Abu Dhabi GP preview – Yas Marina

By Pat Espresso

This is it. After 18 races and the best part of a year, the F1 drivers’ world championship race comes down to a straight fight between three drivers and two teams in the desert heat of the Gulf. After the snooze-fest that kicked off the series in Bahrain in March, who could have imagined the twists and turns of a marathon season that has seen Adrian Newey’s astonishing RB6 clinch the constructors’ championship for 2010? Only some bizarre squabbling, reliability problems and downright bad luck have prevented the Red Bull team from running away with both prizes already. And the wily double world champion Fernando Alonso in a resurgent Ferrari.

After his third place at Interlagos, Alonso gave a wry smile knowing that he is still on course to steal the drivers’ title away from the Red Bull stars. Using all his talent and experience, he knows when to bank strong points and when to risk an attack. It is looking more and more likely that Red Bull will have to resort to team orders to prevent the Ferrari driver from triumphing. And after the furore over Hockenheim, that will be a sweet compliment to the Maranello team.

The mathematics are simple: if Vettel wins in Abu Dhabi, Alonso needs only to finish fourth to win the title. But if Webber wins, Alonso needs to be second. It is this prospect that presents the 23-year-old German with a potentially agonising dilemma. The Red Bull has easily been the fastest car this year in qualifying, with Vettel usually a tenth faster than his Australian teammate. On paper, Alonso should be a comfortable third in qualifying. So it is quite possible for Vettel to find himself leading in Abu Dhabi from Webber and Alonso, as he did in Brazil. For Christian Horner and Webber, the answer is straightforward. In those circumstances, Vettel would have to let Webber through to prevent the Ferrari driver from winning the title.

For Vettel, though, who has seen his superiority in the car fail to register in the points table thanks to horrendous reliability problems and some idiotic driving, it would seem like handing over a championship he feels should be his. And to give it to the rival you haven’t even been on speaking terms with for the latter part of the year, it would be a bitter pill indeed to swallow.

This scenario depends on the race being predictable – and this season has been anything but that. Alonso is the ultimate competitor and it is quite feasible, given the pressure on all three, that he could split the Red Bulls in qualifying or steal a place at the start. With overtaking so difficult at the tight and twisty desert circuit, that could mean a nail biting procession as the clock winds down. There is also the chance that Alonso will encounter a mechanical problem, such as an engine failure, which would leave us with the prospect of a flat-out fight between the two Red Bulls. And we know what happened in Turkey. In that scenario, Webber could afford to finish fifth, adding to the pressure on Vettel.

Another slim prospect would be that if Vettel wins from Webber and both McLaren drivers push Alonso down to fifth – unlikely indeed – then the race would end with Alonso, Vettel and Webber tied on points. In that case, Vettel and Alonso would be tied on five race wins each and Vettel would clinch the championship on count back because he has more fourth places than Alonso.

At under-performing McLaren, Lewis Hamilton has a mathematical chance of the title but even he admitted it would be verging on the miraculous to have all three other contenders fail to finish. After the team’s unspectacular race in Brazil, it has become apparent that they have failed to develop their car enough to maintain a challenge. They will be hoping for much more next year. All the other teams will be firmly focused on 2011, as this scintillating season reaches its climax on Sunday. Michael Schumacher showed signs in Brazil that he is up for a stronger showing next year. Renault will be desperate to give Robert Kubica a car his talent deserves and Lotus, or perhaps Malaysia 1, will be desperate to continue their progress.

It could hardly be better poised on Sunday for F1 fans. It is likely that we will be on the edge of our seats until the last corner of the last lap of the last race. What a fitting end to one of the greatest F1 seasons there has ever been.

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