x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Vettel hopes for a silver lining

Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull-Renault are strongly fancied to end the season in winning fashion and claim the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in the process.

Sebastian Vettel's objective in Abu Dhabi is to seal second place in the drivers' championship.
Sebastian Vettel's objective in Abu Dhabi is to seal second place in the drivers' championship.

ABU DHABI // No one has driven competitively on Yas Marina Circuit yet but Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull-Renault are strongly fancied to end the season in winning fashion and claim the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in the process. The talented German driver has already won three races this season, and saw his championship hopes extinguished at the last round in Brazil when fourth place was not enough to prevent Jenson Button in his Brawn GP car from taking the title.

Vettel said last night that his objective in Abu Dhabi was to seal second place in the championship, with the Red Bull man having a narrow two-point edge over the Brawn of Rubens Barrichello. "It's natural to be disappointed, but you have to take out the positives," he said of missing out on top honours. "It's been a really good season and we have learnt a lot of lessons, but for now the aim is on securing second place in the drivers' championship on Sunday.

"Generally, I am not here to finish second or third so that doesn't change, but second is better than third so now I want to win the "vice-title" and finish second in the championship." Vettel's teammate Mark Webber is also expected to go well, along with the McLaren-Mercedes of 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton, and the new title holder Jenson Button, who looked a rejuvenated man in the pitlane now the pressure of clinching his crown was now over.

Yesterday saw a flurry of activity at the track with fans getting autographs signed by the drivers, who also dealt with the hundreds of mediapersons who have arrived on Yas Marina Island to document the final round of the championship. But today is the day that the talking stops and the action finally begins with two 90-minute practice sessions allowing the drivers their first chance to tackle the 5.55km track.

Each driver and team will take a different route to how they work today, with some optimistic they already know what to look for thanks to simulators, while others admitted they didn't know quite what to expect. The Polish driver Robert Kubica, who races for the last time for BMW Sauber on Sunday before he leaves to join Renault next year, talked through how he was going to tackle today's work. "New track approach will be a little different," he said. "First of all to learn the track find good braking points, good lines and try to switch as quick as possible to work on the set-up.

"Also, to find best balance and try to anticipate the track improvements which for sure will be quite big and significant. On new tracks the grip is going up quite quickly." The Williams driver Nico Rosberg is confident that he will not have to spend too long learning the track. The German said: "On the simulator I did three hours of running. It was very accurate, so I know the track inside out already. When I go out there, I know exactly what to expect."

He did go on to joke that on the simulator he had hit the pitlane tunnel exit three times, so he is sure like the other drivers to be handling the tight left-handed curve that goes underground from the pit exit and comes out by turn three with a degree of caution. There was plenty of humour around in the paddock with the highlight being the argument between Force India's Adrian Sutil and Toyota's Jarno Trulli over who was at fault for their collision on the first lap in Brazil.

Each continues to blame the other and Trulli confirmed he would bring up the incident in today's Drivers Briefing. Spectators should not read too much into today's practice times as the drivers will be getting used to the track and trying out tyre compound options and different fuel loads as they prepare for the 55 lap race. The fast times will start being set in tomorrow's final practice, when teams try to get their car set up right on low fuel for the qualifying session that will decide the starting order on the grid.

Bridgestone, who are the lone tyre suppliers, have brought the medium and soft compounds. Teams must use at least one set of each compound during the race. sports@thenational.ae