The final setting for the 2010 season couldn’t have been more spectacular. As the only twilight race on the calendar the Yas Marina circuit was lit up for a glamorous occasion.
Formula 1’s travelling circus headed to the last race in Abu Dhabi with the championship still undecided. Never before had a season ended with four drivers still in contention and few were keen to put money on any one as a clear favourite. Every contender however, was to find the race pan out for them in very different ways.
Mark Webber – 8th
It all seemed to unravel on Saturday when he couldn’t string two clean qualifying laps together and had to settle for 5th place on the grid. All weekend he looked dejected before any cars had even left the grid. The race seemed to reflect the imbalance in both his mentality and his car, and the cars that had made the most of the safety car that following the Schumacher-Liuzzi crash became a real obstacle for Webber. He emerged from the pits right in the middle and it was clear that despite his car’s overall pace it couldn’t scare the others as it has done on previous occasions. Finishing a lowly 8th place ended his title dreams in what has been by far his most successful season. Many had called it his last real opportunity to win a title so to miss out at such a late stage, to the team-mate he felt was given preferential treatment, will be heartbreaking for him.
Fernando Alonso – 7th
Qualifying 3rd on the grid showed Fernando Alonso could perform above the level of his relatively uncompetitive car. He seemed calm and confident under the burden of expectation, but as the lights went out his defensive strategy fell to pieces, allowing Jenson Button to pass him before turn one. After receiving information that those with fresh tyres were posting faster sector times Ferrari made the decision to stay with Webber, who had pitted at the end of lap 12. But as the race wore on this decision would prove to be pivotal. The team reported nothing wrong with Alonso’s car or his tyres, but he was unable to pass Renault’s Vitaly Petrov, who was in his own fight for a seat in 2011. Instead of pressuring the Russian into mistakes, Alonso’s growing frustration and desperation saw him make errors himself, and when Alonso finished a lowly 7th place he drove alongside Petrov and made a gesture that clearly showed his anger. It was an unfortunate end for what has been a spectacular comeback from Ferrari, even if Alonso maintains that he is happier at this team than he was during his title-winning years at Renault.
Lewis Hamilton – 2nd
Hamilton knew that his only way of winning the championship was through victory in Abu Dhabi, whilst hoping that the others floundered behind him. His best chance to gain a place was on the first corner, but after failing to get ahead both he and Vettel settled down into a fast, consistent race. Vettel remained far ahead after his incredible pace through the pit stop, much to Hamilton’s frustration as his own pit stop put him behind Robert Kubica (another Renault doing favours for Red Bull). It could immediately be seen what a battle the fans missed out on as Lewis lit up the timing boards with fastest laps. Overall it was a strong showing from the Englishman and though it wasn’t enough to win the title, Hamilton certainly played his part in the final race of the season.
Sebastian Vettel – 1st
From pole position, Vettel knew he had a real chance to drive away from the rest of his competitors on Sunday, but not even he could have predicted how the race unfolded. Webber’s misfortune and the strategic errors of Ferrari proved to be a gift, and he made the most of his advantage driving right on the edge without any mistakes, knowing he couldn’t afford to lose a single place. Martin Brundle called his 4.4 second pit-stop “world championship-making” – and it played a vital part in keeping him ahead while Alonso slowly crept up the pack. He crossed the line victorious of the race, but no one celebrated until the order was finalized. All eyes were on Alonso to see where he finished, as everyone remembered the scenes from Brazil 2008 and Massa’s dissapointment. However, Alonso finished in 7th and Vettel’s team could finally confirm the result with chants of ‘Weltmeister!’ A momentary silence followed then a tearful Vettel told the team that the result was ‘unbelievable’.
Vettel’s rise to champion in just 4 seasons has been quite remarkable. After working his way through karts and single-seater racing he began to make waves on the Formula 1 scene. His debut season at Toro Rosso made the team more successful than their big sister Red Bull after he gained their first win at Monza. He has since been fundamental in moving Red Bull to the double-title winning outfit they are today. But Vettel will certainly not be the most popular champion and he is also far from perfect. With the fastest car and by repeatedly out-qualifying his team-mate, Vettel has started from the front 10 times this season meaning that compared to other drivers his overtaking has not been frequently tested. Occasions when he has have occasionally resulted in disaster, but all the drivers have made mistakes this season and Vettel has suffered more than his fair share of reliability problems. Shockingly, Vettel had never led the championship until the moment he won. But in the end he just pipped Alonso to the title by securing the same number of race wins, second places and third places– but one more fourth place and a handful more points.
Abu Dhabi proved that Red Bull had done the right thing by letting their drivers race until the last moment. If they had focused on one driver or swapped them in Brazil when Webber was ahead on points, they would have lost the driver’s championship to Alonso. After the race, Vettel looked completely stunned by the day’s events and the unexpected end to an incredible season. “I guess it will sink in when I finally go to sleep” he said in the post-race conference “-but I think we will have daylight before that happens.”
Fiona Crosby and Ketan Patel