Abu Dhabi Preview - Prancing Horse or Raging Bull? 01 Nov 2012
The odds continue to favour Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull as the world championship fight heads straight from India, which yielded them their fourth consecutive victory of the season, to this weekends 2012 Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The Yas Marina Circuit has favoured Red Bull in the past, even if Vettel was the first retirement last year with an obscure right-rear wheel problem, but the long straight could play to the strength the Ferrari displayed in New Delhi. Red Bull may well wrap up the 2012 constructors' title here, but neither Vettel nor Fernando Alonso are letting themselves think too far ahead in terms of the drivers'. Race by race is the mantra for both.
If we speak about the world championship, obviously India was another good step for us, but still a long way to go and we have seen this year how quickly things can change, Vettel says. It feels fantastic to have a race like that where everything works the way you want it to. But now we are focusing on Abu Dhabi. Theres a lot more to come and well try to take things step by step.
I hope that we bring some new parts to Abu Dhabi, hopefully improve a little bit more then competitiveness of the car, try to be a little bit closer to Red Bulls on Saturday and hopefully on Sunday as well, Alonso says, aware that Ferraris big push probably wont come until Brazil.
Obviously three races remaining; championship is the main target so we need to recover some points and it would be nice to finish in front of Sebastian in Abu Dhabi, whatever the position it is. And if we can win the race it will be even better - but for that we need to make a step forward. At the moment we are not able to win.
McLaren, meanwhile, have suggested that track specifics have favoured Red Bull in the last three events (Lewis Hamilton was leading in Singapore before his transmission problem).
I think the competitive situation is more flexible than recent results suggest, says sporting director Sam Michael. "The performance can swing from one track to another by a couple of tenths. There are two or three tenths in terms of qualifying and, if you have that performance from the front row, then you have a better chance.
If no one upgraded cars, there would still be a reasonable chance you can have a go at Red Bull. But in terms of the overall championship it is quite different, because they need to have DNFs for people to take the title, and the chances of that happening are pretty slim."
Michael, like Alonso, believes that the high level of competitiveness at the front of the field prevents anyone feeling truly confident ahead of a race.
"There is a swing from one circuit to another, and its not to do with the developments you put on the car. In days gone by, when you had a one-second advantage over other cars, you could be confident you would not get those trends. But now there are no favourite tracks, so you don't know if you are going to be competitive until you get there."
Last years winner, Hamilton is determined to add another success to his tally before he leaves McLaren.
The facilities in Abu Dhabi are absolutely fantastic - probably the best of any circuit in the world, he says. Ive always enjoyed the Yas Marina Circuit - I took pole here in 2009 and led until my retirement, finished second in 2010 and won it last year - thats a pretty good record.
Its a track where you can really push the car, which is what I most enjoy. There are a wide variety of corners - I love the fast sweeps in the first sector - and its incredibly satisfying to hook together a good sector through the tricky marina section of the lap. Good mechanical balance makes all the difference here because youre always changing direction.
This has also been a place where Red Bull have traditionally gone well, but our race pace was very strong throughout the race in New Delhi. I really enjoyed that race India - fourth place may have been little reward for 60 laps of flat-out effort, but I couldnt have gone any faster.
I feel confident that we can pull together a strong race weekend in Abu Dhabi.
Behind the top three, Lotus are still pushing hard for that elusive victory, with the newly re-signed Kimi Raikkonen conceding that his title hopes are over but nonetheless keen to secure third place overall after a remarkable comeback. Mercedes are under attack from Sauber, though the Swiss team, who confirmed that Nico Hulkenberg will switch to them from Force India for 2013, acknowledged that they must score points with both Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi if they are to challenge the German team.
Elsewhere, Williams are desperate to build on the regained performance they had in India, while Force India still chase Sauber. Toro Rosso want more points too, but go into the race knowing that things are settled for 2013 after re-signing Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne.
Marussia, Caterham and HRT all have news, too. Max Chilton makes his Friday morning F1 debut for Marussia in Charles Pics car, while Giedo van der Garde is back in Vitaly Petrovs Caterham for FP1. Ma Qing Hua also returns to the HRT Friday seat, in for Narain Karthikeyan, while Valtteri Bottas also gets his now near-traditional practice run in place of Bruno Senna at Williams.
Pirelli have brought their medium and soft tyres here. "We will always have very fond memories of the Abu Dhabi circuit because it is where our adventure in Formula One really started, says motorsport director Paul Hembery. Back in 2010, the teams sampled our tyres there for the very first time at the official end of season test following the Grand Prix. That was a very special test, as we were brand new and the teams needed to understand our tyres. We've returned to test in Abu Dhabi a few times since, and we actually launched our 2012 programme to the international media there as well at the beginning of this year.
"The reason why we've often chosen Abu Dhabi for our testing and for other functions is because it has a bit of everything, which enables each aspect of a tyre's performance to be thoroughly assessed, and because the track itself features some very modern, state-of-the-art facilities. We know that the combination of the medium and the soft tyre works extremely well here, and with the teams also having plenty of data about the circuit characteristics, they should be in a strong position to construct some race strategies that will make a real difference to the outcome of the weekend.
"With the championship so closely balanced now, having the right strategy could quite literally decide the title. Qualifying is also really important in Abu Dhabi, so we are expecting to see some strong efforts throughout the three qualifying sessions on Saturday."
As in 2011, the anti-clockwise Yas Marina Circuit will feature two DRS zones. The first - extended by 80 metres for 2012 - is on the very long back straight, with detection just prior to the Turn Seven hairpin that precedes it. The second is on the following straight, after the Turn Eight-Nine chicane, with detection just after Turn 9. The only change to the circuit since last year is higher kerbs, similar to those on the apex of Turns Eight and Nine, on the apexes of Turns Five, Six, 12, 13, 14, 18 and 19.
The weekend weather will be reasonably settled with sunshine or partial cloud and an ambient temperature of around 30 degrees Celsius for all three days. Sundays race will run over 55 laps of the 5.554 kilometre (3.451 mile) circuit, or 305.355 kilometres (189.747 miles). The twilight event will start at 17.00 hours local time, which is four hours ahead of GMT.
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