Monday, 2 November 2009

Red Bull say farewell to 2009 with a dominating one-two finish at Abu Dhabi

After Jenson Button wrapped up the title back in Brazil, it seemed like the last race of the 2009 season which was to be the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix did not have much to offer. Looking at just the track itself, the newly built Yas Marina circuit was on par with most other Hermann Tilke designed modern race tracks. That means that the track did not quite provide the challenges that drivers face on more traditional circuits like Spa-FrancorchampsNurburgring or Suzuka, but it had a lot of other features to offer. On top of those, the unknowns of racing on a brand new track had its own challenges put together along with the fact that this was to be Formula 1's first ever twilight race - with the race starting at 1700 local time and finishing under the floodlights well after sunset.

Then there is that peculiar pit lane exit, which starts from the right hand side of the main straight, then dips below and goes through a tunnel while turning sharp left and going underneath the track and rejoins the track from the left just after turn 3. The fact that this entire section of the pit exit was to be taken at racing speed meant that everyone was expecting this to be a recipe for disaster.

As far as the racing itself is concerned, the championship winners may have been decided couple of weeks ago, but there were still other places in the championship left to fight for. Among the key battles, traditional rivals Scuderia Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes were fighting for 3rd and 4th place in the Constructors' Championship. Then BMW Sauber and Williams were fighting for 6th and 7th in the Constructors'. In the Drivers' Championship, Sebastian Vettel and Rubens Barrichello were fighting for 2nd and 3rd while former World Champions Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen were fighting for 5th and 6th.  However, newly crowned World Champion Jenson Button was out here just to enjoy the race and show another solid drive to prove that he is a worthy champion.

Throughout the Friday and Saturday practice sessions, the McLarens looked really quick. Aerodynamically they seemed to be perfectly suited for this track, and the two long straights meant that the Mercedes KERS system was giving them a good advantage. Red Bull and the 2009 Constructors' World Champion BrawnGP were also looking pretty quick. Not surprisingly, Ferrari seemed to be struggling overall throughout the weekend as Maranello had not been developing the car since July while others have continued to develop.

So outgoing World Champion Lewis Hamilton qualified on pole position, just ahead of the Red Bull duo of Vettel and Webber who were ahead of the BrawnGP duo of Barrichello and Button. The main surprise of Qualifying was seeing both the BMWs, in their final Formula 1 race, qualify in the top ten. Sebastian Buemi's Toro Rosso was also another surprise package to reach the top ten. Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen only managed to qualify in 11th while pole-sitter Hamilton's team mate Kovalainen qualified in 13th as he failed to finish the second part of Qualifying, Q2, due to a gearbox problem. Later on, a gearbox change incurred Kovalainen a five-place grid penalty.

Most of the cars in the top ten were fuelled for a two-stop strategy, while cars lower down the order were fuelled for a longer and heavier one-stop strategy. In spite of all the glitz and glamour of the Yas Island surrounding the track, the race itself proved to be a bit of a procession. However, some drivers still drove pretty impressively. Toyota's Kamui Kobayashi, driving his second race as a replacement for the injured Timo Glock, made a brilliant start from 12th to immediately get past Raikkonen in the Ferrari and then pull away into the distance. Further up in front, Jenson Button overtook his team mate Rubens Barrichello on the first lap as well.

Crucially however, Hamilton in the race lead was not pulling away from the two Red Bulls in spite of being lighter on fuel. Everyone expected that a lighter fuel load, the use of KERS and the McLaren's good pace shown in the practice sessions will mean that Hamilton will open up a sizeable gap in the first stint of the race. That was not being the case. Vettel and Webber were right up on Hamilton's tail, and due to some great laps towards the end of the first stint, the first round of pit stops saw Vettel take the race lead from Hamilton and Webber. It soon became clear that something was not right with Hamilton's car, and on lap 20, McLaren retired him from the race due to a suspected brake problem. That brake problem meant that Hamilton kept locking up his rear wheels while braking into a corner, and that was the reason he was losing lap times to the Red Bulls.

Toyota's Kobayashi was easily the fastest man of the one-stoppers, and for a rookie driving in only his second Formula 1 race, he did very well to eventually finish in 6th place. On lap 41, as Nick Heidfeld came in for his second and last pit stop, he marked the end of an era as BMW Sauber completed its last ever Formula 1 pit stop. The German eventually finished in 5th place.

Almost all the cars started the race on the prime (medium) compound tyres, and opted for the option (soft) compound tyres for the last stint of the race. This was because due to the Abu Dhabi heat, the soft compound was suffering from graining when the track was new and dirty, and only after the track had rubbered in, was the soft compound working well. However, Red Bull's Mark Webber was struggling a little bit on the soft compound in the final few laps. That meant that Jenson Button, who was just about 8-10ths of a second behind with 5 laps to go, was starting to close in on Webber. On the penultimate lap, as race leader Sebastian Vettel set a new fastest lap, his team mate Webber was under intense pressure from Button. After attempting a couple of overtaking moves, Button made one final push by trying to outbrake Webber into turn 11 on the last lap, but Webber kept his cool all throughout and came out just in front to make it a Red Bull one-two finish.

It really was brilliant drives from both Webber and Button in the final few laps, that provided the viewers with some excitement in a somewhat dull race. Sebastian Vettel drove supremely throughout the 55 lap race and probably had the pace to win even if Hamilton had not retired. The young German managed to hold on to 2nd place in the Drivers' World Championship. Despite Hamilton's retirement, the lack of pace for Ferrari meant that both their cars finished outside the points in the race. So Raikkonen missed out on 5th in the Drivers' Championship by just 1 point, and Ferrari missed out on 3rd in the Constructors' Championship also by just 1 point. A strong performance in their last ever Formula 1 race meant that BMW Sauber were able to secure 6th place in the Constructors' World Championship beating Williams.

That brings us to the end of the 2009 Formula 1 season. The next round of on-track action will re-commence with the start of winter testing in February, followed by the season opener in Bahrain in mid-March. Until then, drive safely and happy holidays!

No comments:

Post a Comment