Who will win the Abu Dhabi title showdown?
10 November, 2010
Nov.10 (Daniel Chalmers) Red Bull ought to be favourites to collect their second championship on Sunday, but a fired up Fernando Alonso will have something to say about that.
Three key elements will be whether Ferrari can get close enough to challenge Red Bull and if anyone else can interfere, how Red Bull will manage their drivers in the race and the reliability of Alonso and Sebastien Vettel’s engines.
There are a countless number of permutations and possibilities, which could turn this into one of the most memorable races of all time. The two most likely outcomes are Webber leading a Red Bull 1-2 to become champion and Alonso finishing in the top two to become champion.
It’s never easy to write the script for a title showdown as the pressure on the drivers and teams involved is so intense that anything could go wrong. On the same token the drivers could find something extra, and jump to new levels they didn’t know they had to get their hands on the ultimate prize.
The first thing to say about Abu Dhabi is that there are far less treacherous hazards for the protagonists to worry about compared to other circuits.
Because of the desert setting, there is no chance of rain adding an incredible twist as we saw in Brazil two years ago, or generally making the title decider a lottery.
As one of the new circuits, there is the customary amount of generous run-off areas. So, neither of the title contenders have to worry too much about their championship ending in the barriers due to a small error. It also means the chance of the safety car shaking things up is rather low too.
It’s also important to remember that Yas Marina is a technical track so it’s very much a car circuit. Therefore, the driver doesn’t have anywhere near the same influence as at tracks like Monaco, Spa, Suzuka or Singapore.
In Abu Dhabi last season, McLaren had the fastest car followed by Red Bull followed by Brawn GP. That’s exactly the order they qualified in.
Bearing all these factors in mind it’s very unlikely that anybody else is going to spring a surprise, and get involved in the fight between the Red Bull drivers and Alonso at the sharp end. Nobody will interfere like Nick Hulkenberg did in Brazil.
McLaren struggled in Brazil at what should have been a perfect track for them. Therefore they are unlikely to be stronger in Abu Dhabi full of slow corners, which won’t suit their long wheelbase car.
Felipe Massa struggled badly at his home track, which suggests he won’t be much help to Fernando here either.
Red Bull’s dominance in Brazil was ominous. On paper, Interlagos shouldn’t have been one of their strongest circuits but yet they still comfortably won the race 1-2.
Arguably the time Alonso and Lewis Hamilton spent fighting each other and Hulkenberg gifted Red Bull their margin of victory. However when Alonso finally got into clear air the Red Bulls were still faster.
By the time Alonso started matching their times Red Bull were already pacing themselves, and had the potential to go faster still.
Abu Dhabi should be an even stronger circuit for Red Bull. Unlike at Interlagos there is only one sector with long straights where Red Bull are likely to suffer. The RB6 should be very strong in sectors one and three.
The RB6 has been very good in slow corners this season as good traction out of the corners has been one of the car’s main strengths.
Having said that, the Yas Marina circuit should be a stronger track for Ferrari too and they could be closer to Red Bull here. The F10 has very strong braking stability, which will be key for the three or four huge braking points on the lap.
As Ferrari have proved in places like Monaco, Canada, Monza and Singapore the F10 is very strong on tracks dominated by slow corners, and have a very stop-start nature about them where brakes are critical.
The problem for Alonso is going to be beating Red Bull in qualifying. Throughout the season Red Bull have had something extra over a single lap.
Alonso’s two poles came in Monza which was by far Red Bull’s weakest circuit, and in Singapore where Sebastian produced a very scruffy lap.
To prevent a Red Bull front row lockout he has to hope one of the Red Bull drivers makes a mistake or he produces an exceptional qualifying lap.
To win the title Alonso just needs to finish second and that will guarantee him the title. The start is the best opportunity as due to the desert setting the dirty side of the grid offers a serious disadvantage.
If he starts third, he will be on the clean side of the grid, and has a shot at getting into second at the first corner. The pit stop window will then be the other opportunity to leapfrog one of the Red Bulls.
If that doesn’t work, he will have to do his overtaking on the track, and what a thrilling prospect that would be. In Abu Dhabi there are two long straights where it’s possible to overtake, but the huge amount of sand offline does make it pretty difficult.
Alonso is likely to have to be pushing for the entire distance. This is going to put huge strain on the limited engine mileage he has left. That’s going to one of the decisive factors of this title decider.
If his engine blows up then that would leave the Red Bull duo to battle it out for the championship.
The fact that Vettel didn’t have to give up his lead in Brazil, means he is just seven points behind Webber. So if Alonso were to DNF and Vettel were to win ahead of Webber, the Red Bull drivers would be tied on points. However, Sebastian would be crowned champion due to having one more win than Webber.
In this scenario you can be sure that neither Red Bull driver will be listening to their engineers on the radio and would have an incredible battle, whether their cars can take it or not.
This scenario also opens up Lewis’s only real hope of snatching the title from his three rivals. If Alonso retires resulting in the Red Bull showdown then we all saw what happened in Turkey.
You can just imagine a hot-headed Vettel desperate to defend his lead causing a collision resulting in both retiring. Therefore this could allow Hamilton to win the race and claim a surprise title.
The other key talking point is going to be whether Sebastian lets Webber through should the situation arise where only Webber can take the title (if Alonso is in the top four).
Reading between the lines it does seem that Vettel would reluctantly let Webber through if he had to.
The question that arises is when in the race should he do it?
What Sebastian must not do is let Webber through straight away. If he did that and Alonso had an engine failure later on in the race he would kick himself because there is no way Webber would let him back through.
On the other side of the coin if the young German is leading, Webber is the one who will have to keep Alonso back. If he loses the place to Alonso it will be extremely difficult to get it back.
If Red Bull want to do this in the most effective way they would have Webber up front, with his young team mate making sure Alonso doesn’t finish second.
However with Red Bull’s emotional attachment to Vettel, they will continue to give him every chance to win the title, whilst it’s still possible.
Time will tell whether this approach will cost Red Bull the title or not. It would have been much easier had Webber been given the win in Brazil. It would have meant a win would do, no matter what Alonso did. Now Alonso would have to finish third or below if Webber wins to make the likeable Aussie champion.
The ideal scenario is for Webber to get pole position and lead lights to flag. Even then he still has to rely on his team mate beating Alonso.
Whatever happens and whoever emerges on top it will be a dramatic roller coaster full of tension throughout.
You would have to put your money on Alonso though. He is the only contender in control of his own destiny. He knows that second will give him the title, and when he has big opportunities it’s very rare he doesn’t take them. Even if his car isn’t quite the quickest he will find something extra.
All the sport’s legends found a way to win. Fernando is one of those legends.