Sebastian Vettel has the Formula One championship in the bag, Graham Caygill writes, but he would like to extend his unbeaten streak at Yas Marina Circuit this weekend
Fast forward to today, and a lot has changed. Rather than arriving as an unlikely candidate for the title, Vettel is a double world champion, at 24 years old the youngest driver to achieve the feat in Formula One history.
The Red Bull Racing driver did not know he was champion last year until he was slowing down after being first across the finish line at Yas Marina Circuit. Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber had begun the race ahead of him in the standings but finished seventh and eighth, respectively, not enough to keep Vettel from leaping past them to take the title.
This time, however, Vettel has had plenty of time to savour his championship; he clinched the crown last month in Japan with four races to go. The German has been the class of the field with a dominating, year-long performance, winning 11 of the 17 races and finishing on the podium in all but one.
But even with the title secured - and with Red Bull having clinched their second successive constructors' championship - Vettel has plenty to race for this weekend.
Last year, he took great joy in being the only driver to win a Formula One race at Yas Marina, having won the inaugural race in 2009 as well.
Being a man who is well known for his desire to achieve records, he likely would relish the opportunity to extend his 100 per cent success rate in Abu Dhabi for another 12 months. If his impressive pace in winning the past two races in Korea and India is anything to judge things on, the German will not be dialling down his speed in Abu Dhabi even though he already is champion and Red Bull have the constructors' title.
Plus, if he takes pole position in Saturday's qualifying session it would be his 14th of the season, which would tie Nigel Mansell's record for most poles in a year. He would then have a chance to set the record at the final race in Brazil.
And if he or Webber, his teammate, take the pole, it will give Red Bull the top place on the grid for all but one race this season.
There is a lot at stake for the rest of the field, too. Webber is in a four-way fight for second place in the championship, with Fernando Alonso, the Ferrari driver, and Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, the McLaren-Mercedes pair.
While runner-up is a prize none of the drivers will particularly treasure when their careers are over, a strong end to the year for any of that quartet would help build momentum for a shot at dethroning Vettel next year.
The two Red Bull drivers are favoured to win on Sunday, given their form this year and their immaculate record at the 5.55km Yas Marina Circuit. But expect the McLarens to push them hard as they have done in recent races.
Hamilton took pole here in 2009 and was a threat to Vettel during the first half of last year's race. He has had an error strewn season, with a number of mistakes costing him points, but as his superb victories in China and Germany this year proved, he is capable of winning on any given day.
Button has finished on the podium in both races at Yas Marina, and he has been in superb form in recent months, finishing on the podium in six of the last seven races. He is on target to be the first driver to score more points than Hamilton when racing as teammates.
There will be plenty of action further down the order, too, as drivers fight to secure their futures. With Renault, Force India, Toro Rosso, Williams, Team Lotus, Virgin Racing and the Hispania Racing Team yet to announce their drivers' line-up for 2012 there will be a lot of people doing their utmost to try to impress.
New drivers to Yas Marina this year in F1 are Paul di Resta (Force India), Sergio Perez (Sauber), Pastor Maldonado (Williams), Jermome d'Ambrosio (Virgin) and Daniel Ricciardo (HRT).
The competition should also benefit from the new regulations, with the quickly degrading Pirelli tyres, the DRS (Drag Reduction System) on the rear wings, and the reintroduction of Kers (Kinetic energy recovery systems) creating lots of overtaking. So while there is no championship at stake, the omens all point to good racing this weekend.
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