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GP Week : Issue 142
25 reference – Pirelli, prior to Abu Dhabi, has not suffered a single tyre failure all year. And yet here it was: a sudden deflation on a circuit with plenty of run-off and in a post- championship race. The big points for Seb played well... The most substantial difference from Saturday to Sunday, of course, is fuel load: the cars run nearly empty in qualifying and are brimful at the start. Pirelli were still investigating the cause of the failure as of this writing – even to the point of examining the track there, on that stretch between Turns 1 and 2, for hidden debris. It seems unlikely that the failure was stress-related (unlikely, that is, in the context of no similar problems having occurred this year); equally, it is very unusual for a debris-puncture to be so sudden. Anyway, no prizes for guessing what Lewis would have thought about all of that: “Thank you,” would have been about the gist of it – although I dare say he was eagle-eyed as he approached the same section of road on lap two. Thisracewasthereafteranearly-evening fun-run for the 2008 World Champion. There were no pesky Red Bulls to annoy him – and there was an Alonso Ferrari in his mirrors against which to pace himself. He modulated the lead at about five seconds or so – enough to stay away from the clutches of DRS but still enough to leave a cushion for traffic and other minor variables. Lewis was calm and serene and very much the driver that all his peers always fear him to be – but then he had a traffic-free run this evening in AD: Massa, by the end, was nearly a minute in arrears. Fernando was fab; no question about that. He zapped Webber around the outside of the first corner; and then, with DRS still not in play, and with the McLarens running one-two down the back straight on the opening lap and thus seemingly secure in their positions, he pulled off the move of the race: Lewis held the racing line under braking, Jenson protected the inside. Just behind, Fernando jinked to the right, to the outside, as he squeezed the Brembos with his left foot. No worries. That was what he was always going to do – to dart about. Jenson would surely emerge from the hairpin in P2, shadowing Lewis. Fernando, though, again using untrodden turf, swung to the right, to the outside of Jenson, and held it firm. The 2009 Champion was forced to back away. For Fernando it wasn’t a full refund on the move Lewis made on him in Germany: it would have tasted good, though – particularly after being holed-up behind Petrov’s Renault in last year’s race. The Ferrari was no McLaren match at Yas – but it wasn’t too far away: it featured a little less top speed and a little less downforce. Fernando wrung the maximum from the car; he made no mistakes; the McLaren and Ferrari pit work (in this two-stop race) was dead equal; and, by the end, Fernando was only 8.4 sec behind. From where Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro have been at various times of the year, this was a great result. JensonwonthesquabbleforP3–which would have been disappointing for Red Bull because Mark Webber’s RBR7 was mechanically sound and in theory could have been a McLaren-beater. That faded with another curious Q3 lap from Aussie Grit. He nailed the sector that caught him out in 2010 – sector one – but was a couple of tenths adrift from Seb in sectors two and three, adding up to an overall lap difference of 0.377sec, which is a lot. That translated into the dirtier side of the grid on row two and thus into a difficult race in traffic, given that Mark lost an extra 10 seconds or so in his first pit stop. As with Lewis in Korea, Mark was able to DRS Jenson a couple of times but couldn’t make it stick; position gained he would then lose it again on the second DRS zone. Equally, he was for a long time unable to re- pass Jenson in the second zone when the positions were reversed. Some will say that AD was “better” this year because there was more overtaking. Me? I don’t understand DRS – and I don’t enjoy the way it tampers with the purity of comparative performance. Red Bull Racing eventually did the correct thing and took Mark’s strategy away from McLaren’s and Ferrari’s: whilst Lewis, Fernando and Jenson ran soft, soft, medium, RBR put a third set of options on Mark’s car at his second stop, thus hoping to give him overtaking grip. It kind of worked, for Mark sliced past Jenson and set fastest race lap in the process – but his last-lap stop for the inevitable prime tyre dropped him back again to fourth. Othernotabledrives:NicoRosberg upstaged Michael Schumacher all weekend – by over a second in both Q1 and Q2 – and beat him by 24 seconds in the race, despite a torrid opening lap when they swapped positions like Mansell and Piquet; Mercedes finished sixth and seventh. Sahara Force India again did a phenomenal job as a team, and Adrian Sutil again drove beautifully to finish eighth – and not far away from Michael. Paul di Resta, again fast and clean, finished P9. Williams had a terrible qualifying day but Rubens drove one of those races to finish 12th ; and Pastor Maldonado placed 16th (despite a drive-through penalty). The Saubers were a little more competitive than they have been of late (10th and 11th), but the Lotus Renaults were dire – slow in qualifying (traction mainly) and glitchy in the race: Bruno lost his KERS power and Vitaly, in only a shadow of what occurred in 2010, his DRS. There were also a couple of full-on retirements – which, these days, is notable in itself: Seb Buemi was going well in the STR when he lost hydraulic pressure (a common virus a few years back but not so usual today); and Daniel Ricciardo, after a fast qualifying lap, pulled off the circuit with good old alternator failure. AddSebVetteltothatlist,too:AbuDhabi marked his first retirement in 19 races – and also resulted in the first non-Red Bull podium since Korea 2010. He would have thought about that for a little while during his time up there on the RBR pit wall; mostly, though, he would have been enjoying the night air of the desert, his mates around him and the feeling of having only recently won his second World Championship. F1 U.A.E >> For more F1 Words of Wisdom from Windsor, CLICK heRe to check out his website: www.theflyinglap.com