What can we learn from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix?

 

Right then, here's my look back at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. I've listed five things that I think are worthy of discussing after one of the most exciting, action-packed races in recent memory. I'll begin by looking at Kimi Raikkonen's first victory since his comeback at the start of this season.

Raikkonen and Lotus finally win

It's been the question most of us have been asking all season; will this weekend finally be the one at which Kimi Raikkonen and Lotus finally win a race in 2012? Well at Abu Dhabi this past weekend we finally received the answer a lot of Formula 1 fans had wanting answering all season; with a yes. There's no denying that Kimi has had a successful return to Formula 1 (after a two year absence), but one thing that escaped him prior to Abu Dhabi was a race victory. Crossing the line in 1st place at the Yas Marina circuit made Kimi the 8th different winner this season and saw Lotus become the 6th different constructor to taste the victory champagne in 2012.

Ironically despite taking his first victory this season, he left Abu Dhabi knowing that for the first time this season he would no longer be able to win the 2012 Driver's Championship. The drive though was one of a Champion, fending off the hard charging Fernando Alonso in the latter stages and crossing the line ahead of Alonso and championship leader Sebastian Vettel. Kimi's post race interview left the fans with mixed feelings, given Kimi's choice of colourful language. I for one saw nothing wrong with it. I'd rather drivers were honest, said what they really feel and stop hiding behind the PR/Sponsor culture that appears to have made many modern drivers 'bland'.

Constrasting fortunes at Red Bull

It was certainly a day of differing fortunes for the two Red Bull drivers, with Mark Webber starting 2nd and retiring and Sebastian Vettel starting from the pit lane before crossing the finish line in 3rd place. Let's start with Vettel. Some have said it was a lucky drive, and personally I can see where they are coming from. The first corner incident that saw Nico Hulkenberg retire and left Paul Di Resta with a puncture and requiring a pitstop meant Vettel hadn't really got to worry about overtaking two cars which may have caused a few issues. The same could be said with Romain Grosjean's puncture after contact with Nico Rosberg, again sending the Frenchman to the rear of the field. There's no denying that the timing of the safety cars benefited Vettel more than other drivers, and essentially gave him a free pitstop when changing his front wing. Add to that the ease of which JeanEric Vergne moved out of Seb's way (by practically driving out of the circuits boundaries) meant that he had an 'easier' run to the front of the field than he could have done. Having said that, the overtake Jenson Button proved that the double World Champion can indeed fight and hustle his way through when it really matters. 24th to 3rd is a fantastic result and one that could see the German retain his title.

Now let's look at Mark Webber's race. Again he had a poor start and fell down the field in the opening laps, before being involved in a string of incidents. The first of these involved the much (unfairly in my opinion) criticised Pastor Maldonado on the run down to the turn 11/12 chicane. Webber tried to overtake around the outside and cut across the Williams driver in an attempt to hit the apex. Now anyone who's seen Pastor throughout his racing career will know that he does not give his place up easily, something Mark should have been aware of and thus been more patient. The second incident came at the very same corner, this time involving Felipe Massa. It was an almost identical incident, causing the Red Bull driver to take to the escape tarmac and the Ferrari of Massa to go into a spin. In my opinion Mark was lucky not to get a penalty for at least one of the incidents for careless driving. That corner continued to haunt him; with the Australian getting caught up in a battle involving Romain Grosjean, Paul Di Resta and Sergio Perez. Chaos ensued and Webber was taken out by a spinning Grosjean. Webber can take no blame for the incident, but his driving and racing throughout the race was poor and one of concern. It's one he'll want to put behind him as he continues to struggle in the second half of 2012. A strange day at Red Bull.

Lewis Hamilton's lack of luck

It seems the worst thing that Lewis Hamilton can do at the moment is lead a race. For the second time in 5 races he's retired when being out front. In fact, 'being out front' isn't really doing him justice. At both Abu Dhabi and Singapore he's not only dominated the race, but the whole weekend. Yet in both races, around the lap 20 mark, the car has let him and the team down. It's retirements like this that have really hampered Lewis and his title ambitions this season, particularly as they've happened when he's been in a position to take home full points. I have no doubt that Lewis that can win at least one of the remaining races and end his McLaren career on a high, but will the car's reliability (or lack of) allow him to do so?

Maldonado appears to be learning

You can't deny that since the Italian Grand Prix we've seen a different side to Pastor Maldonado. He took a huge amount of stick for his driving this season (some of it justified, some of it not), but has clearly started to understand that he did need to change his ways if he wants to stay in the sport beyond 2012, or even at times in 2012. He's an exceptional qualifier, which often means he starts race in places that the car is expected to be, and has seen him involved in many an incident this season. A 2nd place start in Singapore was curtailed by a hydraulics failure before a return to the points (his first since winning in Barcelona) came in Japan. He could well have scored again in India had it not been for a puncture after contact with Kamui Kobayashi.

This past weekend at Abu Dhabi really showed what Pastor can do. A stunning qualifying lap saw the Venezuelan again start in the first two rows. He held a podium position for the opening stint of the race before incurring a KERS failure not long after the first safety car. He drove sensibly throughout, defended firmly when he had to and guided himself through the chaos that was the turn 13 multicar crash. For me Pastor has shown enough this season that he merits a place on the grid. He's got the raw speed, he's got the raw talent and he's got the money and for me at least, as unpopular as this may be, has impressed more and more often than team mate Bruno Senna. Pastor and Williams are ending the season strongly; and another one or two repeats of Abu Dhabi would do very nicely.

Ricciardo proving his worth

Toro Rosso recently announced that both of its current drivers, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne would be retained for the 2013 season. The decision seems to be a popular one amongst fans, particularly when it comes to Australian Ricciardo. Daniel scored for the 5th time in the past 7 races at this past weekend's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, a feat that is even more impressive given that early in the season it went 9 races without a single point. Not only is he out classing team mate Vergne in qualifying, but also the races as well. The car is certainly more competitive than it was earlier in the season, but Ricciardo's ability to race cleanly and overtake/defend when necessary has seen him impress me and many others in recent races. Yes he's still behind team mate Vergne in the standings, but I think it goes to show that results aren't always everything. Strong, consistent performances can be just as, if not more impressive than scoring bigger points on a more inconsistent basis. I started the season thinking the two, Vergne and Ricciardo, were extremely evenly matched. But as the season has gone on the pendulum and momentum has definitely swung in the favour of Ricciardo. It's been a struggle at times, but there are many reasons why Daniel Ricciardo should be happy with his first full Formula 1 season. I'm expecting big things in 2013 and beyond.

Do you agree or disagree with any of the points I've raised above? If you have, or just feel like you have something to add, then please do comment below or contact me through Twitter (links in numerous places). Many thanks!

Image Source: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix podium 2012

Top Drivers

 
Driver Points
Hamilton 252
Rosberg 211
Vettel 203
Raikkonen 107
Bottas 101
Massa 97
 

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