x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Hamilton claims pole position, as Vettel is sent to the back of the grid

World champion Sebastian Vettel was demoted after a 'fuel irregularity' led to place penalty, with the British McLaren driver gave a dominant performance.

Lewis Hamilton dominated qualifying at Yas Marina Circuit to take pole position for the 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton dominated qualifying at Yas Marina Circuit to take pole position for the 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

ABU DHABI // Cast as a duel in the desert, the fight for this year’s world championship between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso was blown wide open last night after Vettel, the leader of the drivers’ standings, was ordered to start today’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from the back of the grid, in 24th position.

Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, said Vettel would instead start from pit-lane, means he can change tyre choice and can also change his gear ratios to ensure a more efficient start from the back of the field.

Vettel, the reigning world champion, had clocked the third-quickest lap time during qualifying at Yas Marina Circuit before being ordered by his team to stop his car on the track.

Formula One regulations state each driver must return his car to the pits under its own power in order for a one-litre fuel sample to be taken.

A four-hour investigation ensued before the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) issued a statement, which read: “The stewards heard from the driver and the team representatives and studied telemetry evidence that showed the reason why the car was stopped.

“The stewards accepted the explanation and considered the incident as being a case of force majeure. However, a report was received from the technical delegate that showed during the post-qualifying scrutineering an insufficient quantity of fuel for sampling purposes.

“The stewards determine that this is a breach of Article 6.6.2 of the [technical regulations] and the competitor is accordingly excluded from the results of the qualifying session.”

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari’s Spanish driver who sits 13 points behind Vettel in the championship with three races remaining, qualified in seventh place, but will now start the race from sixth.

Red Bull, who had locked-out the front row at the past three races of the season, had already seen their stranglehold broken by the McLaren-Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, who had produced a scintillating lap to claim a 25th career pole position.

“It’s the first time for a long time to be ahead of the Red Bulls and not seeing the tail of them at the start of the race,” Hamilton said before the FIA decision.

Mark Webber, Vettel’s teammate, finished second-quickest, while Pastor Maldonado of Williams will now start third, alongside Kimi Raikkonen in fourth.

Hamilton, the winner here last year, clocked a fastest lap of one minute, 40.630 seconds at a track that appears to suit both his car and his driving style.

“I don’t know why the car works so well here. We’ve not really made any improvements to the car since the last race, so I guess it just suits,” Hamilton, who finished fourth in India last week, said. “Red Bull were slower than I expected, but we were faster than I expected as well. I knew that they were very quick, but I would never have imagined being this far ahead of them.”

Little did Hamilton know just how far ahead of Vettel he would be starting today’s contest and Alonso admitted the sight of his former McLaren teammate on pole was beneficial to his Ferrari team’s hopes of closing the gap this weekend. “We had been hoping for McLaren to be stronger in the last four races, but this pole for Lewis helps us,” he said.

The Spaniard struggled in qualifying despite the Italian manufacturers bringing several upgrades with them to Abu Dhabi and breaking the paddock curfew twice this weekend.

Yet he now has a very real opportunity to reignite his championship challenge if he can bring home a strong points haul.

“We have to seize every opportunity we get,” he had said before the FIA sent Vettel to the rear.

The German, the reigning world champion, had already endured a fraught afternoon after suffering brake trouble after only two laps of final practice.

Because of that he missed the majority of the hour-long session.

During qualifying, with the brake issue sorted, Vettel almost gave his team a new and more stressful headache after brushing the wall on exiting Turn 19.

When the session ended, he seemed to have done enough to ensure a strong starting position on the grid, but after being ordered to stop, he was left confused. “It shouldn’t be something major,” he had said.

He could not have been more wrong.

Late last night he made a statement indicating he has no plans to accept a poor result.

Said Vettel: “One of the best ski jumpers of all time once said, ‘Every chance is an opportunity’, and as far as we are concerned there are still plenty of chances tomorrow.”

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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