15/11/2011

Abu Dhabi GP, Yas Marina - Lights on, action begin

Abu Dhabi GP is one of the most spectacular events on the calendar, yes the venue is world class with lights on and that Yas Marina hotel looks majestic. Of course the track is not among the best because of not many overtaking opportunities and slow corners. Lewis Hamilton was back on song with a stylish victory in the race after 2011 champion Vettel had his first DNF of the season. Alonso came second after yet another superb drive in a struggling Ferrari and Button rounded up in P3.

Here is the detailed review of the whole weekend:

FP1:

The motorsport was back with Abu Dhabi GP post the Indian GP weekend. All the teams were ready for the new challenge at a beautiful circuit and the only twilight race of the calendar. The session went quite smooth for all the teams, there were few slides here and there. Button topped the time-sheets with Webber & Hamilton behind. Force India continued with their strong performance as Sutil finished at P7 & Di Resta at P9, a good & healthy start to the weekend. There was no Karthikeyan & Chandhok for FP1 this weekend as it's coming towards the end of the season.

FP2:

The second session was the one to look for as the sunlight started to fade out and the flood lights take their shape. We all know cars under lights, looks awesome. There is a challenge for the drivers here as its a bit tough for drivers to adjust from natural lights to artificial ones but professionals adjust to all the situation pretty quickly. The session went smoothly apart from Vettel sliding at T1 & hitting the barriers though he managed to come in and get out again towards the end. Also, in the same corner Alonso too hit the barrier but his session ended straightaway. Hamilton ended as P1 with Button at P2 & Alonso at P3. Force India continued with their upward performance with Sutil ending at P8 & Di Resta at P9.

FP3:

After collecting all the valuable data with the last days running, the teams main aim is to get the car ready for the qualifying session. The top time changed 17 times as rubber went down and drivers got some quick times. In the end it was all McLaren at Yas Marina as Hamilton continued his new found good form and ended in P1 with Vettel & Webber behind him. With yet another great run, Force India’s Sutil ended at P8 & Di Resta at P9. There were not many incidents in this session as well.

With the practice timings, the battle for top was quite clear between McLaren & Red Bull as Ferrari struggled throughout the sessions. As for midfield behind Mercedes, Force India were clearly the fifth best team and I was all the more expecting both the cars in top 10 in qualifying.

Qualifying:
Q1:

As I was watching the qualifying session on TV, hearing those sounds/noise of cars again was too good. Yes, it is not the same on TV but still I was loving it. Coming to action, as we all know the scenario the top 17 cars will make it to Q2 and rest will be out. It was pretty clear that the new teams won’t make it and it happened, though all were comfortably inside the 107% time of 1:46.766. The 7th driver out was Barrichello as the team couldn’t repair the car on time which meant he didn’t run a single lap and was starting from the back. Hamilton on song finished at the top in the session, as both the Force Indias made it safely through the next round.

Q2:

The flood lights started to take its full effect as Q2 began for drivers to get into the top 10 shootout. The top 4 teams looked set for Q3 but the main fight was between the Force Indias, Suabers, Lotus Reanults & the Toro Rosso guys. The pace was set by Hamilton again with Vettel coming close but not close enough. The session was red  flagged for a brief period of time due to a damaged bollard. By the end as per my expectation both the Force Indias made it through to Q3 with a strong times by both the drivers yet again separated by tenths of seconds. Both the Lotus Renaults didn’t make the cut along with the two Saubers & STRs and one Williams.

Q3:

The final session began with all the top 3 teams venturing out to fight out for pole position. Both Force Indias & Mercedes remained in the garage. The 2 way battle for pole was quite evident but when Hamilton set a somewhat a quickest time which was a bit hard to beat, there came the 2011 world champion with yet another superb lap to beat Hamilton to take the 14th pole of the season equalling Nigel Mansell's record of 14 poles in a season. Force India did come out but only Sutil set a timed lap qualifying at P9 while Di Resta by default ended at P10.

It always amazes me as to how Vettel gets those extra seconds to beat his rivals. He has got one more opportunity now to beat Mansell’s record & set a new record of 15 poles. As for Force, yet another brilliant qualifying performance, they beat Lotus Renault (P5 in CC) and there direct competitors. A good strategy and some gritty driving will help them get closer to sealing the P6 in CC and a double point finish as I was expecting them to. Also, an interesting stat both Force India's drivesr are tied at 9-9 from 18 races in qualifying, that’s how close it has been.

Raceday:

Light was fading at Abu Dhabi as the world was anxiously waiting for the only twilight race to start. Even though the championship is done & dusted, the motivation in the drivers for grid position was immense and all wanted to score points & do well. The organisers had already announced that it was a sold out event. 

Coming to the action, Vettel had a great start until Turn 2 where he skidded as his rear tyre blew off (the team think that the floor of the car was running too close to the ground and pushed up against the tyre while coming off the curve causing an instant deflation however they are not yet 100% sure), he was limping as he made it to the pits to know that he has to retire. This was his first DNF since Korea 2010. Hamilton took charge with Alonso behind him, with Button & Webber fighting for P3. Both Force India’s made decent start as they gained one position each with Vettel’s DNF.

There were two DRS zones to assist for overtaking as the circuit wasn’t known for overtaking at all. Buemi & Di Resta made full use of it as they battled out for P9 position using their DRS overtaking each other in the successive zones. The race went fairly smoothly with no big incidents but the biggies had to make their way out of the back-markers (most of them being the midfielders, themselves battling out for positions). A big jolt came to Button as his KERS wasn’t working midway in the race but still he kept on & took full advantage of Webber’s pit stop gamble. Ahead Alonso was trying all his might to catch Hamilton, but his Ferrari was just not just there to challenge the McLaren.

As for Force India, Sutil opted for 2 stop whereas Di Resta hung on to 1 stop. Sutil in his middle stint got ahead of Schumi and stayed ahead until he pitted and thereby remained P8 throughout the race. Perhaps a little more push would have got him ahead of Schumi but that Mercedes had a better pace than Force India. As for Di Resta, he had a big battle with Buemi at the started but gained the place as Buemi retired. His strategy wasn’t ideal but the pace and a fantastic limit driving helped him earn two points. Towards the end Kobayashi was charging in but the gap was enough to keep away. But this double point finish, helped the team almost seal the P6 position in CC, another great season for the team.

Hamilton took the winners honours, victory must have been sweet after some tough races he had. Alonso ended at P2, another gritty drive from him in that Ferrari. He now has trophies from all the circuits he has raced on apart from Austria. Button ended at P3, another excellent drive from him, more so after he suffered KERS problems. At the back of the field it was a good driving from Barrichello as he made 12 places to end at P12 after starting from last position. Now we move on to the final race of the season, its hard to believe that the last race is here already. Some facts to watch out for before I end, Sutil needs just one point to finish at P10 in DC and 3 points (provided Petrov doesn’t score) to finish at P9 and if he does it will be his career best finish. Force India is 15 points away from P5 Lotus Renaults, if they get another higher double point finish provided Renaults don’t score then they will get the P5 or else they are pretty safe at P6. Lots to play for, I will be back for my last weekend blog of the season from Brazil.

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