Three races. That is all that remains for Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso to do what they have to do in order to book their place in the elite club of men that have won the Formula One World Championship three times.
And the outcome of this weekend’s race Abu Dhabi Grand Prix could be crucial in determining whether it is Vettel or Alonso who comes out on top in the battle for the title.
Following his win in India last weekend it is firmly advantage Vettel at the moment. A fourth straight victory and a third successive race in which he has led every lap has given him a 13 point lead in the championship and the wave of momentum that comes with it. The world champion has found his form at just the right time and barring an issue of some sort is firmly in the box seat at the moment.
Alonso on the other hand produced a stirring drive to take his Ferrari to second place, splitting the Red Bulls that for a large part of the race had looked so dominant. He has been vocal in his team’s need to up their game, but has fought against the odds all season and will not stop fighting now. He won the title from a similar position in 2006, when he took advantage of Michael Schumacher’s engine failure in Suzuka just when it looked like he was going to come up short, and will be hoping the same can happen this year.
It is also advantage Red Bull when it comes to the strength of the cars. In a season where the only consistency had come from the inconsistency of the various teams, Adrian Newey has played a blinder of late. Red Bull have had the strongest car for the last three races, and with the Yas Marina circuit being another Hermann Tilke brainchild, they will almost certainly be fighting at the sharp end of the grid this weekend.
Ferrari have some catching up to do. The brilliance of Fernando Alonso can only take them so far, and with the Scuderia in urgent need of stemming the tide of performance that has come from Milton Keynes, they need to upgrade their car, and fast. Qualifying in particular is a big concern, with Ferrari’s struggles on Saturday leaving them having to fight through the field on the Sunday whilst the Red Bulls have a clear track out front.
Kimi Raikkonen, Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton still have slim hopes of winning the title, but failing both Vettel and Alonso failing to turn up at the circuit from now until the end of the season, their hopes rely purely on the laws of mathematics.
Built in 2009 at a cost of £800million, Yas Marina is a 5.554km circuit and comprises 21 turns. A standard Hermann Tilke build, the trademarks of its designer can be found in abundance, with long straights and slow corners being the order of the day.
The circuit has come in for some criticism from various quarters. The track layout was derided following the race in 2010, in which the excitement of one of the most eagerly anticipated title deciders in Formula One history was virtually killed by Fernando Alonso’s inability to pass Vitaly Petrov, with the circuit being blamed for not allowing Alonso the opportunity to get close enough to Petrov’s Renault to attempt a move on one of the straights.
The circuit’s directors considered changing the layout of the track in response to the criticism that followed the 2010 race, but following the introduction of DRS last year and a much better race following, they have decided to stick with the current design for now.
The track is not a favourite of the drivers either. Kimi Raikkonen once described the circuit as ‘shit’, whilst if you asked a hardcore fan of the sport to name the best venues in Formula One were Yas Marina is hardly likely to feature that highly up in the list.
For all its faults though, the track does have its quirks. The underground pit exit is unique in Formula One and provides a tough challenge for the drivers, whilst the circuit is one of the most visually stunning venues on the calendar, especially at night. As the only day/night race of the season, it gives the drivers a unique test as they adjust to the changing conditions.
Sebastian Vettel led away from pole but his lead only lasted as far as the second corner before a puncture sent him spinning off the track and out of the race for the world champion’s only retirement of the season.
Lewis Hamilton took advantage to clinch his third win of the season, finishing 8 seconds ahead of Fernando Alonso. Jenson Button finished third ahead of Mark Webber and Felipe Massa. The Mercedes pair of Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher came in sixth and seventh, with the Force Indias of Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta finishing eighth and ninth. Kamui Kobayashi finished off the points in tenth place.
Location: Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, UAE
First Race: 2009
Track Length: 3.451 miles/5.554 km
2011 Winner: Lewis Hamilton
Lap Record: Sebastian Vettel – 1:40.279 (2009)
2009: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
2010: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
2011: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren)