Yas Marina: Vettel and Alonso in the twilight zone

Yas Marina: Vettel and Alonso in the twilight zone

31 October 2012 – Formula 1 moves on to Abu Dhabi and we have just three races left to decide the destiny of the 2012 season. In India on Sunday, Sebastian Vettel proved how important qualifying pace is. At the same time, Fernando Alonso’s performance was more than enough to warn Red Bull that a single mistake will cost them…

It’s a curious scenario. We’ve got the best car of the year against the best driver of the year. That of course is only an opinion, but it’s based on the fact that Red Bull are now continuously locking out front rows and leading all laps of races, with Alonso achieving lightening starts and finishing ahead of where he qualifies.

The way to tell an amazing, all-round player apart from a great driver? They win races they shouldn’t win and finish ahead of drivers with superior equipment who really should be in front. That was certainly the case in Greater Noida, as Alonso jumped both McLarens and Mark Webber. Granted, the Aussie had a KERS problem, but the intelligence of Alonso sacrificed some qualifying speed by running a longer seventh gear which allowed him shoot past his rivals with so much more extra speed where it mattered: the DRS zone.

As great as the Spaniard is, there is only so long you can go before the better car will come out on top. We might keep witnessing superlative drives from Alonso like that of India, but eventually the races will run out and Vettel will be ahead. So how on earth can Ferrari beat Red Bull? Let’s face it: on raw pace, they will not. What they need is an out-of-the-ordinary set of circumstances to take advantage of. Vettel held up by a back-marker in qualifying, rain late in a race or a Red Bull technical problem. Of course, Red Bull knows that only too well and cannot afford to take liberties.

Motorsport can deliver the most spectacular of blows, regardless of its form. How many times have we seen an almost certain winner lose everything at the last moment? In MotoGP, all Valentino Rossi had to do was finish the Valencia Grand Prix of 2006…only to fall off his Yamaha and hand the title to Nicky Hayden. In the World Rally Championship, Carlos Sainz’s Toyota broke down half a kilometre from the end of the 1998 RAC Rally…gift-wrapping the crown for Tommi Mäkinen. My point? Things happen. Gremlins can always creep in. This is motor racing.

Last-minute disaster: Sainz loses WRC title in 1998

What did Sainz, Alonso’s compatriot, say when he lost that WRC title in ‘98? “It made me stronger.” The same could be said for Alonso when, as Ferrari made that terrible tactical error at the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix by shadowing Mark Webber’s strategy, they allowed Vettel to pick up his maiden championship. Without a shadow of a doubt, Alonso is now the strongest he has been. Ever.

So, we have a strange situation on our hands. Vettel knows that, should the weather stay dry and the car not fail, the trophy is his. Alonso knows that he is coming from behind and has to keep the pressure on. On the other hand, Fernando is well aware that he has the slower car and – if Vettel is to keep pulling away at the starts – that simply is not good enough. But – after Valencia and Monza – if the tiniest mishap does occur for the German, that red car will be in position to pick up the pieces.

Personally, my head tells me Vettel and my heart says Alonso. Based on technical details, Red Bull should win this. When you throw outside variables into the mix, Ferrari always seem to be better placed. One would be brave to make a prediction. In the cockpit, you can be sure that both men will be hearing every possible little noise they could and noticing even the smallest of bumps in the road. Everybody is on tenterhooks and the balance of this championship could still swing either way.

Yas Marina pole-sitters at a glance:

2011 Sebastian Vettel – Red Bull-Renault
2010 Sebastian Vettel – Red Bull-Renault
2009 Lewis Hamilton - McLaren-Mercedes

Yas Marina Grands Prix winners at a glance:

2011 Lewis Hamilton – McLaren-Mercedes
2010 Sebastian Vettel – Red Bull-Renault
2009 Sebastian Vettel – Red Bull-Renault

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The facts: Yas Marina Circuit
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Laps 55

Direction Anti-clockwise

Corners 21

Length 5.554 km / 3.451 mi

First championship race 2009

First winner Sebastian Vettel – Red Bull-Renault

Lap record 1:40.279 / S. Vettel / Red Bull-Renault / 2009

Local start time 5pm (GMT +4)

Slick Pirelli tyre compounds
Medium (white markings) & Soft (soft markings)

DRS zones
Detection 1: Before Turn 7 hairpin
Activation 1: Halfway down straight after Turn 7
Detection 2: After Turn 9
Activation 2: Straight which runs to Turn 11

FIA driver steward
Derek Warwick

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Circuit changes for 2012
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- Higher kerbs, similar to those on the apexes of Turns 8 and 9, have been installed on the apexes of Turns 5, 6, 12, 13, 14, 18 and 19.
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Gregory Haines
GPUpdate.net Editor

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