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GP Week : Issue 194
It was sebastian Vettel who topped the timesheets ahead of Mark Webber during the final practice session of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend, setting the scene for yet another Red Bull-dominated qualifying session on saturday evening. Barring a dramatic high speed spin and crash by Jules Bianchi at Turn 1, an incident that saw the Frenchman clip the barriers hard enough to damage his gearbox, earning a penalty in the process, it was a largely incident-free session that was more of the same old, same old. When qualifying got under way beneath the dusky desert skies, all bets were on another pole for newly-crowned quadruple champion Vettel. Despite having sewn up the drivers’ title last week in India, Red Bull have not eased up on their tyre preservation strategy, keeping both Vettel and Webber in the garage for the first half of Q1 so as to save as much rubber as possible for Sunday’s race. On his first Q1 run, set on the soft compound, Vettel set a 1m41.683s lap which put the Red Bull driver at the top of the timesheets. Webber, meanwhile, set a 1m41.568s lap – also on options – and dethroned his teammate in the process. The Red Bull pair unseated the Mercedes drivers, whose own pace-setting efforts had been set on medium tyres. The softs quickly became the compound of choice in the closing stages of Q1, with Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean shuffling Vettel and Webber down the order with two minutes remaining. Adrift in the dropout zone were Felipe Massa and Adrian Sutil, two men who had been struggling for much of the weekend. But it was a very close pack, with the top 17 men covered by less than a second in the dying minutes. As the chequered flag fell, Massa burst to the top of the timesheets with a 1m41.254s lap that saw Lewis Hamilton at risk of dropping out before the Briton’s own flyer put him half a second ahead of the Brazilian. At the end of Q1 it was Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez who joined the usual suspects in the dropout zone. Unusually, Vettel and Webber were early out of the pits in Q2, a session that saw all 16 contenders out on track in the first five minutes. Shod in options yet again, Webber managed P2 before being pushed down the order as times popped up on the board. Following a timesheet topping run of 1m40.473s, Nico Rosberg was called to the weighing station, limiting his track time. But both Rosberg and Hamilton had three-tenths in hand over Vettel in P3; the only other driver to break the 1m40s barrier was Raikkonen. In the dropout zone as the session ended were a ragged-looking Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, both of whom were bested by their less-fancied teammates, Paul di Resta, Jean-Eric Vergne, and the Williams pair. It was another close-fought qualifying, with one second covering the full spread from first to 16th. As had been the case all evening, the soft tyre was the compound of choice in Q3. Degradation levels seen earlier in the weekend make the medium compound the preferred tyre for Sunday’s race, and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is not expected to see much of a mix of tyre strategies. As is his wont, Vettel pulled an extra three-tenths out of the bag in Q3, with it killing the prospect of a real fight for pole in the dying seconds of qualifying. Those tenths were lost to Webber, who was 0.7s slower than his teammate on his first timed lap. Vettel’s sudden burst of pace meant that what had been a close pack spread out – instead of the top 16 being covered by a second, there was a gap of 1.2s between Vettel in provisional P1 and Nico Hulkenberg in P7. But as the flag fell the order changed dramatically, with Webber gaining two-tenths on his teammate and clinching pole position. Nearly simultaneously, Hamilton stopped on the circuit, brakes smoking, in what was a provisional P4. After the session, Raikkonen’s floor failed to pass the deflection tests imposed by the scrutineers. As a result, the Finn was excluded from qualifying and started the race from the back of the grid. On the following pages, Trent Price takes a closer look at the incidents that shaped the 2013 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, from McLaren’s drop in form to the attempts – failed and successful – to make a one-stop strategy work and beyond... QUALIFYING 1. Mark Webber (Red Bull) 1m39.957s 2. Sebastian vettel (Red Bull) 1m40.075s 3. nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1m40.419s 4. Lewis hamilton (Mercedes) 1m40.501s 5. nico hulkenberg (Sauber) 1m40.576s 6. Romain Grosjean (Lotus) 1m40.997s 7. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1m41.015s 8. Sergio Perez (McLaren) 1m41.068s 9. Daniel Ricciardo (toro Rosso) 1m41.111s 10. Fernando alonso (Ferrari) 1m41.093s 11. Paul di Resta (Force India) 1m41.133s 12. Jenson Button (McLaren) 1m41.200s 13. Jean-eric vergne (toro Rosso) 1m41.279s 14. Pastor Maldonado (Williams) 1m41.395s 15. valtteri Bottas (Williams) 1m41.447s 16. esteban Gutierrez (Sauber) 1m41.999s 17. adrian Sutil (Force India) 1m42.051s 18. Giedo van der Garde (Caterham) 1m43.252s 19. Charles Pic (Caterham) 1m43.528s 20. Max Chilton (Marussia) 1m44.198s 21. Jules Bianchi (Marussia) 1m43.398s* 22. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus) 1m40.542s** * Jules Bianchi started the race in P21 following a five-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change. the Marussia driver qualified in P20. ** Kimi Raikkonen was excluded from qualifying when his floor failed to pass scrutineering on Saturday evening. the Lotus driver qualified in P5. MARK'S MOMENT IN THE SUN THE GRID 31 GPWEEK.com // 31 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: F1 >>> ABU DHABI