Sebastian Vettel Takes Seventh Consecutive Victory at Abu Dhabi
Sebastian Vettel took first place yet again in Abu Dhabi today, making this Grand Prix his seventh consecutive win and eleventh overall in 2013. Mark Webber, Vettel’s Red Bull teammate, recovered from a string of recent retirements to secure not only pole position during qualifying but also locked down second place on the podium. For the second race in a row, Nico Rosberg outpaced Lewis Hamilton to end in third place, bringing a few much needed points to the Mercedes camp as the team struggles to fend off Ferrari. The sole retiree of the race was Kimi Räikkönen, whose glancing blow against Giedo van der Garde led to the failure of the Finn’s steering in the first turn of the race.
Abu Dhabi is the only night-day race on the calendar, and only one of two that sees action under moonlight (Singapore being strictly a night race). The lead-up to this GP was fraught with drama over at the Lotus camp, stemming from a $15 million paycheck that the team owed to Räikkönen, as well as some tense in-car communication during the Indian Grand Prix. Räikkönen also suffered on-track woes, as stewards relegated him to a last-place start due to the floor of his car falling outside of regulations.
Although Webber earned a start in first place, a slightly slow start saw him fall immediately behind Vettel, and the two Mercedes in Row 2 attempted to seize Webber’s spot. Nico Rosberg was able to overtake the Aussie, while Hamilton pulled in right behind Webber. Back along the grid, that collision behind Räikkönen and van der Garde cost the Iceman the race and some badly needed World Championship points along with it. Jenson Button also tapped Paul di Resta, damaging Button’s front wing.
By Lap 5, Vettel had widened the gap between he and Rosberg by 4 seconds; by Lap 11, that lead had opened to more than 8 seconds. Adrian Sutil, who started in 17th place, was already near the front of the pack to ride just behind Webber. Back in line, Hamilton was struggling to overtake the Sauber of Esteban Gutiérrez, who gave Hamilton a fight for roughly a dozen laps before the Brit found enough room to dispatch the Mexican rookie.
Also running a strong race was Felipe Massa, who has found a second wind since the announcement was made that he would be replaced by Räikkönen next year at Ferrari. Massa does not yet have a team locked down for 2014, but much of the Abu Dhabi race saw him leading Ferrari’s number 1 driver, Fernando Alonso. Lap 19 saw an unfamiliar face in the top 5: shrugging off his earlier contact with Button was Paul di Resta, whose absence of a tire change left him comfortably leading Rosberg, Webber, and Romain Grosjean. By Lap 26, Sutil had his turn in 5th place, as he had also not pitted yet. Both Force Indias ran exceptionally well on their tires in the Grand Prix, and Sutil and di Resta needed just one stop to change tires by the time the race was over.
The middle 20 laps were largely uneventful save for a narrowly avoided collision in pit lane when Nico Hulkenberg was cleared to leave right in front of Sergio Pérez; Hulkenberg was handed a drive through penalty for the unsafe release. By Lap 44, it was clear that Jean-Éric Vergne had taken a page from Force India’s playbook and ran between Hamilton and Massa as a result of his Toro Rosso treating his Pirellis with care.
Lap 45 was an event that really woke up the Ferrari drivers, beginning with Alonso exiting the pits on a fresh set of soft tires. A unique pit row exit at the Yas Marina Circuit leaves a long straight to build up speed before the lane joins with the rest of the track. This proved to set Alonso right alongside Vergne at the junction, and the French driver didn’t appear to see Alonso to make room for him, causing the Ferrari to promptly continue the race off road. Alonso came back onto the road ahead of Vergne (initially raising some eyebrows) but stewards reached the decision that Alonso had somewhere to go once rejoining the race, and he was cleared of any penalties post-race.
The rest of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix ended without incident. Vettel decimated the competition, commanding a 30-second lead over Mark Webber. It was a welcome podium finish for Webber, as he only has two races left in his Formula 1 career before he joins the newly formed Porsche team for next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. Räikkönen’s retirement and Alonso’s 5th place finish puts the Ferrari driver in a strong 2nd place in the Drivers’ Championship. Räikkönen is now more solidly in third, although Hamilton is only 8 points behind him.
The penultimate race of the 2014 season will be held on November 17 at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, for the United States Grand Prix.
Photo courtesy of Red Bull