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David Tremayne: Another GP, another RBR demonstration

6 November 2013

In his latest exclusive feature on Crash.net, David Tremayne - three time Guild of Motoring Writers Journalist of the Year Award winner and multi-award winning F1 author - takes a look back over the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix...


Adrian Newey's RB9s were in a league of their own in Yas Marina, and Sebastian Vettel was another notch up from Mark Webber as he checked out the moment he snatched the lead from his team-mate at the start.

After that, nobody saw which way he went, though Nico Rosberg and Romain Grosjean were able to keep the Australian honest. Webber had an initial problem with his KERS overheating and was stuck behind Rosberg in what he described as a weak first stint. But, thereafter, he got by the Mercedes under DRS and was able to defend second place to the finish.

Vettel, however, was half a minute ahead by the flag, taking an easy eleventh season victory and his seventh in a row. On current form, it's inconceivable that he won't win in Texas and Sao Paulo to equal Alberto Ascari's record of nine in a row from F1's 'F2' days back in 1952 and '53.

Rosberg's was another fast and noble drive, but it was hampered by oversteer on Pirelli's medium tyres during his second stint, which left him easy prey to Webber. His third stint was much better, however, and, by the flag, he was still within an honourable three seconds of the second Red Bull.

Team-mate Lewis Hamilton had another torrid time and took a deeply disappointing seventh, once again unable at times to muster the straightline grunt to deal with a Sauber (Esteban Gutierrez's this time) or the Force Indias. He'd had a rear brake problem which the Mercedes crew fixed during the grid formation laps after his broken right lower rear wishbone from qualifying had been replaced in parc ferme, but his race problems stemmed more from a shortage of traction on to the main straights. He lost a place to Felipe Massa while fighting Adrian Sutil, then simply couldn't hold off a charging Fernando Alonso at the end or get by Paul di Resta for sixth. He says he needs to work harder to match Rosberg, but it's more a case of getting the best from the car rather than from himself.

Grosjean drove another great race for the troubled Lotus team, though he was outqualified by team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, who had switched back to the short-wheelbase E21 because it understeered less and thus suited him better. Amid an ongoing argument over late salary payments and the fall-out from Alan Permane's acerbic message to him to get out of Grosjean's way in India last week, there was much tension around the Finn, and that got worse when he was thrown out of fifth place on the grid when the left front section of his car's floor failed a post-qualifying deflection test. He'd damaged it over a kerb but, as Grosjean had been let off a similar thing in Hungary, the stewards took the view that Lotus should have come up with a fix to avoid a repeat and showed no leniency this time.

Last year's winner never got beyond the third corner after hitting the back of Giedo van der Garde's Caterham and damaging his own right front suspension, but Grosjean got the jump on Hamilton at the start and looked strong until he got trapped behind Sutil's long-stinting Force India. That ruined his hopes of a fourth consecutive podium but he was only 1.1s off Rosberg by the finish.

There was good news for Lotus after the race, however, when it was confirmed that the long-awaited, budget-saving deal with Quantum Racing had finally been concluded. This will allow the team to pay off significant debt and to hire its prime choice of 2014 partner for Grosjean: Nico Hulkenberg.

Fernando Alonso was another half-minute behind the Frenchman, which shows how much trouble Ferrari is in. Initially, he seemed to be getting blown off by team-mate Massa, but it transpired that he was saving his mediums during a long middle stint which enabled him to switch back to softs for his last one and to come charging up past Hamilton and di Resta to snatch fifth place - but not before the forceful manner in which he rejoined, going off track to pass the duelling Jean-Eric Vergne and Massa, attracted the stewards' attention.

They decided it was a racing incident, but it was another insight into the Spaniard's refusal to lift off and was just the right side of acceptable. Massa was eighth after a decent run in which he seemed much more his old self, but Ferrari still trails Mercedes in Red Bull's wake in the constructors' championship.

Two one-stop strategies brought Force India sixth and tenth places, and nine valuable points, but, after looking much stronger in practice and qualifying, McLaren was justified in feeling disappointed to take only two with Sergio Perez's hard drive to ninth. Jenson Button hit the back of di Resta in the first-lap traffic, and ruined his race from the get-go.

Sauber, too, was in strife after Hulkenberg put in a brilliant qualifying effort for sixth place. He reported that his C32 lost all its poise in the race, and was then stymied by a drive-through penalty after the team unsafely released him into Perez's path during their pit-stops on lap 27. With only 45 points now to Force India's 77, its chances of taking sixth place are decidedly limited.


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