An epic race to end an epic season. Remember how, way back in March, we were all pissing and moaning about the “dreary” Bahrain GP? Who then would’ve thought that the 2010 season would be such a nail-biting affair, with four drivers still in contention for the title at the last race? And what a circuit for it: the RB6 was the car to beat — particularly Vettel’s — but made most of its pace in the twisty third sector, losing time to the much faster MP4-25 on the back straight and subsequent full-throttle “corner”. Add in the late-season F10’s stability under braking and excellent performance everywhere and you have exactly the sort of racing I like to watch.
The first few corners were blessedly clean. Vettel got off to a decent start; Hamilton challenged into T1 but thought better of it. Meanwhile, Button took third from Alonso, opening the possibility of a three-way knife fight between those two and Webber in P5. It was not to be: Schumi spun on his own out of T6 and as the pack came through Liuzzi’s Force India climbed the Mercedes’ nose and nearly took that orange helmet right off. (Neither driver was injured.) Safety car! Many drivers pit for prime tires, including Vitaly Petrov (Renault) and Nico Rosberg (Mercedes). More on that anon.
Five laps later, Vettel stacked up the field into T20 then exploded out into the lead ahead of Hamilton and Button. (Opinions were divided on the F1-Fanatic live blog as to the ethics of this move; I thought it was acceptable and so did the stewards.) As Vettel rocketed off into the distance, Webber found himself stuck between Alonso and Massa on rapidly-degrading tires. He pitted early, on lap 12.
Ferrari must’ve had their eye on Webber as their closest competitor; they pitted Massa two laps later and Alonso two laps after that. Outstanding pit work by Red Bull and a minor slip by the rear-left wheelman at Ferrari prevented Massa from coming out ahead of Webber, who spent a few laps stuck behind Algusuari’s Toro Rosso before the latter let him past and began cheerfully obstructing the number-two Ferrari. Webber’s delay behind the STR allowed Alonso to get out of the pits ahead of him; once he did, Webber ran with him for a lap or two as Alonso’s tires came in but didn’t have the pace to challenge for position.
Alonso has troubles of his own, coming up behind Petrov’s Renault but finding himself singularly unable to pass. Petrov, probably driving for his job after his troubles at Korea, simply drove too fast for Alonso to pass — helped along by the Renault’s impressive speed down the back straights, to be sure, but driving an outstanding race in his own right. Alonso spent the rest of the race — about thirty laps — unable to pass Petrov, which combined with Petrov’s and Rosberg’s early tire stops and Kubica’s pace up in 4th to keep the Ferrari driver off the podium and out of the WDC.
At the front of the race, Vettel managed his option tires well until he’d built up enough of a gap to pit ahead of Kubica and Kobayashi — which he did, just barely, squeezing into the outside line on T4 just a hair ahead of Kobayashi’s Sauber. Kubica and later Hamilton pass Kobayashi in short order, but Hamilton gets stuck behind the Renault for a dozen or so laps while Vettel charges off into the distance. Button, now leading ahead of his pit stop, puts in a brilliant drive to gap Kubica on option tires that seem none the worse for wear. Funny how different cars — and different drivers — can have such different luck with the soft tires; Webber had nothing but trouble, while Button stayed out for over half the race.
And in the end….
Click for huge; taken from F1-Fanatic’s photo gallery.
With Alonso in 7th and Webber in 8th, Vettel’s win gave him enough of a points boost to win the 2010 World Drivers’ Championship by four points — curiously, the first time he’s led the WDC standings all season.
The story of the race, for me at least, was in P6-7-8. Petrov, quite possibly driving for his job, held off Alonso for well over half the race on rapidly-aging tires. Alonso, pushing hard, never quite had the pace to catch the Renault where he needed to. And Webber, it seemed, had given up on his title hopes from the beginning and couldn’t find the speed to challenge Alonso before or after his pit stop.
Now the silly season begins, seven hours after the race ended. Will Hülkenberg keep his job at Williams? (Will Barrichello?) Can Petrov keep his drive at late-season surprise Renault on the strength of his impressive performance at Abu Dhabi, or will he end up somewhere else — possibly Virgin? Will Schumi stay at Mercedes? Will Kubica follow the rumours and replace Massa — whose 2010 season ended with a string of dismal performances — at Ferrari?
Good times, good times. Damn that was a fun year of racing.