x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Dynamic duo gear up for new challenge

Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton both had plenty to smile about as they looked ahead to next season after yesterday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton, preparing for the start yesterday, will be a big threat again next season.
Lewis Hamilton, preparing for the start yesterday, will be a big threat again next season.

Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton both had plenty to smile about as they looked ahead to next season after yesterday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Vettel had the most to be happy about as he won the day/night race at Yas Marina Circuit and sealed second place in the Drivers' Championship. His fourth victory of the year showed that the German, and his Red Bull team, were the most complete package in the second half of the season and they can realistically go one better to claim a title next season.

Vettel may be forgiven for looking back on what may have been, had his car had been as strong at the start of the year as it was towards the end. But Red Bull now have massive momentum to take to Bahrain come March for the opening race next year. World champion Jenson Button, who finished third, conceded he had no answer to Vettel's strong pace. Vettel has established himself as one of the new stars of the sport and looks sure to add to his five career wins and become the next German world champion, after Michael Schumacher, before too long.

Hamilton may not have won the race - he started from pole and led early on but concerns over brake wear on the right rear of the car after his first pit stop forced him to retire - but the sensational pace of the McLaren-Mercedes in practice and qualifying was enough to show that the English team will go into the winter full of confidence. "It's a shame as the car felt so good these past couple of days, but we haven't had many brake problems this year so there you go," said Hamilton.

In some ways this season has given Hamilton a reality check. The Briton, who has just completed only his third season in the series, had only known success in his first two years as he finished as the drivers' title runner-up in 2007 before winning the crown in 2008.But the MP4-24 McLaren car struggled in the opening races this season, and was particularly poor on high-speed corners as it struggled aerodynamically, leading to awful showings in Spain and in Britain.

A new design package improved the car massively from the German Grand Prix onwards and Hamilton has been superb since then, largely on the pace at every circuit, winning twice and finishing on the podium five times. He has driven with more maturity this season, knowing when the car was good enough to challenge and when to settle for a points finish. With impressive pace, Hamilton can be confident of challenging for a second world title next year if McLaren provide him with anything remotely competitive.

The Australian Mark Webber had said in qualifying that having McLaren and Red Bull at the front had summed up how the second half of the season had gone in terms of form. The Red Bulls have been consistently quick, apart from at Monza where they struggled on the long straights, and, like Hamilton and McLaren, have largely been up there at most places. New world driver and constructors' champions, Button and BrawnGP, fell away after their dominant opening, and Yas Marina showed, that by the end of the year, they had the third quickest package on the grid.

The challenge for them, providing Button stays with the team as expected, is to defend their titles. Nick Fry, the team's chief executive, spoke bullishly in the paddock about his team's planning for next year but it will be a tall order for them to stay on top of the pile with McLaren, Ferrari and Red Bull all gunning for them. A miserable year for Ferrari came to an end with Kimi Raikkonen and Giancarlo Fisichella finishing a disappointing 12th and 16th respectively.

The Italian team will be glad to say goodbye to a this campaign and with the pairing of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, the latter fully recovered from the head injuries that sidelined him for the final eight races of the year, will hope for much better next performance in 2010. gcaygill@thenational.ae