Abu Dhabi GP - Sunday - Race Report
Sebastian Vettel swept to his seventh win in a row with a dominant victory in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. He has now equaled Michael Schumacher's record of consecutive wins in a Formula One single season. If Vettel can win two more he will tie Alberto's Ascari's record of nine straight wins, which he set over the 1951 and 1952 season.
"The numbers are not that important to me," Vettel said, "but equally they make me very, very proud. If you equal something or you're close to something then the guys you talk about (Schumacher and Ascari) are the most special drivers in the world in Formula One."
Vettel was certainly special on Sunday night around the Yas Marina Circuit. He qualified second, beat pole sitter and Red Bull teammate Mark Webber off the line, and disappeared to lead all 55 laps. He was so far ahead that when he made his two pit stops he maintained the lead. He came in at the end of lap 14 to switch from Pirelli's soft Option tire to the medium Prime tire. And he stopped again after 37 laps for another set of the medium slicks.
"I realized that we were pulling away from Nico (Rosberg in the Mercedes) and also from Mark," Vettel said. "Obviously you make use of it because you don't know what's coming later on in the race. We had a very, very strong pace on the option. We could even have stayed out a little bit longer.
"I was busy, for sure, I was pushing because I felt that I can take lap time, I can take a couple of seconds out of the guys behind so I was pushing but I was also trying to look after them to be flexible on strategy and help the guys on the pit wall to make the call.
"Also, I could then afford to take it a little bit easier in the pit lane which I think is one of the trickiest all year with a slippery entry and a very narrow exit. I think it just all came together, I think it was a perfect day for us."
Webber dropped from pole to third at the start as Rosberg jumped from third to second. Romain Grosjean gridded his Lotus sixth and was up to fourth at the end of lap one.
Kimi Raikkonen had to start from the back of the grid after his Lotus failed post qualifying tech inspection. The floor was flexing too much. Anxious to make up places, Raikkonen tried to pass Guido van der Garde and their two cars collided.
"There was some contact in front of me through the first corner so I stuck to the inside, but unfortunately one of the Caterhams touched my front wheel and it broke the track rod," Raikkonen said. "It wasn't a heavy impact, but the angle made it worse. It's never easy starting so far back on the grid, but after the penalty it was a better choice to help our chances in the race rather than starting from the pit lane.
"After a difficult start to the weekend we did well yesterday so it was a shame we couldn't start where we qualified, but these things happen sometimes; it's just back luck."
Van der Garde blamed Raikkonen.
"At the start I was ahead of Raikkonen who made contact with my left rear in turn one," he said. "I nearly spun after the contact."
Rosberg pitted at the end of lap 10 and handed second over to Ferrari driver Felipe Massa who was running ahead of teammate Fernando Alonso. Webber had stopped two laps earlier. Massa relinquished second when he pitted after 18 laps. Webber passed Rosberg two laps later, and now that the pit stops had cycled through, Webber was second and Rosberg third.
Grosjean had managed to put some pressure on Webber in the first stint, but he lost contact with the Red Bull driver in the second stint.
"I got a good start and made up two places in the first few corners," said Grosjean who would eventually finish fourth, "but after that I lost a lot of time behind the Force India. I could overtake him with the DRS, but he had much better top speed and could just drive straight back past at the next straight. That middle stint cost us the chance of a podium in the end, and on pace we could maybe even have pushed Mark (Webber) for second place."
Webber had difficulties on the first stint on the soft Pirellis.
"I had a reasonably feeling for them when they were fresh," he said, "but I had no real feeling for those tires when they're scrubbed. So, I was very slow in the first stint. Very, very poor feeling with the rear, and then that makes it even worse. You have more and more slip and temperature control problems and all of those types of things. Anyway, it was regrouping at the stops after that and I think my pace wasn't too bad after that but Seb was well and truly gone. Incredibly quick pace from him. The fight with Nico was good. I managed to get that right."
Once in second place, Webber was able to control the gap to Rosberg in third.
"I was able to push hard in the first stint on the option tires," Rosberg said, "but the second stint wasn't quite as good as the car had a lot of oversteer on the primes and Mark was able to pass me. After the second stop, the set-up worked much better and we were able to set some really good lap times. We didn't quite manage to take the challenge to the Red Bulls today but we were closer at least to one of them and hopefully we can make it happen in the last two races."
Alonso finished fifth after starting 10th.
"Starting from further back, we knew we would find ourselves in traffic, therefore having done well at the start, I tried to overtake as much as possible," he said. "When we saw that we were always behind another car, it became impossible to think in terms of a single stop and it was clearly better to switch to two and attack. As the mediums were holding up quite well, we thought we'd use the Sifts for a short stint to try and do a series of quick laps."
Alonso had to go off the track when he came alongside Toro Rosso driver Jean-Eric Vergne but he escaped any penalties.
"The rule states that if you have an equal amount of car to the other one on the track then you can use all the space," Alonso said.
Massa ended up eighth but was sure he would have finished higher if the Ferrari team had put the soft tires rather than the mediums on his car for the final stint.
"I was competitive from start to finish and pulled off a lot of passing moves with a car that handled well," Massa said. "It was a great race. Our strategy was based on a single stop, but when we realized that the pace was too quick for the rear tires and the wear was greater than expected, we decided to make a second stop so as not to take any risks.
"Fitting the mediums rather than the softs was not the best decision, because the softer compound was quicker by at least a second per lap: I'd managed to do 19 laps on them in the first stint and it would not have been a problem to do the same in the final part of the race. It's a real shame, because we could have finished at least fifth."
Stopping only once for tires, Paul di Resta brought his Force India home sixth.
"There were times when we had to be very quick and times when we had to manage the pace and look after the tires," di Resta said. "Towards the end of the race I was battling with Fernando (Alonso) and Lewis (Hamilton), but it was impossible to hold Fernando back because he was on much fresher soft tires. Lewis was on the mediums so I just focused on getting clean exits from the hairpin and the chicane leading onto the long straights, and was able to stay ahead."
Lewis Hamilton was nowhere near the pace of his Mercedes teammate Rosberg and crossed the line in seventh place.
"My race just didn't quite come together," Hamilton said, "and I'm not really sure why as I gave it my all out there. I had some problems with grip and, of course, it's so difficult to overtake here when you are in traffic but we also need to figure out why I'm not getting the maximum performance from the car at the moment."
Sergio Perez (McLaren) and Adrian Sutil (Force India) rounded out the top 10.
Winner Vettel did spun some donuts on the cool down lap but did not get a fine and a reprimand like he did in India because he brought the car back to the pits until India where he left the car parked on the main straight.
"It was spontaneous," he said. "Obviously I had the experience last week but entering the sort of stadium, I thought it was a very good spot. I made sure there was nobody around and I was far away from the (racing) lines."
Now it is on to Texas and the United States Grand Prix. Can Vettel make it eight in a row?