You could call it karma, universal balance or simply the law of what goes around, comes around but today Lewis Hamilton won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix for the first time, taking advantage of Sebastian Vettel’s misfortune. Two years ago Seb did the same to Lewis. The luck has evened itself out.
In 2009, the McLaren driver led the race when he began to experience braking problems. He ran wide a few times and finally had to retire to the pits, allowing Seb a clear run to the chequered flag. Today at Yas Marina it’s impossible to forecast if Vettel would have romped to victory without the first lap puncture than spun him off and ultimately put him out. He’d got a good start from pole and recent experience shows nine of his eleven victories this season have come from that position, but Abu Dhabi is a long race and lots can happen.
“On the exit of the first corner, everything seemed fine and then turning into the second corner I could feel that something was odd on the rear right,” explained Vettel. “I had to catch the car surprisingly and then the second time, I couldn’t do it anymore, as I’d lost too much air in the tyre. I had a puncture and spun off. When I got back to the pits, the resulting suspension damage meant we couldn’t carry on. There wasn’t anything we could have done better really this weekend; we just need to look at what had caused the puncture.”
With Vettel on the grass, Hamilton inherited the lead. He’d held second off the line and never looked seriously uncomfortable once he hit the front. Fernando Alonso had a stellar start from his customary fifth position, getting ahead of Mark Webber in the early part of the lap and then Jenson Button on the long back straight. The interesting battle was between Button, Webber and Felipe Massa.
Button had predicted the DRS zones wouldn’t make overtaking straightforward here, and he was proved right as Webber and Massa were bottled up behind him. Even when Button reported an intermittent KERS failure, those following him could do little about it. Webber did manage to squeeze by on two occasions, only for Button to get good exits and immediately take the place back. If anything was going to happen, it was going to happen in the pits.
Hamilton, Alonso and Button all stopped on lap 15. With his technical problem and the need to take a defensive line Button had dropped back sufficiently from the leaders to enable McLaren to service both cars on the same lap, even so it took some slick work from the pitcrew to do it. Webber stayed out, running to lap 18 in the hope of getting the drop on Button. Whether or not it would have worked we won’t know. A problem with the right rear tyre held him in the pitlane and the opportunity passed. He came out behind Massa.
With Button wounded, both Massa and Webber closed in and soon all three were running line astern – but Button’s problem was intermittent. “I had to fend off Webber and also Massa which is quite interesting without KERS,” said Button. “In the next stint I was told what I could do to try and get KERS back, and at least we got it back, but it lasted for like two laps at a time and I had to keep resetting it. The problem is not just when you accelerate, it’s when you brake. When you have KERS you have a lot of engine braking from the KERS and when you don’t have it you don’t have any braking performance. Every time I arrived at a corner I didn’t know what I was going to get, either engine braking or not, so it was pretty tricky.” Webber skipped past Massa on lap 30, but as had been the case with his pass on Button, the Ferrari driver was able to take the place back seconds later.
That’s when Webber decided to roll the dice. He pitted on lap 36 and put on another set of soft tyres. It gave him an enormous pace advantage but meant he would be stopping again. Button on 37 and Massa on 41 took on the medium tyres, and had no more stops to make. “We fitted the option tyre again to try and cut the race down to something different: it was certainly worth a bit of a punt,” said Webber. Massa emerged behind Webber, and, setting fastest laps, Webber soon caught and passed Button, but position on the road didn’t matter. Webber’s requirement was to build a gap sufficient to make another pitstop and retain his place. Both Massa and Button upped their pace to guard against that. Massa pushed too hard and slid off. He rejoined without losing a place but it put him out of contention. Button, however, was able to manage his losses and in the end finished a comfortable ten seconds ahead of his rival.
Upfront it was comfortable for Hamilton too as he took the victory. Alonso never gave up but never got close enough to be a serious threat. He did, however, reach the personal milestone of having been on the podium at every race track he’s ever visited with an F1 car. Button had said yesterday he would be unhappy with third, though he looked relieved rather than upset climbing out of the car. Following Webber in Fourth and Massa fifth, the two Mercedes took sixth and seventh with Rosberg in front of Schumacher. Sutil and di Resta were next for Force India and Kamui Kobayashi took the final point for Sauber – the latter moving his team narrowly ahead of Toro Rosso in the battle for seventh in the Championship.
“I’ve had some interesting victories, some better than others,” said Hamilton afterwards. “When I was doing the lap on the way in, I was thinking that this was definitely one of my best, just in terms of my own performance, not making mistakes. I don’t feel I’ve made a single mistake in the race and with the things that have gone, with the pressure that I’ve been under and with the doubt that has surrounded me, I felt just massively proud to have put that kind of performance together and to have come out on top… And it’s my Mum’s birthday, so it makes it even better.”
|2||Fernando Alonso||Ferrari||+8.5 secs||18|
|3||Jenson Button||McLaren-Mercedes||+25.9 secs||15|
|4||Mark Webber||RBR-Renault||+35.8 secs||12|
|5||Felipe Massa||Ferrari||+50.6 secs||10|
|6||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes||+52.3 secs||8|
|7||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes||+76.0 secs||6|
|8||Adrian Sutil||Force India-Mercedes||+77.1 secs||4|
|9||Paul Di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||+101.0 secs||2|
|Ret||Sebastian Vettel||RBR-Renault||Puncture damage|