing they can to get a win and not using him as a roadblock to help Seb.

  10. Hopefully the set-up changes will aid Vettel’s efforts significantly. Easier DRS passes combined with a good strategy by perhaps starting on he hards could serve Vettel well tomorrow.

    • HoHum (@hohum) said on 3rd November 2012, 23:35

      @vettel1, As others have pointed out, it is not that easy, if they reduce “wing” the car will have less grip not only making it slower around bends but also hastening tyre degradation which will already be higher than anticipated due to running in turbulence behind other cars.

      • raymondu999 (@raymondu999) said on 4th November 2012, 2:23

        @hohum that’s not strictly true to be honest. With the characteristics of the old Bridgestones – you could definitely keep them alive, for longer – with more downforce. But with these Pirellis it’s a different story.

        • HoHum (@hohum) said on 4th November 2012, 2:33

          @raymondu999, I think you have it back to front, clearly, all else being equal, with the Pirellis the more you slip the faster the tyres wear, more downforce equals less slip, it is how SV has gone faster longer on tyres.

          • raymondu999 (@raymondu999) said on 4th November 2012, 2:39

            @hohum More downforce is less slip. No arguments there. Slip causes wear, but NOT degradation (important distinction)

            But the Pirellis have, since early 2011, shown a remarkable resistance to wear. I spoke to Paul Hembery a while ago about this very question and he confirmed that indeed the tyres are more degradation limited rather than wear limited.

            Hence why tracks that were traditionally tyre-killers for the Bridgestones in terms of heavy traction, such as Monaco, Singapore, Canada – all have seen 1 stoppers (2 in the case of Singapore) comfortably.

            Instead, those with high energy corners have become the tyre killers.

            If you were to look back at how races panned out on Bridgestones, and compared them to how they panned out on Pirellis – you’ll see that the ones with faster, more sweeping corners have proved more trouble for the Pirellis, relative to the slower corner tracks.

          • BasCB (@bascb) said on 4th November 2012, 10:28

            Thanks guys @hohum and @raymondu999 for the interesting discussion here!

    • raymondu999 (@raymondu999) said on 4th November 2012, 2:22

      @vettel1 starting on the hards is never a good idea to be honest. Starting on the hards guarantees you have to make places via overtaking

      • BasCB (@bascb) said on 4th November 2012, 10:30

        Especially when the the softs are likely to get them to over half distance here. The only thing it might enable is to wait for the stops of the mid field to gain places when they think Vettel won’t be able to pass much on track anyway. And then save the best set of softs for a shorter stint in the end where he can try and gain on people having older mediums. But since those will be fast cars, and the tyres will be durable (and both the McLarens and the Lotus cars were very good on their mediums) there’s not that much chance it would pay off IMO.

  11. Njack (@njack) said on 3rd November 2012, 22:47

    Pastor 325.8, Lewis 313.7 and Mark 311.2 mph top speed. It’s going to be a very interesting first lap between the top 3 assuming they all start well off the grid.

    Hopefully the set-up changes will aid Vettel’s efforts significantly. Easier DRS passes combined with a good strategy by perhaps starting on he hards could serve Vettel well tomorrow.

    Mark recovered from 17 seconds down from the tailenders at the end of the of the safety car in Suzuka to finish 9th, so Sebastian should be able to pick up a 7th or 8th place if his strategy works out perfectly and he doesn’t get stuck behind anyone for several laps.

    However the dual DRS zone worked against Mark last year in his battle with Jenson, so I wouldn’t be suprised to see Sebastian overtake in the first DRS zone only to be repassed in the second.

  12. foleyger (@foleyger) said on 3rd November 2012, 22:59

    I say Alonso 4th or 5th and Vettel 7th or 8th

  13. Estesark (@estesark) said on 3rd November 2012, 23:11

    I am now looking forward to tomorrow’s race more than I have for any this year. Regardless of whether or not there is much action on the track, it’s going to be super tense. Vettel and Alonso will be battling it out without actually racing each other. I’m sure both will be constantly updated with the other’s progress. Meanwhile, there are all sorts of wildcards to add spice: Hamilton looks to have the pace to win, but Webber is alongside him in the fastest car (in general, not just at this circuit), Maldonado is one place behind with the best top speed and the opportunity to pull some DRS passes, Räikkönen is alongside him and should have the pace to at least hold off the Ferraris, or perhaps even move forward himself. Not to mention that we’re going to see whether Vettel really does lack the ability fight his way through the field, as so many people say he does. Personally, I think he’s a much better racer than people give him credit for, and I fully expect to see him picking up a point or two tomorrow. I imagine he’s going to treat the race like it was the last one of the season, and do everything in his power to make sure Alonso doesn’t leave the weekend with a points lead. Should make for an enthralling race!

    • KeeleyObsessed (@keeleyobsessed) said on 3rd November 2012, 23:30

      It makes sense.. Vettel would want every advantage he can get going into the final 2 races.. Especially as 1 of them is a completely untested venue, and Interlagos has been known to spring a few championship surprises over the years.. Really hope it goes down to the wire in Interlagos like 07/08, would be entirely fitting for a championship like this to go the whole distance…

    • Jeanrien (@jeanrien) said on 4th November 2012, 10:22

      @estesark Nice summary of what we can expect … I would add a mention to Button as McLaren has been super strong on medium tyre, would be nice to see a great come back at the end of the race from him. With all those elements it can’t be a boring race ^^ (even if I never really find any race boring, let’s say procession are less exciting)

      For the champ lead, Vettel has 13 points lead, Alonso should finish on the podium to get ahead (Vettel not scoring any point) but that alone, I don’t see it happening. But why not Alonso finishing 4th or 5th and closing …

  14. mantresx said on 3rd November 2012, 23:39

    I wonder if Helmut Marko will have a chat with the Toro Rosso boys to let Vettel right trough (I’m guessing yes)

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