x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Vettel keeps hopes alive to make F1 history

Red Bull driver leads from the front in his bid to be the youngest world champion by winning title in Abu Dhabi.

Red Bull-Renault’s Sebastian Vettel was in imperious form on his way to claiming pole position at Yas Marina Circuit yesterday.
Red Bull-Renault’s Sebastian Vettel was in imperious form on his way to claiming pole position at Yas Marina Circuit yesterday.

ABU DHABI // Try a numbers game. Four drivers, separated by 24 points, after 18 races, taking to the track at Yas Marina Circuit this evening intent on securing the right to have the No 1 position on the front of his car next year.

Who will win?

The mathematical permutations have been exhausted this week. What we do know is that when the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix gets under way this evening it is Sebastian Vettel, the Red Bull-Renault driver, who will lead from the front.

The 23-year-old German is vying to become the youngest world champion in Formula One history and did his chances no harm with a stellar performance in yesterday's twilight qualifying session.

Vettel outpaced Lewis Hamilton, the McLaren-Mercedes driver who can also theoretically win the drivers' championship, by just 0.031secs to claim his 10th pole position of the season. Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, the championship leader, finished third-fastest. Vettel's teammate, Mark Webber - Alonso's closest rival in the standings - finished fifth behind 2009 champion Jenson Button.

Ahead of a season-ending race dominated by numbers and figures, Vettel looked to statistics once again to provide a stark reminder of how consistent his performances have been this season.

"I had some kind of statistic the other day in front of me; poles per season some drivers have done," Vettel said. "Guys like [Ayrton] Senna, [Alain] Prost, Michael [Schumacher], they're all up there."

Seven drivers have reached double figures for poles, with Nigel Mansell, the Briton, holding the record, having finished the fastest in 14 qualifying sessions in his 1992 championship-winning season with Williams. "With 10 poles, I'm not at the top, so maybe we can work on that next year," Vettel joked. "Ten poles in qualifying in one season is a great effort and shows how good our car is."

Vettel won the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last year, capitalising on Hamilton's retirement from the race after the Englishman had dominated practice and qualifying. "I like this track," Vettel said yesterday. "Last year, we had a very good experience here, the car was fantastic, and I think the race car is even stronger."

Much of the talk before qualifying had been about whether Vettel would be ordered by his team to relinquish a potential lead, so that Webber could benefit and secure the title for Red Bull. However, with the German needing to beat Alonso by 15 points and his Australian teammate trailing in fifth, it could now be Webber who can help Vettel. Not that - if you believe the party line - such scenarios are being considered by either of the drivers.

"All I can say is that I want to do my best, try and do 100 per cent and then see what happens," Vettel said. "If I win the race, it will be great, but we don't know until then, do we? It was very tight."

Alonso remains in the strongest position. The Spaniard knows that as long as he finishes above Webber and inside the top four he will win his third championship.

"I will try to make a good start and, if I can, I will attack, but if not, then I may have to defend.

"It is always the case that you cannot win the title in the first corner, but you can lose it."

Hamilton has played down his title chances, but was "delighted" with his performance in qualifying and warned his three peers there is more pressure on them.

"I don't have to be cautious at all in the race," he said. "Perhaps they need to think about that."

One thing is certain: Hamilton, like the other three title-challengers chasing the No 1 car, is not in Abu Dhabi simply to make up the numbers. Come 7 tonight and the game will be over.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

 

Vettel is in familiar territory

Red Bull-Renault’s Sebastian Vettel will have started on pole position 10 times this season but the German has only twice completed wire-to-wire victories (in Valencia and in Japan).

Abu Dhabi GP qualifying results:

1 Vettel, Red Bull 1m39.394s

2 Hamilton, McLaren 1.39.425

3 Alonso, Ferrari 1.39.792

4 Button, McLaren 1.39.823

5 Webber, Red Bull 1.39.925

6 Massa, Ferrari 1.40.202

7 Barrichello, Williams 1.40.203

8 Schumacher, Mercedes 1.40.516

9 Rosberg, Mercedes 1.40.589

10 Petrov, Renault 1.40.901

11 Kubica, Renault 1.40.780

12 Kobayashi, BMW 1.40.783

13 Sutil, Force India 1.40.914

14 Heidfeld, BMW 1.41.113

15 Hulkenburg, Williams 1.41.418

16 Luizzi, Force India 1.41.642

17 Alguersuari, Toro Rosso 1.41.738

18 Buemi, Toro Rosso 1.41.824

19 Trulli, Cosworth 1.43.516

20 Kovalainen, Cosworth 1.43.712

21 Glock, Virgin 1.44.095

22 Di Grassi, Virgin 1.44.510

23 Senna, HRT 1.45.085

24 Klien HRT 1.45.296

Drivers’ championship

Fernando Alonso, Spain 246 pts

Mark Webber, Australia 238

Sebastian Vettel, Germany 231

Lewis Hamilton, Great Britain 222

Jenson Button, Great Britain 199

Felipe Massa, Brazil 143

Nico Rosberg, Germany 130

Robert Kubica, Poland 126

Michael Schumacher, Germany 72

Rubens Barrichello, Brazil 47

Adrian Sutil, Germany 47

Kamui Kobayashi, Japan 32

Nico Hulkenberg, Germany 22

Vitantonio Liuzzi, Italy 21

Vitaly Petrov, Russia 19

Sebastien Buemi, Switzerland 8

Pedro de la Rosa, Spain 6

Nick Heidfeld, Germany 6

Jaime Alguersuari, Spain 3

Timo Glock, Germany 0

Jarno Trulli, Italy 0

Heikki Kovalainen, Finland 0

Luca di Grassi, Brazil 0

Bruno Senna, Brazil 0

Christian Klien, Austria 0

Constructors’ Championship

Red Bull-Renault 469 pts

McLaren-Mercedes 421

Ferrari 389

Mercedes GP 202

Renault 145

Williams-Cosworth 69

Force India-Mercedes 68

BMW Sauber-Ferrari 44

Scuderia Toro Rosso-Ferrari 11

Lotus-Cosworth 0

Virgin-Cosworth 0

HRT-Cosworth 0