The best ever? 2010 season review

2010 had it all, as far as the sport of Formula One goes. Rivalry, both inter and intra team. Drama. Action. Shunts. And five of the best drivers ever, locked in a wonderful dogfight, even to the point where four of them were still capable of taking the title at the final round of the season. Fans could ask for nothing more. Here, presents its definitive review of the season that many commentators are calling the best ever.

Red Bull-Renault: Constructors’ Championship: 1st

The Red Bull-Renault RB6 is one of the greatest F1 cars ever, without a doubt. Evolving from the ashes of the supremely quick but fragile RB5, the ‘6’ was the product of top designer Adrian Newey’s fertile brain and aerodynamic genius. Its principal recommendation was its use of the hot exhaust gases, channelled over the diffuser to generate extra downforce. This was an idea that glued the rear end of the car to the racetrack and basically made it unbeatable, particularly at twisty tracks like the Hungaroring and Monaco. Its ‘flexi’-front wing drew the ire of McLaren in particular – but it was within the rules, and so it was another masterstroke from Newey. The sleek aerodynamic beauty of the ‘6’, coupled with a very competitive if sometimes temperamental Renault engine, secured its position as the dominant car in the field. Even its relative lack of reliability – failures in Bahrain, Melbourne and Korea were ones that seemed particularly ill-timed – should not detract from a supreme machine that was, quite simply, unbelievably quick. Car: 9/10

The team’s management could have good and bad things said about it, and most observers would probably point out that the man management, on occasion, left something to be desired. On the positive side, team principal Christian Horner had finally woven together threads of talent that now saw his team strong favourites for the titles, after years of hard graft. The only way they could blow it, as teams have done before when presented with the open goal that a car of that quality gives you, was to suffer inter-team personnel issues. And blow it they so nearly did. The farce of Istanbul, where management blamed Webber (or at least refused to blame Vettel) for the two crashing on lap 40 was a spectacular misjudgement, that could only ever lead to allegations of favouritism of Vettel. The other big decision, to take Webber’s front wing off at Silverstone and give it to Vettel, was more understandable, but coming after Turkey, also looked bad. Overall, no-one really knows what the state of play was inside the team, but the point is that the whole conflict might have been better managed than it was. If you can manage two forces of nature, that is, like Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. And the Red Bull management kind of did, in the end, finishing the seasons with both titles.
Team: 8/10

Sebastian Vettel: Drivers’ Championship: 1st
Sebastian Vettel won the world championship this season, becoming the youngest world champion ever and fighting off some of the stiffest competition the sport has ever seen. For all this, you might say he had a wonderful season; you might think he kept his head when others didn’t; you might imagine his car was the most reliable; you might pay tribute to his improved driving. But the funny thing was, none of these things are actually true. Vettel had a challenging and difficult season, one that had the result gone a different way, might be put down as that most patronising of things: a ‘learning experience’. He certainly didn’t keep his head – the ill-fated move across Webber in Turkey was bizarre and presumptuous, the psychological warfare he employed at times with Webber was questionable, and the ‘sleeping’ incident at Hungary and the crash into Button at Spa made him look infantile. Neither was his car reliable. He had virtually guaranteed himself wins in Bahrain, Australia and Korea when the car let him down. That is a big load of points to lose, in this most tightly-contested of championships. Nor, it could be said, was his driving much improved. For the first time and to the surprise of many seasoned onlookers, Mark Webber was his equal and sometimes better. Though you should assign that to Webber’s own improvement, Vettel looked no better than he had done in 2009 or 2008, and was even rattled by Webber’s pace. So what won Sebastian Vettel the 2010 title, then? The answer is pure, simple, and poetic: speed. The boy from Heppenheim was quite simply the fastest driver this season, overall. He did not so much as beat his rivals in Valencia, for example, but leave them wondering how on earth they would ever be able to challenge him. It is as well that Vettel suffered the misfortune he did and had such a good and threatening team-mate, for if he hadn’t, the title would have been wrapped up a great deal earlier. He can only get better, which is the scary thought. 9/10

Mark Webber: Drivers’ Championship: 3rd
Sadly enough for Webber, 2010 may well have been his best ever opportunity to become world champion. For the first time in his Red Bull career, he had developed a steeliness and a speed which fully entitled him to his four wins of the year. Highlights were Monaco, Spain and Britain from the four. He was spurred to new heights by perceived injustice, but also had done his homework. As has been documented elsewhere, Webber realised early in the season that he was losing time to Vettel. He and his race engineer Ciaron Pilbeam studied the data and worked out what to do. Mid-corner, the discussion went, this RB6 is better than your instinct tells you, Mark. Floor the throttle, there, then, and trust that the car will do the rest. So he adapted his driving to that end. It had the beautiful added advantage of sending more of those precious exhaust gases over the diffuser, meaning yet more downforce. The braver you were, the faster the car would go. And Mark Webber has never been short on bravery. What was more, his very public fallings-out with the team didn’t overly affect his efforts on track. He was consistent, as well. What let him down in the end, then? The stupid move on Hamilton in Australia? That mistake and retirement in Korea? The spectacular crash in Valencia? Inferiority to Vettel in Japan and Brazil? A inexplicable lack of speed at the death in Abu Dhabi, almost definitely. A real pity, because you might argue that with all his hard graft and determination, Mark Webber would have been the most deserving of the title contenders. 8/10

McLaren-Mercedes: Constructors’ Championship: 2nd
MP4-25 was a very long car. So long, in fact, that when McLaren were trying to get in the lift at Woking to bring it to Vodafone brand HQ they couldn’t fit it in. It was quick, as well, and a darned sight better than their previous offering to the sport. What was really special about this McLaren, though, was its wonderful ‘F-duct’, that McLaren with typical contrariness called something like an acceleration optimising device. It allowed the driver to control the airflow over the rear wing, ‘stalling’ it so that there was effectively no drag from it along the straights. A simple but clever idea that immediately made them the cars to fear in a straight line. It permitted Lewis Hamilton, for example, to make some wonderful overtakes early in the season before the others had managed to copy the idea. A good car, then, with a great feature. But particularly in the latter third of the season, MP4-25 was too infrequently a match for the Red Bull or, for that matter, the Ferrari. The Abu Dhabi race showed that even with an excellent modification package, the car was still inferior to the Red Bull. McLaren, famed for their development, had come up short this season on that front. Car: 6.5/10

Martin Whitmarsh is growing into his role at McLaren, after having taken over the day-to-day running of the race team from Ron Dennis. He is always a courteous and enlightening interviewee, and looks every inch the respected elder statesman of the sport that he has become. Two things prevent him getting excellent marks for the season, however. The first is that his griping over that flexible front wing of the Red Bull did not sit well with the neutral viewer, particularly after the FIA tightened its tests, Red Bull passed, and Whitmarsh was still complaining. He would have done better, some said, to concentrate on his own team. The second thing was that he was excused too much of a conflict between his drivers by Button’s qualifying performances, which were decidedly weaker than those of Hamilton. Turkey, where the two so nearly came together on track in what would have been an awful echo of Red Bull’s disaster, was a potential crucible of mistrust and division. It was handled adequately; Lewis was told his belief that Jenson would not attack was erroneous and it was all assigned to a misunderstanding. But thereafter Button’s usual position behind Hamilton meant that Whitmarsh was spared the nightmare that Horner was faced with. The happy state of affairs within the team might not last next year, Martin, if Button can pull off some more like Australia. Team: 7/10

Lewis Hamilton Drivers’ Championship: 4th
2010 has to be up there with Hamilton’s best seasons of his short career in Formula One. There were truly inspired performances like Belgium and Canada which added to his tally of wins, mind-blowing overtaking like in Australia and China, and a confident and assertive victory in Turkey. He showed again that he may not only be the quickest natural talent in F1 but also that he is without doubt the most entertaining – that a race or a title contest with Lewis Hamilton in it is not over until the fat lady well and truly loses her voice. There were errors, though. Monza and Singapore stick out like sore thumbs; Monza was his own fault and Massa could not have avoided the incident, and Singapore showed him that Webber was not going to be intimidated this year. A chaste lack of ability to get past Kubica in Abu Dhabi was not his wont. Falling off the road in Korea and Brazil watching his nemesis Alonso in his mirrors was also uncharacteristic. Hamilton will be back at the very front before long, though, and his rivals better watch out. 7/10

Jenson Button: Drivers’ Championship: 5th
Button did a good if unspectacular job in 2010. World champion the year before, he had made a mistake by coming to the hornet’s nest, many said. But he drove with a relaxed assurance that had as its foundations a conviction that he had achieved what he set out to do as a kid, and that anything on top of that would be an unexpected bonus. The call to change tyres in Australia paid off fortuitously, but the drive as a whole could not be criticised; nor could the excellent win in China, which must rank as one of his best. Thereafter Button faded, in particular in qualifying, where he lost out to Hamilton 14-5. He stayed in contention for the title mainly through racecraft, a forte the significance of which cannot be discounted amongst hot-headed young men like Vettel and Hamilton. He would of course have had a hatful more points if aforesaid hot head Vettel had not wiped him out in Spa. But Button was the least of the title contenders, both in appearance and in result. 6/10

Ferrari Constructors’ Championship: 3rd
The Ferrari F10 was deeply beautiful, a machine of which the marque can be justifiably proud. The deep red of the colour scheme, which early on in the season abandoned that ridiculous barcode, accentuated the curves of a machine that with its ‘coke bottle’ rear end and high nose was the best looking car on the grid. It was not shabby on the race track either, with its mixture of speed and reliability one of the main reasons why Fernando Alonso was still in contention for the title at the last race of the season, after having appeared to be out of the running mid-season. Its fairytale start in Bahrain could not be maintained, but by Germany it was back in the running and more than often was the superior of the McLaren. A glorious one-three in Monza was the stuff of legend…it was somehow right that such a pretty Ferrari as the F10 won there. Overall, not as quick as the Red Bull, but then not much was. Car: 7/10

Within some sections of the F1 media, there is a cruel and possibly slightly racist belief that a culture of red wine and spaghetti reigns at Ferrari – that is, they are too Italian and disorganised to win anything by themselves. Those who espouse this questionable theory point to Ferrari’s various eras of dominance and the other nationalities that were in charge at those points. Such people had a field day when Ferrari lost the drivers’ championship in Abu Dhabi through a terrible call to pit Fernando Alonso earlier than they should have done. This misses the point, though, particularly as some of those culpable for that decision were not Italian at all. Moreover, the team showed a remarkable fortitude to come back from the wilderness mid-season and the magnitude of Maranello’s collective effort should not be underestimated. There is one massive issue that precludes them scoring highly here, though, and that is the team orders fiasco. It was clearly team orders in Germany, when Felipe Massa was informed that his team mate was faster than him. As has been written already in this space, received wisdom is that de facto team orders exist anyway in F1, and so the debate centres around the manner in which they should be deployed. And that manner is definitely not the way Ferrari did it at Hockenheim. It was cheap and nasty, and they were right to be fined. But what is fascinating is that that is the way Ferrari work. The team is more important than the driver; always has been. It contrasts sharply with the way the ‘British’ teams do things, but it could so nearly have come off this season, when Alonso having a rear gunner going into the final few rounds looked to have put him in the box seat. That it did not come off was unfortunate, but Ferrari, because of their philosophy and passion, are a real force to be reckoned with. And will continue to be with an Italian at the helm. Team: 6/10

Fernando Alonso: Drivers’ Championship: 2nd
What a season from Alonso. It is very difficult to think of anything the Spaniard lacked himself, where he could have done better or been stronger or faster. The performance in Bahrain lacked nothing, although he was lucky to profit from Vettel’s demise. Then his charge faded, though usually for reasons beyond his immediate control. The nadir was Britain, where he first collided with Massa and then was given a drive-through for overtaking Kubica illegally. Not his finest hour, but what followed, an incredible seven out of nine possible podiums including three wonderful victories, should go down as one of the great championship fightbacks of all time. Perhaps the lack of daring in Abu Dhabi was his undoing. Maybe he should have held it together in the rain at Spa. But overall his season had the fewest personal flaws. 8/10

Felipe Massa Drivers’ Championship: 6th
It was, in truth, a bizarre season from Massa. The man had suffered a near-fatal crash the year before, and it is tempting to subscribe to the school of thought that says that he would have lost some pace as a result of that. Whether that is true or not, time will tell, and as far as 2010 went it is a moot point anyway. Massa was simply the inferior of Alonso this season, and if he didn’t know it before, it was rammed down his throat in China, when Alonso barged past him in the pit lane entry AND had the mental fortitude to let the team know that it was he who was coming in first. Audacity from the Spaniard that the Ferrari mechanics loved. Massa did not give up, to give him his due, and there were occasional fleeting glimpses of the 2008-spec Felipe, such as his performance at Hockenheim…prior, of course, to the incident. Rob Smedley, the faithful race engineer, came over the radio, to inform him that Alonso was faster, and Massa, who had been racing Alonso well and bravely, moved over. That might be the seminal moment of Massa’s career, where he became the whipping boy not only of one driver in one generation (Schumacher) but also of Schumacher’s successor as the best, Fernando Alonso. It certainly neatly crystallised his 2010 effort, and seemed to take the wind out of him. It is to be hoped rather than expected that the Felipe Massa of 2008 will return next year. 5/10

Mercedes GP: Constructors’ Championship: 4th
Nico Rosberg: Drivers’ Championship: 7th
Rosberg was in an unfavourable situation at the start of 2010, it has to be said. Under the distinct impression that his team mate was going to be Jenson Button, a man with not such a great record against team mates and one whom Rosberg might have expected comfortably to beat, he in fact came up against the best driver ever. Or at least that was the way it looked. Rosberg appeared glum, if resilient, at pre-season press conferences, and when you looked at the Ross Brawn-led team behind him, your heart bled for the young man whose performances at Williams in 2009 were nothing short of remarkable. But those with faith in Rosberg were to be rewarded. He was fast right out of the blocks and in Malaysia he was second on the grid and third in the race. A second podium followed in China, and consistency became his byword, with eleven points finishes in the fifteen races that remained. Misfortune prevented strong finishes in Japan and Korea, where Mark Webber was his assassin. Another excellent podium was won in Britain in a car that was, as the season wore on, more often in competition with Renaults than with the big three teams that Mercedes had hoped to fight with at the start of the year. Rosberg grew comfortable in his role as Schumacher’s superior, and his confidence will have grown tenfold by the season’s display, even if he will be hoping for more rapid machinery next year. 7/10

Michael Schumacher Drivers’ Championship: 9th
It is difficult to know what to make of Schumacher’s comeback season. Should he be judged on the magnificent performances of yesteryear and his previous career? Or should he be afforded some slack, and evaluated on his results? On neither front does the prognosis look good, unfortunately. Hyperbole at the start of the year, where Brawn’s form of 2009 and Schumacher’s belief in his own ability had led the team to talk about winning the title, did not help matters, and it quickly became obvious once the season started that the championship was not on the cards at all. Beating his team mate Rosberg was going to be task number one, at which he manifestly failed. He moaned softly to the BBC on a number of occasions that he was really struggling to get heat into the front tyres, that the car was not giving him what it ought to. There can be no doubt that the MGP W01 was an unwieldy beast, but the shout quickly went up in the blogosphere that the old Schumacher used to drive round problems in cars. His wonderful talent of the previous incarnation shone through even in the terrible Ferrari F310 or in the Benetton B194. In fact at one point it started to look like the 2010-spec Schumacher was playing out a tragedy of self-immolation in front of our eyes; the spending 20 laps behind Jaime Alguersuari in Australia, the woeful inability to defend against thrusting overtakes in China, the unseemly crash into Nick Heidfeld in Singapore. Yet it also seemed that the ugly side of Schumacher, like a bad taste in the mouth, had gone nowhere. What on earth he was doing ushering Rubens Barrichello horrifically close to the pitwall in Hungary, only he will know. Poor Felipe Massa also had his front wing knocked off by the grandfather in Canada. As the season drew to a close, it looked a little like Schumacher might be returning to better form. Spa was combative, and Japan and Korea were adequate if unspectacular. His saving grace will have to be those new Pirelli tyres next season, because he cannot, for the sake of his own dignity, repeat 2010 next year. 4/10

Renault: Constructors’ Championship: 5th
Robert Kubica: Drivers’ Championship: 8th
Kubica had a wonderful year, by his own high standards. Those who had been a little disappointed by his 2009 showing will have been mightily cheered by the gutsy performances the Pole put in from one weekend to the next in 2010. He was aided and abetted by a very good little car in the R30, the development of which had apparently been unaffected by the shenanigans behind the scenes during pre-season. A solid group had been moulded together by Eric Boullier in the meantime and Kubica was exactly the driver they needed at this point to put in the hard work. Australia was the first showing of what he could do – a charge to second from ninth on the grid was just reward for his speed. He was then classified no lower than eighth for the next seven consecutive races, including another podium in Monaco; a remarkable run that only ended in Britain where his season started to unravel somewhat. But Kubica fans will be cheered immensely by this season’s showing, and by the suspicion that the word ‘Ferrari’ will more often be used in the same breath as his name if he continues to deliver the goods. 8/10

Vitaly Petrov: Drivers’ Championship: 13th
Vitaly Petrov is a bit of an enigma, as far as his rookie year performances go. There were definitely highlights: outqualifying Kubica in Hungary and going on to finish fifth, doing the same in Abu Dhabi qualifying, not to mention frustrating Fernando Alonso with some quite excellent defending during that race. There was also some neat overtaking in China. But you can’t quite escape the impression that there were too many mistakes from the young Russian. Spa would have been a major one, when that kerb was always going to be treacherous. Crashing into Hulkenberg in Japan and on his own in Korea, where he was in seventh place, would be others. Then there were the normal rookie mistakes, like clouting the kerbs too hard and damaging suspension arms, like he did in Bahrain. It is believed that his place in the Renault team is more secure than it might be because of his commercial potential and ability to attract team sponsors; not because he pays his own way, as is mistakenly sometimes thought. A valuable driver who makes errors too frequently, though, can be a hindrance rather than a help. If he stays next year, which is not yet guaranteed, he will have to cut out those mistakes. 4/10

Williams-Cosworth: Constructors’ Championship: 6th
Rubens Barrichello: Drivers’ Championship: 10th
A good season from Barrichello, whom you might have consigned to the dustbin of history after his departure from Brawn at the end of 2009. But the most experienced driver ever is not finished with this sport just yet. His tactical and developmental nous brought the Williams team to a solid Force India-beating level of performance that, although a far cry from their glory days, will nonetheless be moderately satisfying. Barrichello has lost none of his speed, either. Ten points finishes is a very creditable return and the fourth place in Valencia was the high point. He may take some of the credit for Hulkenberg’s pole lap in Brazil, too: it was Rubinho that called first to say dry tyres were the best option. You can’t buy that. 7/10

Nico Hulkenberg: Drivers’ Championship: 14th
Hulkenberg’s maiden season in F1, and what might well turn out to be his only one, was not by any means an embarrassing one for a rookie. Nor was it particularly bad. Not many rookies can say they had a pole position when their car was determinedly midfield, and whatever Patrick Head and Rubens Barrichello had to do with it, Hulkenberg still had to go and put the car on pole in Brazil. And he did, by more than a second. Apart from that he also had a respectable seven points finishes, and might have had more if he had not been taken out by Kobayashi in Australia and Petrov in Japan. He did look shaky when playing with the big boys in Italy, but he could be cut some slack for that. Surely he deserves a seat next year? 5.5/10

Force India-Mercedes: Constructors’ Championship: 7th
Adrian Sutil: Drivers’ Championship: 11th
Sutil, by turns, frustrates and delights many F1 fans. His Korean debacle is an example of the worst Adrian Sutil, who pings off other F1 cars seemingly indiscriminately. But he is actually a very competent driver who managed nine points finishes this year, including fifth places at wet Spa and Malaysia. It’s still somehow quite difficult to envisage him being snapped up by a bigger team, though, which is a bit of a pity considering that he seems to have all the ingredients necessary to be a podium chancer or even a race winner. 6/10

Vitantonio Liuzzi: Drivers’ Championship: 14th
A disappointing season from the Italian; quite possibly the ammunition his critics need finally to eject him from the sport. Maybe the general perception of his ineptitude comes from his retirements towards the end of the season, but it is more than that: Liuzzi seems to be too often the car struggling to get out of Q3 and compares very unfavourably with his team mate on that front, losing a whopping 16-3 to Sutil over the course of the season. It will be a surprise if he is back on the grid in 2011. 3/10

Sauber-Ferrari: Constructors’ Championship: 8th
Kamui Kobayashi: Drivers’ Championship: 12th
Kobayashi this season fully justified Peter Sauber’s faith in him after the withdrawal of Toyota left him high and dry. He was quite excellent at some races: an amazing seventh in Valencia was achieved by overtaking none other than Fernando Alonso, as well as Sebastien Buemi, on the last lap. There were also wonderful drives to sixth in Britain and seventh in Japan, and he was gutsy and determined at others like Brazil. In some ways he didn’t look like his 2009 self at the beginning of the season, but he has more than proved his worth since. A very entertaining and promising prospect. 7/10

Pedro de la Rosa: Drivers’ Championship: 17th
De la Rosa was replaced after the Italian Grand Prix, and his sole points finish was seventh at the Hungarian race. Quite why he was sacked, the reasons are lost in the mists of time and team management, one would hazard. He certainly didn’t seem to be doing that bad a job in a mediocre car. But de la Rosa, for all his charm, has never quite seemed to be the finished article as a driver. Testing for Pirelli is his current job, and his old job testing for McLaren or even Hispania beckon for the future. 5/10

Nick Heidfeld: Drivers’ Championship: 18th
Replacing de la Rosa, Heidfeld had fulfilled his intention of getting back to a race seat after testing for Mercedes and then Pirelli through most of 2009. He immediately showed that he had lost none of the speed which makes him…a midfield and unspectacular F1 driver. Perhaps a tad unfair: he was eighth and ninth in Japan and Korea respectively, meaning that he wasn’t that far off Kobayashi. But Sauber have not decided to keep him on in 2011, although that Pirelli experience may mean another team will offer him something. 5/10

Toro Rosso-Ferrari: Constructors’ Championship: 9th
Sebastien Buemi: Drivers’ Championship: 16th
You wonder, in idle moments when there you realise there is still over a hundred days to the next F1 race, where Sebastien Buemi’s career is going. Ensconced in the Red Bull stable, you’d think he might make a decent number two who wouldn’t make waves at Red Bull when Mark Webber retires. Or he might jump ship to another midfield team. But either way, he hasn’t set the world on fire yet. Decent performances in Canada and Valencia this year serve as indication that he is not clueless, and might do good things in a quick car. Don’t hold your breath. 5/10

Jaime Alguersuari: Drivers’ Championship: 19th
Alguersuari is still only a boy, and so it isn’t fair to pass too heavy a judgement on him just yet. (How can someone born in 1990 be a fully formed F1 racing driver?) He is also a DJ, and it seems that there is more of a rhythm in that part of his life than there is in F1. He drove well this year in Malaysia, Spain and Abu Dhabi to take points finishes, but he didn’t score anything else all season. He’ll have to up his game again next year if he wants to make progress. 5/10

Lotus-Cosworth: Constructors’ Championship: 10th
Heikki Kovalainen: Drivers’ Championship: 20th
Kovalainen did well this year to finish 12th in Japan, and 13th in Australia and Korea. Although he did not have much competition, the Finn was consistently the brightest driver in a new car, and Lotus Racing, or 1Malaysia, or whatever it is they want to be called now, must be congratulated heartily on their efforts in 2010. Kovalainen is likely to help the nascent team’s development, but they must invest in a talismanic driver if they want to be serious contenders. 6/10

Jarno Trulli: Drivers’ Championship: 21st
Although Trulli’s flickering star occasionally still shines during qualifying in particular, you have to wonder why he doesn’t retire to his vineyards. Once Toyota withdrew, why would you go to a project that will need a long-term developmental driver, and for the foreseeable tool around at the back of the field? In 2010 his best result was 15th, and though it was definitely more to do with the car, he has to think about where it is all going. Outdone by Kovalainen this year, Trulli is only damaging his reputation by staying on in the sport. 4/10

HRT-Cosworth: Constructors’ Championship: 11th
Bruno Senna: Drivers’ Championship: 22nd
With a name like that, people are surely only ever going to be disappointed in you. There can be no doubt that most of Senna’s unedifying performances this season are down to a car that frequently had pieces fall off it, which cannot be confidence-inducing. But his being outqualified by Christian Klien was seriously disappointing. Let us hope for much better next year. 4/10

Karun Chandhok: Drivers’ Championship: 24th
That Chandhok was replaced at HRT by drivers eminently less capable than himself was one of the more unfortunate stories of 2010. 14th places, in Australia and at Monaco, are testament to his ability. His erudite and insightful comments for the BBC were all fans had of him after Britain, though. A travesty, even if needs must. 6/10

Sakon Yamamoto: Drivers’ Championship: 26th
Yamamoto drove well in Korea to finish 15th. But he will probably never be world champion. 4/10

Christian Klien: Drivers’ Championship: 27th
As HRT drivers went this season, Klien wasn’t that bad. A couple of decent qualifying performances mean that he is not a spent force. Though he too will not challenge the statisticians overmuch, you fear, in the coming years. 4/10

Virgin-Cosworth: Constructors’ Championship: 12th
Lucas di Grassi: Drivers’ Championship: 23rd
It is very hard to pass comment on a driver whose team a) designed their car entirely with CFD, and so it wasn’t very good, and b) didn’t build the car with a fuel tank big enough to finish a race. Di Grassi is highly-rated at Renault where he used to test, but he couldn’t or wouldn’t show any of his talent this season. Crashing on the parade lap in Japan was the nadir. 4/10

Timo Glock: Drivers’ Championship: 25th
Glock managed to give off a generally positive impression this season, which is odd, considering that on paper his results are worse than di Grassi’s. It might be the run of six finishes he enjoyed mid-season. Or it might be that he just looks the part a bit more. Neither is evidence of future glory. 4/10

Red Bull Junior Academy – Paving the way for future champions

Sebastian Vettel is the new world champion at the age of 23, with an immense 10 pole positions, but only 5 race wins this year. While it was not a perfect season for the young German, he has proven that he has raw speed and also the determination and maturity to turn around a poor season. Vettel has been touted to be a future great of the sport, and he surely has the capacity to win many more championships as he is still only very early into his career.

With Vettel’s title, and Hamilton’s a few years earlier, we can see that drivers who have been nurtured and mentored from a young age can become a force to be reckoned with in the top flight.

While this has drawn a few critics, the fact is that this is the best way to develop future World Champions and should be encouraged.

We all know Hamilton’s story, but where did Vettel come from? The answer is the energy drinks-backed young driver academy that has produced, not only some of the big names in the sport, but is also likely to produce many World Champions in the future. That is, of course, the Red Bull Junior Team, founded in 2001. We look into success story of what has been hailed as the greatest young driver academy, which has now produced it’s very first champion. We’ll also look at the future of the academy and who the next big names of the sport will be.

The Premise Winning from the Beginning

A media statement from the team at the end of 2009 reflected on the successes of the academy since 2003. It also provided insight into the objective of the academy, which explains their winning Formula.

The objectives were clear: “Hand-picked international talents receive professional and continuous training in all relevant areas of motorsports in the Red Bull Junior Team under the premise of competition from the beginning.

“All drivers of the Red Bull Junior Team are under compulsion to work hard from the start and should also learn to reach their big goal Formula 1 in the long term this way, under permanent pressure to perform. That is why the premise was expanded to winning from the beginning.”

Therefore, this premise suggests that the drivers, even at a young age, bear the responsibility upon themselves to perform. In fact, so much is this pressure, that they are expected to win from the very beginning. Sebastian Vettel, did just that winning an unprecedented 18 races out of 20 in the 2004 Formula BMW ADAC Championship. The other two races? Oh, just a measly second and third placed finish! Other drivers who have won this championship cannot really manage more than 10 wins in the season.

The media release states in large bold letters the seriousness of their academy: “Only those drivers who have the implicit talent for a sustainable Formula One career will be supported.”

Drivers of the Past and Future Prospects

Other than Sebastian Vettel, there are many previous and current drivers who’ve graced the Formula One grid have been part of the academy at some point in their career. Christian Klien became the first driver of the Red Bull junior team to enter Formula One when raced for Jaguar in 2004. Other drivers who made it include Vitantonio Liuzzi, Scott Speed, Sebastian Buemi, Jaime Alguersuari, Karun Chandhok, Robert Doornbos, Narain Karthikeyan, Patrick Friesacher, and Enrique Benoldi. Once drivers make it to Formula One, they graduate from the academy.

At the end of 2009, the academy had nine drivers, which was at the time the lowest since the academy’s inception. At the time, the reason they gave for this that quality comes before quantity. At present, the academy only has four drivers, Daniel Ricciardo (Australia), Jean-Eric Vergne (France), Daniil Kvyat (Russia), and Carlos Sainz Jr. (Spain); this suggests that they have further refined the academy to only include the crème de la crème.

Brendon Hartley (New Zealand) was the most recent driver to be dropped from the academy this year, after going one-and-a-half seasons without a win in the Formula Renault 3.5 championship, proving that the academy can be ruthless, if required.

Daniel Ricciardo

Ricciardo and Vergne were seen at this week’s 2010 Young Driver’s Test at the Abu Dhabi race track. Ricciardo once again proved his ability to be fast and consistent, topping the times on both days by quite a significant margin. Only a year earlier had Ricciardo topped final session in a three-day test at Jerez, in a less-competitive RB5 (although it was still a very fast car).

Earlier this year the young Australian narrowly missed out on winning the Formula Renault 3.5 Championship to Russian Mikhail Aleshin. Aleshin, who ironically was backed by the academy until last year, overtook Ricciardo with two laps to go in the final race, thus securing the taking the championship by two points. It was still a rather impressive season for Australian on his debut in the championship, with eight pole-positions and four wins.

In 2009, Ricciardo had notched seven wins on his way to win the British Formula Three Championship, and in 2008 Ricciardo won eight races on his way to win Formula Renault 2.0 WEC. He also finished second in the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 of that year, where he notched six race wins.

With his performances at the Abu Dhabi Young Driver’s test this year, one can be confident that Daniel Ricciardo is indeed ready to step up to a race seat. However, he has also conceded that a year in the GP2 Feeder series into Formula One would not hurt him. Either way, the young Australian has attracted many fans, and surely will be a name to follow in the not-too-distant future.

Jean-Eric Vergne

The young Frenchman might not have been too noticeable at this week’s driver test, but 20-year old Vergne is another exciting prospect from the Red Bull Junior Academy, perhaps the most exciting. He is the reigning British Formula Three champion, succeeding Daniel Ricciardo as the third driver from the academy in a row to win the championship.

(The 2008 winner was a certain Jamie Alguersuari his story is also quite impressive, but we won’t go there today.)

Vergne’s route to the championship title from 30 races included 13 wins and 11 pole positions. He finished on the podium 20 times. More recently this year, he replaced the under-performing Brendon Hartley at Tech1 Racing in the Formula Renault 3.5 series.

Astoundingly, after racing only the final 6 races of the season, he finished 8th in the championship. Vergne had also achieved what Hartley failed to do in one and half seasons he won in only his third outing with the team at Silverstone, when original race winner Esteban Guerrieri was disqualified for a technical infringement.

In Vergne’s 6 races, he scored 53 points, finishing on the podium a further three times after his win. This was 3 points more than what Hartley was able to achieve in his 13 races that season!

On day one of the 2010 Abu Dhabi Young Driver’s test, Vergne notched the seventh-fastest time, in the STR-5 with a lap-time of 1:42.489. He completed 93 laps in the process. On the second day of the test, Vergne finished with the ninth fastest time, of 1:40.974, just 0.030 seconds behind 2010 GP2 Champion Pastor Maldonado in the faster Williams.

While Jean-Vergne is not ready just yet to step up into Formula One, we can be sure he will do it soon, and will likely turn heads in the process.

Academy Highlights
The success of the academy can be demonstrated by looking at their driver’s achievements to date.

– Christian Klien (AUT) becomes the first Red Bull Junior to sign a Formula One contract.

– Vitantonio Liuzzi (ITA) wins 7 out of 10 races in the F3000 Championship
– Sebastian Vettel (GER) wins 18 out of 20 races in the Formula BMW ADAC Championship
– Christian Klien records first ever F1 point.

– Michael Ammermuller (GER) wins five races in a row in Formula Renault
– Neel Jani (SUI) becomes the first Red Bull Junior to win a GP2 series race (Budapest)
– Scott Speed (USA) and Neel Jani move up to Formula One
– Sebastien Buemi (SUI) wins seven races in Formula BMW

– Michael Ammermuller wins a race on the first GP2 weekend in Valencia
– Filipe Albuquerque (POR) wins the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 and Eurocup Formula Renault

– Red Bull Juniors Mika Maki (FIN), Jaime Alguersuari (ESP) and Brendon Hartley (NZL), take the top three championship classification ranking in the Formula Renault Italia.

– Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) wins Formula Renault 2.0 WEC, and comes second in EC.
– September 14th Sebastian Vettel becomes the first driver from the Academy to win a Formula One Grand Prix at Monza.

– Daniel Ricciardo wins the British F3 Championship
– Robert Wickens (CAN) runner up FIA Formula 2 Championship
– Daniel Juncadella (ESP) in Formula BMW Europe
– Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA) in both the Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup and West European Cup

– Jean-Eric Vergne wins the British F3 Championship with 14 wins from 12 Pole Positions
– Daniel Ricciardo runner-up in Renault 3.5 Series
– Vergne wins a race in Renault 3.5 Series and secures 8th Place in the championship from only 6 races.
– Sebastian Vettel is the first driver from the academy to become Formula One World Champion

Sebastian Vettel

Sebastian Vettel’s World Championship now proves that the academy is successful. While Vettel remains the only driver from the academy to have won a Formula One race, we can be sure that there will be more to follow, particularly with the likes of Ricciardo and Vergne coming through the ranks.

Vettel started racing karts in 1995, winning various titles such as the Junior Monaco Kart Cup in 2001, around the time the Red Bull Junior Team was founded.

It was not long after Helmut Marko started the junior team that he was soon watching the 12-year-old Vettel training at Schumacher’s Kerpen kart track, just outside Cologne. Only a few years later at fifteen, Vettel was now the star of the junior squad, ordering mechanics around and pushing them for yet more victories.

After Vettel’s domination of the 2004 German Formula BMW ADAC Championship, he drove in the Formula Three Euroseries. He was fifth in the final standings, therefore finishing as the best-placed rookie, in a championship that was dominated by one Lewis Hamilton.

As a result of his success, he was rewarded with a test for the Williams F1 Team, and later for BMW Sauber in the 2006 and 2007 seasons. It was at BMW Sauber where Vettel really made a name for himself, continually setting fastest laps at Friday practice sessions from the moment he stepped into the cockpit.

At the United States Grand Prix, Vettel received his lucky break in Formula One, and we all know the story since then…

Victorious Vettel: Abu Dhabi GP race report

Sebastian Vettel today won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to win the world championship at the last.

The Red Bull man led, with the exception of pit stops, from lights to flag and on the basis of this weekend’s performance there could be no more deserving world champion.

As the sun set over the Yas Marina circuit in the early evening, the tension was rising. There could be only one winner of the 2010 championship, yet there were four competitors still in contention. All eyes on the grid were very much on Fernando Alonso – in fact, there was a veritable scrum around the Spaniard, and even the King of Spain was having to queue up to give Alonso his best wishes.

Fifth on the grid sat Mark Webber, and he too was the focus of a lot of attention. His job had been made more difficult by his lacklustre qualifying session, and he knew his principal target was to get past Alonso. Between him and his team mate on pole, though, were the two McLarens, neither of whom would be slouching this afternoon. Webber was on the back foot.

Meanwhile, two things were happening away from the media and royalty scrum that were worthy of note. Firstly, the lack of attention around Sebastian Vettel was surely taking some of the pressure off the young German. It was clear what was required of him…to win, basically. There were so many permutations that he could not be concerned with the ins and outs of them all.

The second curious incident was concerning Robert Kubica. The pole, down in 11th on the grid, had decided to gamble on the hard tyres whereas the vast majority of the field were on the super-softs. This would be crucial later on.

And then they were off. As they flew off the start line your eyes fell on Jenson Button, who was like lightning. He managed to take Alonso down into the first turn, which left the Spaniard theoretically at the mercy of the Red Bull in the hands of Mark Webber behind him.

The field piled through, and it was at the first chicane that the first key incident happened. Michael Schumacher, in close tyre-to-tyre combat with a number of people, put his foot down a bit early and spun. Although two or three cars managed to miss him, Vitantonio Liuzzi could not, and hit him hard. There was debris everywhere, but it was a relief that Schumacher had not been injured.

Cue Safety Car, which seemed to last a while. Rosberg, Alguersuari and crucially Vitaly Petrov chose at this moment to make their mandatory pit stop, a move that looked hasty at the time but would pay dividends later.

At the end of lap 5 the Safety Car was to come in, and Vettel let Bernd Maylander go early and played with the following Lewis Hamilton’s reflexes a bit. It was close to the envelope as far as those sort of tactics are concerned, but there would not be repercussions for Vettel.

The restart was without incident, and the order was now Vettel, Hamilton, Button, Alonso, Webber, Massa, Barrichello, Kobayashi, Kubica, Sutil, Heidfeld, Buemi, Hulkenberg, Rosberg, Kovalainen, and Trulli. The minor teams followed, with Alguersuari and Petrov in attendance.

Vettel went on his way and promptly set a couple of fastest laps, as clear a statement of intent as he had yet given. He quickly pulled out a gap of more than a second and a half over Hamilton, demonstrating his latent pace. Webber was being dropped, down where he was. By lap 8 he was six and a half seconds down on his team mate, and watching his championship evaporate. He was now 1.7 seconds adrift of the man directly in front (Alonso) too, seemingly unable to threaten. His misery was compounded on that same lap 8 when he brushed the wall on the outside of the hotel complex. Massa was just behind. It wasn’t going well.

Further back down the field, Kobayashi was trying to overtake Barrichello, but failing. That set the tone for overtaking maneouvres throughout the race, drivers making it difficult for their competitors.

Around lap 11 the race looked like it might get interesting at the front. Lewis Hamilton looked as though he was catching Sebastian Vettel, as the German started to experience a bit of graining on his front tyres. Others were immediately alert. Were the tyres going off? No one involved in the championship could afford to take any risks. Webber, who had just been on the radio complaining about his own rear tyres, decided to pit. It was lap 12. Hamilton was now within nine-tenths of Vettel.

Webber came out and it seemed like he was a long way down. Ferrari smelt blood, and made the call to deploy Felipe Massa, who had been just behind Webber, tactically. Maybe he could act as a bit of a roadblock. He was pitted immediately after setting some quick sector times once in the clear air. It was in vain, though, as Massa suffered a minor delay in the pits and came out behind Webber.

Here, Ferrari overestimated Webber’s pace, and decided to call their championship contender Alonso into the pits to attempt to maintain track position over him. On lap 16 the Spaniard came out ahead of Mark Webber and it looked like curtains for the Australian’s title bid unless something drastically untoward came to pass.

Then we arrived at the pivotal moment of the race. Vettel’s tyres, which had looked as though they were on their last legs, came back to him, and you could immediately see him building the gap back up to the chasing Hamilton. This meant that the graining period had been only a phase, and he was back on it now.

Meanwhile, things were going wrong for Alonso and Webber. They arrived at the back of Vitaly Petrov, who had pitted early during the Safety Car. Petrov was racing for position, as was Nico Rosberg in front of him, and Alonso would have to pass them both if he wanted to put himself in mathematical contention. “We know you’re doing your best, but it’s critical to pass him,” Ferrari told Alonso.

By lap 24 Alonso was starting to get frustrated, perhaps as he sensed his championship hopes diminishing by the lap. Petrov was driving superbly, making his Renault wide in the corners and profiting from its excellent traction and straightline speed to lord it over the Ferrari along the long straights.

Hamilton then pitted and came out without incident. The following lap the race leader pitted, and Red Bull were more than half a second faster than the McLaren boys had been working on Lewis. This translated to a bigger gap on the racetrack but importantly also to a two-car cushion in the form of Kobayashi and Kubica, both of who were yet to pit. “How did he get so far in front?” a bemused Hamilton asked his team.

The next lap, lap 26, saw Kubica take Kobayashi, and Hamilton follow suit soon after. Their moves were rendered all the more remarkable through their rarity. Out front, Jenson Button was now ploughing a lonely furrow, running extremely long and sitting in the lead. His team mate Hamilton was joining battle with Robert Kubica, but neither were slow, and it looked as though Button would pit and slot in behind Hamilton. Leastways, Vettel was not racing the man in the lead at this moment.

The order was now Button, Vettel, Kubica, Hamilton, Kobayashi, Sutil, Buemi, Rosberg, Hulkenberg, Petrov, Alonso, Webber, Alguersuari, Massa, Heidfeld, Barrichello, Kovalainen, Trulli, Glock, di Grassi, Senna and Klien.

Lewis Hamilton and his great rival Fernando Alonso were now locked in a similar battle, though on very different parts of the racetrack. Both were stuck behind yellow and red Renaults, and neither of them could find a way past. It was more frustrating for Alonso than for Hamilton, but the longer they both spent where they now found themselves, the less chance they had of taking another world title.

Button and Kubica were the main men yet to pit at this stage. Such was Kubica’s pace, though, that it looked like he might now jump Alonso when he came out. How extraordinary that even if Alonso managed to get past his nemesis Petrov, he would now have another Renault in front of him. And that was without mentioning Nico Rosberg, who he also needed to get by. Ferrari were doing their level best to gee up their star man. “Use your talent, we know how big it is,” they told him. Alonso was running out of time and choices, and his driving became increasingly erratic as the pressure told.

With Kubica out of the way and safely out in front of the ailing Alonso, Hamilton set about Vettel, setting two fastest laps in a row. He was now closing at a rate of six-tenths per lap, but it was because Vettel was at this point super-cautious, knowing that any slight mistake would cost him so dearly. He must have also been conscious of the strain he was putting on his Renault engine, with reference to his experience in Korea only a few weeks ago.

As the race slowly died, Red Bull radioed Mark Webber and effectively closed the door after the horse had bolted, telling him to have a go at Alonso. The hapless Webber could not have succeeded if he had tried, such was his bewildering lack of pace today. He could not keep tabs on Alonso, let alone the McLarens or his pumped-up team mate.

And so it wound down, Christian Horner’s legs jiggling anxiously on the pit wall as the laps remaining ticked down agonisingly. Even as Vettel crossed the line, they could not celebrate, for we had to wait until the drivers in between him and his championship rivals had finished. A coming-together, or a couple of retirements, would change the picture drastically.

Ferrari, though, were resigned to defeat after a tactical call to cover Webber’s stop did not work for them. A small mistake that is only evident in hindsight, but it is over such fine things that world championships are won and lost.

And Vettel was then champion, and he cried over the radio. The fulfilment of a lifetime dream for the German who has been one of the brightest stars in the firmament since his arrival in the sport. 2010 has not been without mistakes, and perhaps he could have won it earlier had mechanical demons not haunted him, but it was his sheer pace that makes him the deserving winner of this, the greatest accolade in motorsport.

Pace that was on determined show today, as he took the world championship in dominant style.

In fine Vettel: Sebastian is World Champion in Abu Dhabi

Sebastian Vettel takes the 2010 World Drivers’ Championship in Abu Dhabi

The German is peerless in the desert, taking a blinding win and winning the championship by four points

Former championship leader Fernando Alonso suffers torrid afternoon behind Vitaly Petrov after early pit stop and finishes eighth

Brits Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button finish second and third in the race, whilst Mark Webber is ninth and loses out on the championship too

Sebastian Vettel today won his first world championship in the desert today to add the drivers’ crown to his Red Bull team’s constructors’ title.

Vettel was third in the standings before the race started, but executed an exemplary weekend from pole to flag and had an answer pace-wise for anything that was thrown at him.

While all eyes were on the two championship leaders Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber going into the afternoon, Vettel went quietly about his business and triumphed in the end.

Fernando Alonso, leading the standings before the weekend started, was in contention until the decision was made to pit the Spaniard by his Ferrari team. This was in order to cover Mark Webber, who was suffering from tyre graining, and pitted relatively early. The victor Vettel and the second and third placed men Hamilton and Button did not pit so early and with hindsight their decision was the better one.

Abu Dhabi GP qualifying: Vettel on pole as Webber suffers

Sebastian Vettel today took a superb pole position for tomorrow’s season-closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The Red Bull man affirmed his championship credentials through his blistering speed, beating his own time in the final Q3 session to start from first on the grid. He will be followed by Lewis Hamilton, who will have no stewards’ action taken against him despite a run-in with Felipe Massa during Q2, and a happy Fernando Alonso in third.

The other competitor for the world title, Mark Webber, will start fifth after a disappointing session in which he could not match the speed of either his team mate or the McLarens. Jenson Button starts fourth tomorrow.

Felipe Massa, in the second Ferrari, is sixth on the grid, followed by Rubens Barrichello in a handy-looking Williams. Michael Schumacher outqualified his younger Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg to line up in eighth and ninth respectively, while a good performance from Vitaly Petrov saw him take tenth slot.

Those dropping out at the end of Q2 were Kubica, Kobayashi, Sutil, Heidfeld, Hulkenberg, Liuzzi and Alguersuari. The Toro Rosso man had narrowly escaped the drop at the end of Q1, and instead it was his team mate Sebastien Buemi who was the victim. Buemi starts 18th, followed by Trulli, Kovalainen, Glock, di Grassi, Senna and Klien.

Pos Driver Car Q1 Q2 Q3
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m40.318s 1m39.874s 1m39.394s
2. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m40.335s 1m40.119s 1m39.425s
3. Alonso Ferrari 1m40.170s 1m40.311s 1m39.792s
4. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m40.877s 1m40.014s 1m39.823s
5. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m40.690s 1m40.074s 1m39.925s
6. Massa Ferrari 1m40.942s 1m40.323s 1m40.202s
7. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m40.904s 1m40.476s 1m40.203s
8. Schumacher Mercedes 1m41.222s 1m40.452s 1m40.516s
9. Rosberg Mercedes 1m40.231s 1m40.060s 1m40.589s
10. Petrov Renault 1m41.018s 1m40.658s 1m40.901s
11. Kubica Renault 1m41.336s 1m40.780s
12. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m41.045s 1m40.783s
13. Sutil Force India-Ferrari 1m41.473s 1m40.914s
14. Heidfeld Sauber-Ferrari 1m41.409s 1m41.113s
15. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1m41.015s 1m41.418s
16. Liuzzi Force India-Ferrari 1m41.681s 1m41.642s
17. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m41.707s 1m41.738s
18. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m41.824s
19. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1m43.516s
20. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1m43.712s
21. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m44.095s
22. di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1m44.510s
23. Senna Hispania-Cosworth 1m45.085s
24. Klien Hispania-Cosworth 1m45.296s

We have nothing to lose, says Horner as Vettel tops practice times

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has said his drivers have nothing to lose, as Sebastian Vettel topped the timesheets in first Abu Dhabi practice this morning.

Either Red Bull driver could win the title on Sunday afternoon, but they both trail Fernando Alonso in the points and need the Ferrari man to finish third or lower.

But Horner’s remarks and Vettel’s statement of intent leave little doubt that the Red Bull squad want to add the drivers’ crown to their constructors’.

“Our priority is to really go for it, as both our drivers have nothing to lose,” said Horner. “From a team point of view, we’ve bagged the team championship, and it would be fantastic to come away from here with the drivers’ championship.

“For us it doesn’t matter which one [wins]. It would be fantastic for a Red Bull driver to win it, as they would both be deserving champions. We’re just going to give it everything we can and see how it pans out.”

The Englishman also added his final word on the question of whether Vettel would be ordered to let Webber past, if there were a situation in which only the Australian could win.

He added: “In the situation they are both racing for a championship, I don’t think it would make one iota of difference if we told them not to race each other, which we wouldn’t do. Obviously they know to finish first, first they need to finish. They need to finish, as Fernando has scored more points than them, but ultimately they would race each other.”

Meanwhile, Vettel gave no indication that he is intending to surrender his own title charge by setting the fastest time this morning.

He led home title rival Lewis Hamilton from Jenson Button, but Mark Webber could only manage fourth quickest.

Fernando Alonso was sixth.

Pos Driver Car Time Gap Laps
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m42.760s 18
2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m43.369s + 0.609s 16
3. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m43.785s + 1.025s 19
4. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m43.840s + 1.080s 19
5. Robert Kubica Renault 1m44.080s + 1.320s 19
6. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m44.121s + 1.361s 17
7. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m44.199s + 1.439s 19
8. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m44.604s + 1.844s 18
9. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m44.718s + 1.958s 19
10. Nick Heidfeld Sauber-Ferrari 1m44.737s + 1.977s 19
11. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m45.160s + 2.400s 18
12. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m45.445s + 2.685s 21
13. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m45.474s + 2.714s 15
14. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m45.552s + 2.792s 20
15. Tonio Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1m45.585s + 2.825s 14
16. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m46.003s + 3.243s 20
17. Nico Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1m46.644s + 3.884s 19
18. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m47.105s + 4.345s 22
19. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m48.450s + 5.690s 19
20. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1m48.472s + 5.712s 17
21. Lucas di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1m49.375s + 6.615s 13
22. Bruno Senna Hispania-Cosworth 1m49.590s + 6.830s 18
23. Christian Klien Hispania-Cosworth 1m50.274s + 7.514s 17
24. Fairuz Fauzy Lotus-Cosworth 1m51.705s + 8.945s 18

All timing unofficial

A win or second is all I need, says calm Alonso

Fernando Alonso goes into the weekend at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi knowing that he only needs a win or a second place to take the title.

And the Spaniard reflected yesterday that his third place result at Interlagos had made the calculations easier for him.

“The Interlagos result allows us to be in charge of our own destiny: with a win or a second place we won’t need any more calculations,” Alonso wrote in his blog for the official Ferrari website.

“Our approach hasn’t changed for this all-important race: we know that if we get everything perfectly right, then we will have the chance to reach the target that we set ourselves at the beginning of the season.”

Hamilton: I’m not feeling pressure for Abu Dhabi

Lewis Hamilton has said that he is not feeling the pressure as the F1 circus arrives in Abu Dhabi for the final, championship-deciding round of the season.

Despite still having a mathematical chance of taking the title, Hamilton is an outside bet – given that he would have to win and rely on misfortune for his three competitors.

For this reason he said he was relaxed going into the weekend.

“I’ve been in the hunt for the world championship at the final race of the season on two previous occasions, so I know all about the pressure you feel when the title is almost within touching distance,” he said.

“This year, it feels a little different – although I’m still mathematically in with a shout, I’m fully aware that, being 24 points behind, I’ll not only need to win the race on Sunday but see the championship leader finish outside the points. And, even then, that might not be enough. So I’m not feeling the pressure in quite the same way as I did in 2007 or 2008.

“That’s not to say I’m going into the race weekend feeling any less determined or motivated: we’ve seen before that this championship can be unpredictable and volatile – and I think this last race of the year could be even more unpredictable than normal.

“I know from personal experience that the championship isn’t over until you cross the line on the final lap – so I’ll not only make sure I’m up there at the end, but pushing hard until the very end.

“It’s going to be a brilliant spectacle, and a great event for Formula 1 fans around the world I absolutely can’t wait.”

We want to come back to Brazil despite crime scares – Domenicali

Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali has said that he wants to come back to Brazil despite the crime scares that dogged the 2010 event.

McLaren’s Jenson Button narrowly evaded a carjacking on Saturday evening thanks to the reactions of his driver, and Sauber personnel were also robbed during the weekend.

But Domenicali warned against judging the whole event against a couple of incidents.

“To be honest, I don’t want to say that we are here and it is a dangerous situation,” he said. “We know that anywhere in the world something bad can happen.

“I think that we need to thank all the organisers here that are trying to do the maximum they can and I would like to stress this positive point, because also this week I know people had some problems.”

Domenicali added that he had been slightly concerned that Ferrari might be a target after the German GP when Felipe Massa surrendered the lead to Fernando Alonso in controversial circumstances.

“We didn’t do any extra precautions, we will try to normal stuff but once again I would like to stress the fact that here in Brazil the atmosphere is really great, and one thing I would like to say, there were a lot of people saying that I will come here in Brazil and you will see how everyone will be against Ferrari and I was trembling – joking! and it was not true.

“All the fans here were cheering Ferrari and this is one thing that you do not have to forget, the passion for F1, also for Brazilian drivers and our brand. This is something we have to bring home and also to the benefit of the ones who are trying to put the extra pressure on us.”

McLaren congratulate RBR on constructors’ crown

McLaren Mercedes have today publicly congratulated new constructors’ champions Red Bull Racing.

The Milton Keynes squad’s one-two yesterday took them to an historic first manufacturers’ title, a mere six years after they first entered the sport under their current name.

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh sent his congratulations to the team.

“I think I have to congratulate Red Bull,” Whitmarsh is quoted as saying by Autosport. “It is a new name on the trophy and that has to be good for the sport, they have done a good job and they deserved the constructors’ championship.

“We will see now. They will be pushing hard for the drivers and so will Fernando [Alonso] and so will Lewis [Hamilton]. I think it is good as I say for the sport to go to the last round like this, it is fantastic.

“It has been just an epic championship and I think we have all enjoyed it, we’ve had highs and lows during the season, but we will see what happens in the last race now.”

Whitmarsh went on to say that his team would go all out to come second in the constructors’ table, as well as maintaining Lewis Hamilton’s title charge.

“We should be able to retain second place in the constructors’ championship but we do not take anything for granted,” he added. “Just as we can go and win the drivers’ we can go and lose second place in the constructors’ [to Ferrari], it is all possible and it is the great thing about this sport.”