Abu Dhabi GP - Sunday - Race Report
Hamilton wins Abu Dhabi as Vettel suffers tyre failure
BY TONY DODGINS
Lewis Hamilton scored a career 17th grand prix victory as he controlled the seaon's penultimate race in Abu Dhabi from lights to flag after pole position man Sebastian Vettel suffered an instant tyre deflation just after Turn 1.
Vettel started from a Nigel Mansell record-equalling 14th pole of the season but was left deeply disappointed when the right rear flattened and the Red Bull spun after the world champion had made a strong getaway and led through Turn 1.
Vettel got going again and limped round to the pits but damage to the suspension put him out of his first race since Korea last year.
"He just appears to have been unlucky today," said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. "The tyre was fine going into Turn 1 and then you could see an instantaneous loss of pressure on the data.
"The suspension damage was from where the rim dug into the ground when he was spinning. It damaged the track rod beyond being able to run. It would have been unsafe to continue.
"His line had been no different. The initial suspicion is a bit of debris from one of the support races, maybe a bit of carbon."
Hamilton, once he had managed to avoid collecting the Red Bull, drove a fine opening lap as the front-runners scrapped behind him and was 2.5s to the good at the end of it.
Alonso had managed to go around the outside of Webber's Red Bull in Turn 1 and then went past Button's McLaren on the long run down to Turn 8. It was ironic that after losing the world championship staring at the back of Vitaly Petrov's Renault last year, Alonso was able to pass a front-runner on the very first lap this time, without the aid of DRS of course, which is not enabled until the third lap. Jenson attempted to re-pass between Turn 10 and 11, but Alonso held him off.
From very early on there seemed to be something flapping under Webber's Red Bull, which inevitably would have cost him a small; percentage of the car's aero performance.
"That was a bit of rubber that had come off Sebastian's car that Mark had managed to hoover up...." Horner explained.
Fourth time round and Webber passed Button for third in the first DRS zone on the long straight from T7-8, but Button came sailing back past in the second zone. It was frustrating for the Australian who appeared to have stronger pace but was trapped behind the McLaren.
Behind Webber, Felipe Massa's Ferrari was in touch, just over a second behind, then came the Mercedes pair of Rosberg and Schumacher, who almost made contact on the opening lap. The Force Indias of Adrian Sutil and Paul Di Resta were next, the young Briton alone among the top 10 in starting on Pirelli's medium compound prime tyre.
Di Resta was soon reporting a lack of traction and could not stop Sebastian Buemi's Toro Rosso relieving him of ninth place. Unfortunately for Buemi, he lost the power steering soon after and then the gears as loss of hydraulic fluid forced him out after 19 laps.
Button, despite an impressive qualifying performance made all the better by gear ratios optimised for the race rather than qualifying, where he was just nine thousandths behind his team mate, was unable to stay with Hamilton and Alonso.
"I had KERS problem," he explained. "On around lap 13 or 14 I suddenly didn't have any KERS and had to fend off Webber and Massa without it, which was interesting. The team was telling me what I could do to get it back and I was re-setting things but it wasn't ideal. One lap I'd have it and the next lap I wouldn't. It's not just acceleration you don't have good braking performance when you don't have it, so I was arriving at corners not knowing what I was going to get."
Massa was the first of the leading cars to pit, with Hamilton, Alonso and Button all in for a new set of softs next time round, which put Webber briefly into the lead. His own stop, a lap later, took a full 9.4s and dropped him behind Massa.
"We had a nut come out of the socket on the right rear," Horner said, "otherwise we would have been able to jump Jenson. At that point we needed to do something different otherwise we would have just finished behind the two of them.
"That's why we opted to roll the dice and adopt a three stop strategy. It enabled us to be able to get back past Felipe (who spun later) but unfortunately the race wasn't quite long enough to get back ahead of Jenson. We got to about 12s ahead but we needed 20s to facilitate the extra stop and Jenson was just a bit too quick on the prime. We had nothing to lose really because the likelihood of being beaten by Rosberg was slim."
Williams had managed something of a tem first by occupying the final positions on the grid as a result of Barrichello failing to get out in Q1 and Maldonado having a gearbox problem. With the team rumoured to be chasing substantial middle eastern backing next year, you could only speculate what Frank and Patrick Head must have thought about that.
It was as if an instruction had gone out for the drivers to get themselves noticed. Maldonado was obstructive to the race leaders on more than one occasion, for which he received a drive through penalty, and Barrichello had the audacity to KERS his way past race leader Hamilton as Lewis warmed up his prime tyres late on! Rubens, in fact, drove an excellent race to an eventual 12th place.
Today though, it was all about Hamilton. The gap to Alonso remained around 3-5s for most of the race, varying with traffic and with car characteristics that meant the Mclaren was quicker earlier in the stint while the Ferrari made the rubber last longer and closed in later on in the stint.
Hamilton pitted for his prime tyres on lap 40, with three laps to go and Alonso got the hammer down for three extra laps on his soft tyres, which were still in good nick. Lewis was quickly up to speed on his new rubber though, despite Barrichello's audacity, and looked like he had enough in hand.
"We thought we might come out very close or even ahead of him," Alonso explained, "but I got caught behind an HRT coming in and then the stop was a slow one. It didn't lose us the race though. Even if I'd been ahead, I expected that Lewis would be quicker on the harder tyre and it would have been difficult to keep him behind."
Button was satisfied with his podium, Webber was a fighting fourth, from Massa, Rosberg, Schumacher, Sutil, Di Resta and Kamui Kobayashi's Sauber completing the top 10.
"It was one of my best races," smiled a happier Hamilton. "I was saying that to myself on the slowdown lap. I could hold the gap and manage the tyres and it was satisfying. I'm happy to be back on the top step of the podium and I just want to try to keep that up."
Abu Dhabi was the only circuit from which Alonso did not have a trophy in is F1 career, so he was happy with his second place. Ultimately he's a winner though and admitted he will be happy to see the back of 2011.
Vettel had not disappeared after his disappointment but had hung around to offer his thoughts on the pit wall and to get a different perspective on how race strategy unfolds.
"The whole team was a bit frustrated today," Horner admitted, "because Seb did a superb job with one of the best qualifying laps of his career to get that pole position. He made a great start and led comfortably into the first corner and it was cruel luck really to be forced to retire in the way he was."
He will want to make amends in Brazil. And both Hamilton and Button are on three wins apiece at McLaren and will want to finish the year with their noses in front. It should be quite a race...