ABU DHABI // Much like he did two years ago, Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing’s two-time world champion, produced a sensational performance at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to achieve what only hours earlier had seemed impossible.
The 25-year-old German has a habit of rising to the occasion at Yas Marina Circuit after winning the season-ending 2010 grand prix here against the odds and, in doing so, becoming the sport’s youngest world champion.
Yesterday, he produced an even more impressive performance to claim a podium, despite starting the race from the pit lane.
Vettel had arrived 13 points clear of Fernando Alonso in the standings, but knew a tough afternoon lay ahead as he would be starting in foreign territory as the last driver of a 24-car field.
Before the race, the German had finished on the podium 44 times, but only three times had he managed it when starting from outside the first two rows of the grid, giving rise to the notion that he was not adept at weaving his way through traffic.
Vettel’s title hopes were in serious jeopardy after being disqualified from qualifying for a fuel irregularity – which in its simplest terms appeared to have been running out of petrol – and yet, as the Arabian sun slipped below the horizon and Yas Marina Circuit was cast in beautiful floodlights, he produced the drive of his life.
Starting away from the rest of the field, he climbed through the field and on to the podium, finishing behind only Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus, the winner, and Ferrari’s Alonso.
“A fantastic race,” is what Vettel called it, but it was a performance not without its hiccups.
Having negotiated through the pack early on, the first of two safety car periods hurt his chances. With the cars on track slowing,
Vettel had to swerve to miss Daniel Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso and the Red Bull damaged a front wing after colliding with a polystyrene marker board. He was forced to pit, which dropped him back to the rear of the pack.
“Usually, it is hard enough to find your way through the field once, but we did it twice,” Vettel said. “It was the worst possible timing for the safety car. We were already quite high up. I had a moment with the Toro Rosso: I don’t know what he did, I was surprised and caught out; went to the right and wasn’t very lucky.”
Alonso would beg to differ. The Spaniard lost the title to Vettel in the UAE capital two years ago, but starting the race 18 places ahead of his rival he had hoped to close the gap at the top of the standings substantially.
Instead, helped by a second safety car, Vettel’s lead shrunk by only three points to 10 and Alonso’s confidence in becoming the youngest three-time world champion shrunk from certainly to hopefully.
“I remain 100 per cent certain I will win this world championship,” the 31 year old had said last week, but last night his words had lost some of their bravado.
“If we can finish ahead of Sebastian in the next two races, maybe we have a chance,” he said.
Alonso hunted down Raikkonen and looked as if he might be able to steal an unlikely win, but the chequered flag arrived too soon. “I pushed 150 per cent for [the final] eight laps and tried to catch Kimi, but couldn’t get within one second for the DRS,” Alonso said. “We didn’t have the pace this weekend, yet were fighting for the win, so very happy.”
Vettel can now secure the championship at the inaugural United States Grand Prix in Texas in two weeks time, if he can win and Alonso finishes no higher than fifth. Ferrari, however, will hope to push the title to the last race in Brazil on November 25.
“We are not fast enough, which is true, but we are honest with ourselves. The performance at the moment is the weak point, but we have some strong points which we will try to use,” Alonso said. “We will fight until the end.”
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix placings
1. Kimi Raikkonen (FIN/Lotus) 1hr 45min 58.667sec
2. Fernando Alonso (ESP/Ferrari) 0.852s behind
3. Sebastian Vettel (GER/Red Bull) 4.163
4. Jenson Button (GBR/McLaren) 7.787
5. Pastor Maldonado (VEN/Williams) 13.007
6. Kamui Kobayashi (JPN/Sauber) 20.076
7. Felipe Massa (BRA/Ferrari) 22.896
8. Bruno Senna (BRA/Williams) 23.542
9. Paul di Resta (GBR/Force India) 24.160
10. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/Toro Rosso) 27.463
11. Michael Schumacher (GER/Mercedes) 28.075
12. Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA/Toro Rosso) 34.906
13. Heikki Kovalainen (FIN/Caterham) 47.764
14. Timo Glock (GER/Marussia) 56.473
15. Sergio Perez (MEX/Sauber) 56.768
16. Vitaly Petrov (RUS/Caterham) 1:04.595
17. Pedro de la Rosa (ESP/HRT) 1:11.778
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