Red Bull Racing had to settle for a best of fourth place in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after Sebastian Vettel's retirement and Mark Webber's risky strategy meant that the team missed out on the podium for the first time in 18 races in 2011.
Vettel started from pole, but saw his race end at the second corner when a puncture sent him sliding across the grass and eventual retirement, leaving Webber as Red Bull's only hope of silverware. Passed by Fernando Alonso at the start, however, the Australian struggled to match the pace of the frontrunners and agreed to try and different gameplan in an attempt to combat the podium threat of Jenson Button, Felipe Massa and Nico Rosberg.
Sadly for Webber, fitting a third set of the softer Pirelli tyres was both prompted and, ultimately, negated by a slow first pit-stop, which left the Australian playing catch-up before needing to make a third stop in order to comply with the rules requiring each driver to run both types of tyre during a race. Although he passed Jenson Button to briefly hold third place before the final stop, there wasn't enough time to open a sufficient gap to stay there, and Webber came home fourth, ten seconds behind his friend and rival.
“On the second pit-stop, we fitted the option tyre again to try and cut the race down to something different, and it was certainly worth a bit of a punt," the Australian admitted, "I had a pretty good pace on Jenson at the end of the first stint, and he went one lap shorter than us - which was no problem - but then we had a bad first pit-stop, so we lost a lot of time with that. It put us on the back foot and, even though I got the car back onto the leaders, we were out of position by then.”
Webber was less satisfied with the decision to have two DRS zones at Yas Marina, particularly as the followed on successive straights, prompting a lot of 'pass and repass' between competing drivers.
"I think it was a bit of a gimmick today," he said, after numerous wheel-to-wheel battles with the likes of Button and Massa where he ultimately failed to make a position despite getting the first pass in, "The two DRS zones are tricky here - in the first one, it was easy to get the move done but, in the second, you couldn't - so, if I
passed Jenson there, he could just get you back again. It was difficult to make the move stick and harder to get the move done."
The end of Red Bull's podium run was particularly frustrating for team principal Christian Horner, who was spotted with his head in his hands following Vettel's retirement, and was unable to make the strategy switch on Webber's car work as intended, despite the Australian setting a series of fastest laps in search of third place.
“After such a great qualifying, it was a really frustrating race," Horner admitted, "Sebastian made a perfect start and had a clear lead into the first corner and then an instantaneous loss of pressure in the tyre made him a complete passenger. The resulting suspension damage from that meant there was no alternative but to retire the car.
"For Mark, he was in a close scrap with Jenson but, on the first pit-stop, we had a wheel nut issue and it dropped him behind Felipe Massa. At that point, we opted for a different strategic route and a three-stop race, which was the only opportunity to take on and beat Massa and have a go at Jenson. Unfortunately, there just weren't enough laps to pull out a big enough gap, but it was worth a go and Mark drove well.”