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GP Week : Issue 70
F1 ABU DHABI >> AFTER the thrills of the Brazilian Grand Prix a fortnight earlier, the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was something of a let-down from an excitement perspective. That's not to say the track isn't a good one, nor that it doesn't allow overtaking. But when pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton was forced into the first technical DNF of his F1 career, a prospective thriller of a battle for the race lead evaporated, and Sebastian Vettel had only himself to beat. The German was in a class of his own in the race. Hamilton had been a staggering six-tenths of a second faster than his rival in qualifying, but despite the heavier fuel load and lack of KERS, Vettel was still able to keep Hamilton well within his sights in the early laps. The order from the grid of Hamilton, Vettel and Mark Webber stayed as such throughout the first third of the contest, as the sun went down, dusk fell, and night started to close in around the Yas Marina circuit. Stopping first, on the lighter fuel load, Hamilton just didn't seem to have the same advantage he'd shown in qualifying, and thus it was that when those first stops played out, Vettel, following some stonking fast laps, had taken the lead. But the potential battle between the duo was cut short when Hamilton was called in to the pits and forced into retirement after the team discovered unusual wear on his right rear brake pad. That pretty much left Vettel out on his own, and with the speed that the German was displaying it became his race to throw away ... which , of course, he didn't. Behind him Webber was enjoying running on the prime tyre, but when forced to take on the softer Options for the last segment of the race found his pace starting to slip. Conversely, Jenson Button, who had started fifth but risen to fourth at the start and then third with Hamilton's retirement, was loving the Options after struggling with the Prime. He hounded down Webber and with two laps to go the fight was well and truly on. Button tried all he could to get past, but Webber put up a staunch defence to bring an unexpected highlight to the final tours of the now-night race. The Champion would have to be happy with third and a return to the podium for the first time since Monza. Behind them, Rubens Barrichello took fourth position for Brawn, but had to contend with immense pressure from BMW's Nick Heidfeld for the latter half of the race. The German was clearly enjoying his last race with the team, but fifth was the maximum he could draw out of the car.In sixth came Kamui Kobayashi after another simply outstanding drive. The Toyota driver, in only his second race, took a gamble on a one-stop strategy and made it work beautifully with some exquisite driving and the best overtaking moves of the race. Seventh went to his team-mate Jarno Trulli who was almost invisible in comparison to his new team-mate, with Sebastien Buemi rounding off a great debut season with the final point of the afternoon, in eighth. Vettel's win means he takes second position in the drivers' championship, which had been his hope coming into the weekend. With every weekend he is looking more and more like a champion in waiting, and his drive to victory in Abu Dhabi was of the ilk that marks out the truly great. There's 133 days until we're racing again. With Button as Champion, Vettel on the up and the reinvigoration of McLaren and Ferrari to look forward to, they can't go fast enough. 27