3 November 2013
Calado clinches final win as Russian Time takes title
A terrific start for ART's James Calado propelled him to the race win and third in the drivers' championship, while disaster for Carlin handed the team title to Russian Time.
While the drivers' championship had been decided on Saturday, there was still the not-insignificant matter of the team title to resolve as the cars lined up under a scorching sun and perfect blue skies of the early Sunday afternoon in Abu Dhabi for the final race of 2013.
The team championship had come down to a straight run-off between Carlin and Russian Time, with Carlin definitely coming into the final sprint race of the year with the upper hand having taken the points lead in the feature event the previous day. Carlin also had Felipe Nasr starting on the front row and Jolyon Palmer lining up on the grid in seventh place well ahead of Sam Bird in tenth, who was Russian Time's sole representative for the season finale after Tom Dillmann had been ruled out of action having sustained a neck injury in a race accident on Saturday. The Frenchman could only watch on from the pit wall while wearing a neck brace, fearing that his absence could prove pivotal in deciding the championship outcome.
But any thoughts that this was going to be a walk in the park for Carlin were quickly dispelled when the lights went out for the start of the 22-lap race: Nasr got terrible wheel spin, as did polesitter Johnny Cecotto Jr. alongside him. Both men worked frantically to recover, but they had no way of stopping ART's James Calado launching himself magnificently right between both cars and into the lead of the race going into the first corner.
Nasr's subsequent attempts at damage limitation ended in disaster, as he made contact with Cecotto and spun the Arden clean around in turn 1; Nasr himself sustained heavy front wing damage that sent him directly to the pits without passing go, his contribution to the team championship battle at an end even before he was also handed a drive-thru penalty for causing the initial incident. Everything now rested on his team mate's shoulders: Palmer had managed to successfully navigate the fall-out in turn 1, which is more than could be said for Rio Haryanto and feature race winner Alexander Rossi as contact between the pair left the Barwa Addax with front wing damage and contributed to a puncture that sent the Caterham into a thumping impact with the safety barrier at turn 2 which brought out a brief safety car while the car was retrieved and the barrier reset.
That momentarily neutralised Calado's impressive early lead, with the Briton now running ahead of MP Motorsport's Dani Clos and newly crowned GP2 champion Fabio Leimer in third for Racing Engineering. Calado was quickly able to pull away again once the safety car came in, but not even a race win would be enough to boost ART from third place in the team championship, which was strictly a private affair between Carlin and Russian Time.
And it was going from bad to worse for Carlin, with Palmer dropping down to 11th place and out of the points over the ensuing green flag laps. Among the cars passing him was none other than Sam Bird, on a mission to make up for the disastrous starting grid stall the day before that had cost him the drivers' title. By the midpoint of the race Bird was up into fourth place behind his old sparring partner Leimer, and suddenly things were looking very good for Russian Time in their maiden season in the championship.
The action was briefly suspended when Jon Lancaster was turned around while battling with the DAMS of Stephane Richelmi, leaving the back wheels of his Hilmer Motorsport car spinning ineffectually as he was 'beached' on the kerbing so that a second safety car was required on lap 10. Calado was up to the task of managing the restart and was quickly a second ahead of Clos and Leimer, with fourth-place Bird on the radio to check with the team exactly what he needed to do from here to ensure them the all-important title.
Palmer was still out the points, but showing signs of revival as he won a bruising battle for tenth place with Julian Leal that left the Racing Engineering car with front wing damage after a clash which the race stewards opted to leave until after the race to investigate. By contrast they were happy to rule summarily against Richelmi after determining that the DAMS car had gained an advantage by exceeding track limits, an offence for which Rapax's Stefano Coletti was also investigated but ultimately absolved.
Jut when it seemed things couldn't get any worse for Carlin, Palmer was hit by a left rear puncture and forced to retire five laps from the end. That meant that Russian Time was able to clinch the title by Bird coming home in fourth place which would leave the teams tied on points and Russian Time the victor on a tie breaker of most race wins. Despite sustained pressure from behind from ART's Daniel Abt, he was duly able to do so to the delight of the team, which had been staring at a doubly frustrating end to their inaugural year just 45 minutes earlier.
Johnny Cecotto Jr.
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