• Commenting on ... Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Earning the title

Chris Medland November 6, 2012
A focused Sebastian Vettel admitted he still targeted the podium despite starting from the pit lane © Sutton Images
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During the driver press conference on Thursday at the Yas Marina circuit, an open question was put to the drivers asking who they thought deserved to win the championship more; Fernando Alonso or Sebastian Vettel?

The stock answers came from the first four drivers - Vitaly Petrov, Daniel Ricciardo, Charles Pic and Kamui Kobayashi - who all simply pointed out that Vettel was in the best position. Felipe Massa tried to keep his team loyalties out of it, but it was Jenson Button who best summed up the situation:

"They have both done a fantastic job this year. You would say that throughout the season, Fernando has been the more consistent. In the last few races, yeah, it's been a great job by Red Bull, but also a great job by Sebastian. He's been given the equipment and he's delivered. You don't win grands prix on your own, and you don't win championships on your own, so whoever comes out on top is the driver and the team that deserves to win it."

It was clear that the questioner had hoped for one of the drivers to say Alonso deserves it more because he is in a slower car, but the drivers present were too canny for that. Still, the question betrayed the feeling that if Vettel makes it three titles in a row, he won't have deserved it…

Four wins in a row - three of them dominant and one inherited - appeared at the time to have set Vettel on a relentless path towards the hat-trick. If you'd checked the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix results at the end of qualifying and then again at the end of the race you'd be forgiven for thinking Vettel had endured a surprisingly subdued weekend; qualified third, finished third.

Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Did Vettel have luck on his side? Well, when you're starting from the pit lane things can't really be more against you. The first safety car period did not help him, as his demolition of the DRS marker board forced him to pit for a new front wing and lose track position to a number of cars; effectively resetting his race to his starting situation only with 15 less laps to recover in.

Vettel defended his championship lead superbly following his exclusion from qualifying © Getty Images
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He'd shown in his early contact with Bruno Senna how eager he was to make up places, but from that point onward his race craft was exemplary. At one stage Vettel dived down the inside of two cars (a Caterham and a Marussia, admittedly) at one corner, and he was calm enough to relinquish a place back to Romain Grosjean having passed him off track.

The set-up changes made overnight were helping Vettel overtake as the usually sluggish Red Bull was suddenly fourth quickest through the speed trap with a top speed 10km/h quicker than in qualifying, but he was wrestling with a completely different beast to that he had been working on all weekend. Far from breaking the DRS and nursing his tyres from the front, Vettel was on full attack throughout.

That necessitated a second pit stop which left him a distant fourth prior to the late safety car, and while he would have finished no higher had Sergio Perez, Grosjean and team-mate Mark Webber not all tangled, it was also entirely possible that Jenson Button would have taken second from Alonso; the McLaren was quicker prior to the second safety car but duly lost the bulk tyre temperature at the slower speeds. Had Button passed the Ferrari, the damage limitation for Vettel would have been the same.

His best move came against Button - one that the McLaren driver himself admitted was "brave" considering what Vettel had to lose - and he soon set the fastest lap of the race in clear air. Vettel also set the quickest sector times in all three sectors, and this was on a weekend where the Red Bull was far from dominant, as practice and qualifying had shown.

After the race, Alonso insisted he was happy despite only taking three points out of the championship leader because his Ferrari wasn't very strong in Abu Dhabi. He was right. But Vettel also acknowledged that it was "a big chance for Ferrari and Fernando, but we didn't allow it", indicative of the fact that while he had been scything his way through the field his focus had been on the red car near the front.

Both are more than deserving of a third world title, and one suspects that whoever stays on two will have been able to do no more.

May the best man win.

Chris Medland is assistant editor at ESPNF1

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Chris Medland is assistant editor at ESPNF1 Chris Medland, who in his youth even found the Pacific GPs entertaining, talked his way in to work at the British Grand Prix and was somehow retained for three years. He also worked on the BBC's F1 output prior to becoming assistant editor ahead of the 2011 season