Some days one driver is just in a different class to the rest of the grid. Today was one of those days for Sebastian Vettel. In fact, his drive in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was in a different league; the winning margin over his team-mate, Mark Webber, a massive 30 seconds.
He’s now won seven Grands Prix in a row, equalling Michael Schumacher’s record that the seven-time world champion set in 2004 between the European and Hungarian Grands Prix. Even Webber admitted afterwards that Vettel was “in another category today”.
There are still two races left this season and, barring mechanical problems, Vettel should be able to win both. All the teams stopped any major development on this year’s cars long ago in order to focus on 2014 and the Red Bull is streets ahead of the rest of the grid.
Alberto Ascari’s record of nine Grands Prix victories in succession over the 1952 and ’53 seasons looked like it would never be matched, let alone broken, but, like so many records before, it may fall to the young four-time world champion. The Abu Dhabi win was his 37th career victory and he is now only four behind the great Ayrton Senna.
“The numbers don’t make me jump into the car,” Vettel said afterwards. “It’s a shock when you mention them to me. I don’t know what to say. The thing is that people see seven race wins, they don’t see the challenge we have every single race.” He was clearly emotional and when asked why he replied, “You made it emotional. Seven races in a row… Please stop mentioning these kinds of things because it makes me realise what it means. I remember when I was a kid watching F1 on TV and Michael was dominating at Ferrari… It’s very special for me and for the whole team.”
Despite so much success he’s still delighted with every victory and, before finishing his slowing-down lap, managed some more donuts in front of the grandstands. “Technically I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said about them in light of his Indian Grand Prix reprimand and the 25,000 euro fine for Red Bull when he left his car on the pit straight. “I brought the car back! I hope we can provide a fuel sample, though…”
Webber had secured pole position yesterday with a stunning Q3 lap, but at the start of the race Vettel dived into the lead. It was a familiar story over the next few laps… By the end of the first Vettel had a 1.9-second lead, by lap two it was 2.4, by three, 3.2 and then by the end of lap four he was 4.7 seconds ahead of second-placed Rosberg who had also jumped Webber at the start.
Things looked set for an exciting race even if Vettel did disappear into the distance as not only had Button, who had a low-downforce car to help him overtake, qualified badly, but Kimi Räikkönen was excluded from qualifying and would start the race from the back of the grid. The Finn had damaged the floor of his car and it subsequently failed an ‘asymmetric LHS front-floor deflection test’.
Thoughts of whether he could climb back through the field were quickly stopped when he made contact with van der Garde’s Caterham at Turn 1. He was out of the race on the spot and then managed to get in his road car and leave the track within 20 minutes. It was quite an impressive effort (the speed of his departure, not the accident).
Button also fell foul of first-lap contact – his was with the back of di Resta’s Force India – and had to pit at the end of the second lap for a new nose. His race was spent not climbing back through the field, as some hoped, but battling out of the points. He finally crossed the line in 12th.
There were some great dices throughout the field, though, most notably the one between the two Ferrari drivers. Massa drove brilliantly and had the measure of Alonso for much of the race until he pitted for the second time on lap 38. Alonso was right behind him and there was no chance of the Spaniard having an easy time trying to overtake – Massa won’t be racing for Ferrari next year and he was “racing for himself”.
In the pit stop Massa’s left-front was slow to be put on and, by the time Alonso pitted six laps later, the Brazilian was stuck behind Jean-Éric Vergne who had only stopped once. Alonso came back onto the track alongside the Toro Rosso driver and had to take drastic action in order to avoid him, running well off the track in the process. It was a brave move, but he did overtake him while all four of his Ferrari’s wheels were off the Tarmac. The incident was looked at by the stewards after the race and, while Alonso thought Vergne should be punished for not leaving a car’s width, no further action was taken.
Massa was still stuck behind Vergne, however, and by the time he got past three laps later Alonso, on the soft tyres, was well down the road. Alonso finished fifth behind Grosjean while Massa could only manage eighth. Even if Massa was in front of his team-mate after the pit stops he would have struggled to stay ahead as he was on the more durable, but slower, medium-compound tyres. Massa – who originally planned to do a one-stop race – admitted afterwards that he was on the wrong tyres for the final stint.
Paul di Resta also drove a strong one-stop race to sixth at the finish ahead of Hamilton, Massa, Pérez and Sutil. Hamilton’s race was effectively ruined when he got stuck first behind Gutiérrez and then, later in the race, Sutil.
Despite Hamilton’s rear brakes being taken apart on the grid after he complained of a vibration during his out lap the Mercedes did make the start. However, the Brit struggled for grip throughout the race and couldn’t make the decisive overtaking manoeuvres when he needed to. “My race just didn’t quite come together,” he said, “and I’m not really sure why as I gave it my all out there. I had some problems with grip and, of course, it’s so difficult to overtake here when you are in traffic. We also need to figure out why I’m not getting the maximum performance from the car at the moment.”
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was not the most thrilling race of the season, but that was through no fault of Vettel who is simply driving brilliantly at the moment. While we all like to see close racing we should appreciate the fact that we are witness to a great driver at the peak of his game. I say ‘peak’, but he’s only 26 years old…
Nicki Thiim has now sealed the 2013 Porsche Supercup Championship after leading the second race from lights to flag. He crossed the line over six seconds ahead of second-placed Kèvin Estre while Michael Ammermüller, the only other driver who was in with a shout at the title, finished down in eighth.
Thiim, who, along with his team-mate Estre, was wearing a black armband in memory of Sean Edwards, was subdued after sealing the crown and there was no champagne sprayed on the podium. Fittingly he is donating the trophy to the Sean Edwards Foundation.
Whether you think that Thiim should have gone for the championship in honour of the late Sean Edwards or not, the 2013 Supercup will be remembered by most not as the year Nicki Thiim won, but the year we tragically lost one of its brightest stars.