Sebastian Vettel took another commanding victory in today’s inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, issuing as he did so a strong statement of intent for the upcoming season. The spectacular setting failed to provide an incident-packed race, but the German was faultless as he led his Red Bull team to another one-two finish.
Some might say Vettel inherited the win after main rival for the spoils Lewis Hamilton went out with brake failure early on. While it is true that Hamilton was in front, the longer-fuelled Vettel was not letting him escape and would probably have passed him at the stops. Hamilton’s pace on the option tyre was not that of the same as his all-conquering pace of yesterday and Friday. Although “what-ifs” are not generally useful in F1, it is fair to say that Vettel probably had the legs on Hamilton and thoroughly deserved the win.
Second-placed Mark Webber drove a strong race in a car that was manifestly fast, but which he could not get to work on its option tyre as well as his team-mate Vettel. This is more of a recommendation of the young German than a criticism of Webber. Seemingly Vettel now possesses that transient quality that characterises the truly great – he can drive around cars’ certain imbalances, or issues with certain tyres, and still be fast.
Furthermore, it appears, he has rediscovered the confidence he had in the very early part of the season, which saw him disposing of Webber and severely challenging the Brawns. It was lost in mid-season with some errors and then mechanical unreliability, but there can be no doubt that he will be a very difficult man to beat next year if he has a half-decent car under him.
At the end of the race Webber was locked into a superbly entertaining battle with the revitalised, liberated Jenson Button. It ultimately ended only in third place for the newly crowned world champion, but in the words of Nigel Mansell, Button does seem like a starving man who has just worked out how to get into the fridge. He looked breathtakingly confident at the start, keeping both Red Bulls and Hamilton honest in the early stages. With a few extra tenths available to him he might have taken victory, but nothing can be taken away from his individual performance. Rubens Barrichello was also impressive, turning in some very quick laps despite a missing front wing endplate.
Another gold star must go to Kamui Kobayashi, who tonight looks like having won himself one of the Toyota seats for next year. The Japanese made the very best of his long strategy, vaulting six places to end up sixth, ahead of Jarno Trulli.
Apart from that Webber-Button battle at the end, David Coulthard’s observation that the Yas Marina circuit had provided exciting racing seems hard to substantiate. Fernando Alonso was his usual ebullient self, but it is well known that Alonso can overtake anywhere. Otherwise, the field quickly separated after the start into that two-second gap between cars that characterises anodyne circuits everywhere. The Overtaking Working Group, whose proposals ended in this year’s ridiculous-looking cars, need also to go back to the drawing board.