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Pre-Abu Dhabi analysis - title contenders giving nothing away 12 Nov 2010

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 19, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Preparations, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Thursday, 11 November 2010 Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing in the FIA Press Conference.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 19, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Preparations, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Thursday, 11 November 2010 Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 19, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Preparations, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Thursday, 11 November 2010 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 19, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Preparations, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Thursday, 11 November 2010

All four world championship contenders did their level best here in Abu Dhabi on Thursday to appear cool, calm, and collected, barely bothered by the possible outcomes on Sunday afternoon, and how they might affect their season-long aspirations.

Could you believe that none of them really cared if they didn’t emerge as the title holder? Of course not, but this is how the game is played at this level, the way in which supremely competitive people behave when to show any sign of weakness or desperation might give their rivals a chink to exploit in their armour.

It was all just another little piece of the great 2010 jigsaw puzzle that has made this such a wonderful season, the first in F1’s history where four drivers have lined up to do battle for the title in the final race.

Lewis Hamilton was the coolest, which was hardly surprising since he has the slimmest chance of success with his 24-point deficit to leader Fernando Alonso, and only 25 on the table.

“I have nothing to lose,” he suggested cheerfully. “The guys in front of me have everything to lose, so for me I am going to be flat-out as always. They have got generally faster cars than me but that doesn’t mean that we cannot fight for a win. Obviously I have to win this race. That’s what we plan to do.”

Sebastian Vettel said he thought he was in a similar situation. “It’s pretty easy. Some 40 years ago a Formula One driver said that in these races the only tactic is to go flat out. The approach hasn’t changed for the last couple of races and, for myself at least, it will not change here. It is a long weekend and we try to do our best and ideally try to put us in a similar situation as in Korea and the last race, and then we see.”

The odds favour Alonso in particular, out in the lead since Korea, and Vettel’s Red Bull team mate Mark Webber. But even they seemed nonchalant, Webber especially. “We’ll see how the weekend shapes up but Fernando is in the best position,” he said. “Then it goes a little bit down after that. So, looking forward to it. It should be good.”

“I think we will still see how Friday goes, how Saturday goes as to how we approach the race on Sunday. I think it will depend on how the weekend is going,” Alonso said, matter-of-factly. “We will change the tactics depending on how competitive we are or which positions we are.”

If the Brazilian Grand Prix result is repeated - Vettel, Webber, Alonso - the most significant question is whether Vettel voluntarily moves over in the closing stages to let his team mate win both race and title. Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz has said he would rather lose the title than see team orders imposed, but doing so would make Vettel an internationally acclaimed sports hero, and it is impossible to believe that he doesn’t know that all too well.

He may be only 23 but he’s nobody’s fool. But he can only afford to do it if the Interlagos scenario is replayed and when there is zero chance of Alonso dropping out or passing Webber. Which means the final lap. His comments yesterday suggested strongly that this is what he would do, and Austrian insiders insist that, Mateschitz’s public comments notwithstanding, his drivers will go to the startline so aware of their individual responsibilities that no radio communication will be necessary.

Vettel was relaxed and happy, his impish sense of humour close to the surface as usual. “There are lots of things happening, and more important things happening before we enter this possible stage, whatever the scenario,” he grinned. “So I think we have to focus first of all to get the car ready tomorrow, prepare it, have a solid qualifying. Last year was a very tricky session here I remember, so there are lots of things to do, things that we should spend our energy on, more important than what happens on Sunday.

“To answer the question: if the situation occurs, then I think we know that we’re driving for the team, we have had some occasions this year where we got close and it didn’t look too good, so I think the main target is not to repeat that. And the rest we will see.”

David Tremayne

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