• Abu Dhabi Grand Prix preview

Vettel's title for the taking?

ESPN Staff
November 1, 2012
Will McLaren and Ferrari challenge Red Bull this weekend? © Getty Images
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Fernando Alonso and Ferrari are running out of chances. Over the last four races the tide has turned in the development race and it is now pulling Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull towards a third world title at an alarming rate. Another second place finish behind Vettel would leave Alonso 20 points adrift with two races remaining and in need of a Red Bull DNF or a dramatic change in fortune to make up the difference. Put simply, Ferrari needs to deliver a big improvement with its Abu Dhabi updates and hope that Red Bull's performance curve starts to flatten over the next three races. It's not over yet, but another Vettel victory could be a killer blow for Alonso and Ferrari.

On form

He's been in this section of the preview for the last two races, but that's no surprise as Sebastian Vettel has now won four races from four. Adrian Newey's design genius has kicked into overdrive since the European season and the Red Bull now enjoys a huge advantage thanks to modifications at the rear of the car that use the exhausts to enhance the efficiency of the diffuser. The extra downforce has made the RB8 the car to beat, but despite it's dominance we shouldn't take anything away from Vettel. McLaren had the fastest car at the start of the year and again towards the end of the European season, but neither Jenson Button nor Lewis Hamilton capitalised on the performance. Now Vettel has the fastest car and he is not putting a wheel off line as he hunts down his third consecutive title. No matter who you want to win, you can't deny that Vettel would be a deserving champion if he takes the title over the next three races.

Out of form

Ever since his career-best fourth place finish in Singapore, Paul di Resta's performances have dropped off. Such fluctuations in form can often be down to the car, but his team-mate Nico Hulkenberg has scored 18 points since then while di Resta has finished 12th at each of the last three races. As a result Hulkenberg has overtaken him in the drivers' championship and has suddenly become the man in demand after signing a deal to move to Sauber next year. The battle has been closely scrutinised all year, with opinions being formed on tenths of a second, but it looks like di Resta might just be starting to struggle as Hulkenberg's star rises.

Is the pressure starting to tell on Sergio Perez? © Sutton Images
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One to watch

In every race since he was announced as a McLaren driver for 2013, Sergio Perez has made a mistake that has cost him a shot at the points. It's a shame because in qualifying he has looked competitive, with fifth in Japan and eighth in India, but in the races he seems to be in too big a hurry to impress. Questions have already been asked about whether he was really the best driver on the market for McLaren, so the expectation is mounting for him to convert that raw pace into some results. Whatever happens, it's worth keeping an eye on him to see how he deals with the pressure as things will only get tougher next season.

Taking points

Hulkenberg's future
News that Nico Hulkenberg had signed for Sauber came as little surprise in the paddock after rumours had been doing the rounds since the Japanese Grand Prix. He will join on a one-year contract, which will leave him as a free-agent next year when Felipe Massa's new one-year deal also expires at Ferrari. With Sauber's close links to engine supplier Ferrari, it doesn't require a huge amount of imagination to figure out what might happen in 2014. The news opens up a seat at Force India with Adrian Sutil, Jaime Alguersuari, test driver Jules Bianchi and Heikki Kovalainen all vying for a seat. Vijay Mallya hinted in India that Sutil would be near the top of that list, which would see a welcome return after a year out of the sport. Meanwhile, there is only one seat left at Sauber and Kamui Kobayashi is facing very tough competition from Esteban Gutierrez, who has the backing of Mexican telecommunications giant Telmex.

Ferrari's upgrades
For Fernando Alonso to win the championship, Ferrari needs to either up its game or hope Sebastian Vettel fails to finish at one of the last three races. Abu Dhabi, therefore, will be crucial as Ferrari brings some more serious updates to the car and Vettel returns to the scene of his one and only DNF in 2011. Alonso has made clear in recent races that his car has not been receiving the development it needs so the pressure has been on at Maranello to produce something big. We don't yet know what form it will take on the car, but expect Ferrari to be busier than usual on Friday morning trying to get to grips with its modifications.

Abu Dhabi as a race track
Abu Dhabi has come in for plenty of criticism over recent years. There's no denying that the hotel and pit and paddock are first class, but the layout of the circuit lacks imagination and epitomises the negative aspects of Hermann Tilke-designed circuits. Large run off areas reduce the challenge and a combination of stop-start chicanes and 90 degree corners ruin the flow for drivers. Overtaking is difficult and the topography of the area is akin to ... well, a desert. Fortunately, Tilke seems to have learnt his lesson with more recent designs, with the likes of Korea, India and Austin, but there's no shying away from the fact that Yas Marina, with all its UAE cash behind it, will rather unfortunately remain on the calendar for many years to come.

The Yas hotel offers an impressive backdrop © Sutton Images
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Trivia

  • A sophisticated lighting system is in place around the Yas Marina to allow the race to start at sundown and continue into the night. Light fixtures with vertical controllable beams remove shadow and glare at driver level
  • Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates and its name translates literally as 'father of the gazelle'. Its modern wealth is founded on oil, construction and financial services, although Abu Dhabi was settled in the third millennium BC by nomads and fishermen
  • Yas Marina is the only circuit on the F1 calendar with a pit lane tunnel, where the drivers rejoin the track by passing underneath it
  • There has only been one safety car period in the three years of racing at Yas Marina, when the Mercedes SLS was deployed to allow the marshals to clear up a first lap accident between Michael Schumacher and Tonio Liuzzi

Fast facts

  • Last year there were 56 overtakes during the race, 50 of which occurred with the help of DRS
  • The circuit is 5.554 km and is the sixth longest F1 has visited this year
  • The fastest corner is the sweeping left at turn two, taken at 260 km/h and putting the drivers 4G of lateral load
  • Drivers make 68 gear changes during every lap of the Yas Marina circuit

Circuit

Abu Dhabi is one of the most architecturally impressive circuits on the calendar, but in its first two years the racing has been pretty sterile. The track itself offers plenty of technical challenges for the drivers with off-camber corners and heavy braking zones, but lacks any stand-out corners for viewers watching at home. The DRS zone has been extended this year to try to encourage more overtaking, but it will still be as artificial as the lighting that lines the circuit's perimeter. Although its place on the F1 calendar is in no doubt, the quality of the racing means it is becoming less and less popular among the fans.

FIA driver steward

Derek Warwick makes his second appearance in four races, after sitting on the panel in Japan, and his third appearance overall in 2012. Warwick raced in 146 grands prix, from 1981 to 1993, for Toleman, Renault, Brabham, Arrows and Lotus.

© Getty Images
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Weather

Despite concerns of sandstorms and even rain earlier in the week, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix looks set for a typically sunny weekend. Temperatures in the day - when the first and third practice sessions take place - will be as high as 32C but the intensity of the heat will be tempered in the evenings when qualifying and the race take place. That will offer up an interesting challenge for the teams as they try to set the car up to get the most from temperature-sensitive soft and medium compound tyres.

Betting

It's no surprise to see Sebastian Vettel as the favourite for victory with odds of 10/13, while his closest challengers - team-mate Mark Webber and title rival Fernando Alonso - are both at 5/1. McLaren's recent dip in form means Lewis Hamilton is tempting at 7/1 and Jenson Button has odds of 12/1. Once again, Felipe Massa has longer odds than his recent form warrants, with 125/1 for the win or 25/1 each way. Click here for the latest odds at Bet 365

ESPN prediction

It's hard to imagine anyone beating Sebastian Vettel in a straight-fight at Yas Marina this weekend. He's always been quick here and barring a problem with his car - like the puncture he suffered here last year - he should be nailed on for his fifth victory in a row.

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