This season has been fantastic. Five contenders have battled for the title, each one has suffered reliability failures, made some mistakes and underperformed along the way. Ultimately, I feel the best man won.
This race, and the season, was decided not just by the unbeatable pace of Vettel (followed closely by the surprisingly quick McLarens) but by the strategic side of the sport. I wrote before that Yas Marina is a processional circuit; it’s very hard to overtake in Abu Dhabi. If you’re ahead, that’s great. But if you make a critical strategic error and emerge from the pits behind, say, a Renault who took advantage of the safety car and doesn’t need to stop again it will wreck your race.
Off the line Button got a great start and passed El Grumpino to take third. The soft tyres had begun to grain and slow, so Red Bull pitted Webber, and Ferrari reacted with both of their drivers. Massa was unable to jump Webber and although Alonso stayed in front of the Aussie he was, crucially, behind Petrov. I expected the Russian to make a mistake, and allow Alonso through. But instead he drove very well, and it was the increasingly desperate Spaniard who had the occasionally expedition off track [though Webber was so far back he couldn’t capitalise and pass Alonso].
The two title leaders were held up, lap after lap, when, lo, a miracle happened. The soft tyres of the McLarens and Vettel began to improve. The three at the front stretched the gap. Hamilton blinked first and pitted, but came out behind Kubica (who had started 11th on hard tyres and would not pit for some time). Vettel used this to increase his lead, pitted and emerged ahead of the duelling Renault and McLaren. For a time it seemed Button, whose pace was most impressive, could also leapfrog Hamilton and Kubica, but eventually he came out behind Hamilton to get a tasty podium.
Kubica had made the strategy work so well the gap he had created between himself and Petrov enabled him to finish ahead of his team mate (who had done very well to out-qualify the excellent Pole and keep Alonso bottled up for more than half the race).
Vettel’s performance was near perfect. For a short time Hamilton got very close as the McLaren seemed to be easier on the tyres, but he was never close enough to contemplate the pass he needed for even a small chance of the title. Last year, Button had seen his lead eroded race by race, until he took up the gauntlet at Interlagos, passed more than half the field and secured a glorious title. This year, Webber crumbled at Yas Marina. His qualifying was not good enough, his race pace was slower than all his rivals and he never looked in it. Alonso failed to get past Petrov and made a rather frustrated hand gesture at the driver (who had done a marvellous job to get sixth) at the end.
The top three were made of sterner stuff. Vettel was almost in a league of his own, and the two McLaren drivers were a distance ahead of the rest of the field (20s ahead of Rosberg). Vettel’s made some mistakes, but so have others (Alonso in Monaco and China, Hamilton’s repeated DNFs recently) and suffered more lost points to reliability than anyone else. I’m thrilled he (and not Alonso) won the title. Hockenheim could’ve tainted the prize. Instead, we have a youngest ever world champion, destined to be around for many a year.
KERS comes back next season (Eddie Jordan reckons that Mercedes have stolen a march on Renault in this regard), as do five world champions. If the Mercedes team improves their car, Schumacher could be a contender again, though for the long term I think we’re going to see Vettel, Hamilton and Alonso sharing the titles between themselves.
It’s also nice to end the season with an uncharacteristic pair of profitable tips. For next year (to be 20 races) I think I might do one article per weekend (after each race) and include any tips I offer on the main site there. I’ll do a few reviews of the season (from racing and betting perspectives) in the next few weeks. It’s been a fantastically entertaining season, so let’s hope 2011 can be half as good.
Cheers for reading.