The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is a shining vision of Formula One’s future. Yas Marina offers a thrilling grand prix circuit, superb facilities and the dusting of glamour and excitement which is the sport’s life blood. But you would have had drama if you'd held this race in a car park. As night fell over the Arabian Gulf, Sebastian Vettel illuminated proceedings with a drive that saw him capture the ultimate prize in motorsport.
With Red Bull Racing already the winning constructor, F1 turned its attention to the drivers’ championship. Four men went into the race with a chance of finishing as World Champion.
“I have nothing to lose; the guys in front of me have everything to lose, so for me I am going to be flat out as always. They have got generally faster cars than me but that doesn’t mean that we cannot fight for a win.”
Lewis Hamilton – McLaren
“I’m in a similar situation to Lewis and it’s pretty easy to understand. A long time ago another Formula One driver said that in these races there are no tactics; the only tactic is to go flat out. That’s been my approach for the last couple of races and it won’t change here.”
Sebastian Vettel – Red Bull Racing
“The Interlagos result allows us to be in charge of our own destiny: with a win or a second place we won't need any more calculations.”
Fernando Alonso – Ferrari
“We will see how the weekend shapes up but Fernando is in the best position. I’m looking forward to it.”
Mark Webber – Red Bull Racing
Vettel continued his form into qualifying, grabbing his 10th pole position of the year. But Mark Webber fared less well and would start in fifth.
“This feels very good. I think it was a tough qualifying session today. We knew it would be tricky and no one really knew what to expect. It was tight but it was enough. We are in a strong position.”
“I did not expect to be fifth, I expected to be further up. But that is what happened. The stopwatch starts at the beginning of the session, it ends at the end of the session and this is where I am. Of course I am not rapt with the qualifying today. P3, Q1 and Q2 all looked OK, it was the crucial session that did not come together for us, which is a shame – but in the end, if I was on pole, it doesn’t make me world champion. Tomorrow is the day when they are going to hand it out so I am still perfectly positioned to capitalise on any misfortune, so tyre degradation, pit stops, safety cars – I can get amongst it. Let’s see how it goes.”
Lewis Hamilton would start on the front row alongside Vettel, with Alonso third and Button fourth. If the order remained the same the title was Alonso’s.
“It’s better to be third and have Mark fifth than be third and having Mark first, there’s no doubt, but I think the race is tomorrow. Saturday is important, we know, but at the end of the day as we saw in the last couple of events – interesting races – some mechanical failures, some problems, some mistakes, so we need to avoid all those tomorrow.”
Vettel made a clean start, as did Hamilton, but Alonso lost a place to Button. Webber and Massa held fifth and sixth. Just before getting into his car, Seb pulled on his balaclava with the word ‘MONZA’ emblazoned down the side.
“My engineer [Guillaume ‘Rocky’ Rocquelin] wrote that on my balaclava. At some point this season, he asked me what word describes something that make you very happy and makes you feel good? And a couple of days later I came back to him and I said ‘Monza.’ I won my first Grand Prix there… the race was amazing – I think it’s one of the best podiums you can stand on, seeing the team, Toro Rosso, listening to the Italian anthem in Italy. These are moments you will never forget. I was surprised when I came in the garage and put my balaclava on and I saw ‘Monza.’ I think it taught me twice just to enjoy today, once for the race in 2007, and secondly the race this year when we were flat out until the last lap and fighting. I considered it one of the best races this year for us, because it was extremely difficult and we still finished fourth. Thanks a lot, because I was feeling good before the start.”
Michael Schumacher spun on the second lap and was hit by Tonio Liuzzi. It was a nasty crash – Schumacher was lucky to not be seriously injured – the safety car came out.
“I went off the line, spun and because of the dirt there, the back of the car just came around. It's a shame obviously as I would have liked to finish the season with a more positive ending but I am already looking forward to fighting again next year.”
Michael Schumacher – Mercedes
“It was right in the middle of the racing line. It was Tonio who crashed into him, but I was lucky to avoid it too – I only just managed to get over. It cost me a position but we were able to recover that by doing the pitstop under the safety car.”
Jaime Alguersuari – Scuderia Toro Rosso
Several other drivers also elected to pit, including Nico Rosberg and Vitaly Petrov.
“We pitted under the safety car, which was the right decision, and after that I just tried to push while looking after the tyres, because I knew the plan was to go to the finish.”
Vitaly Petrov – Renault
Mark Webber, needing something to happen and bracketed between the Ferraris of Alonso and Massa, dived into the pits on Lap 11. He came out behind Alguersuari. Ferrari tried to cover that with Massa stopping on Lap 14. He came out behind the Webber and Alguersuari.
“We had to roll the dice and go for it with the strategy.”
“We decided to pit early to try and stay ahead of Webber, but we did not manage it and we were then stuck in traffic for almost the whole race.”
Felipe Massa – Ferrari
“We had very good pace to stay ahead of Felipe Massa. He was never close enough to overtake me. It was difficult because you can’t afford to make even a small mistake.”
Ferrari then went for a double cover, Alonso pitted on lap 15, and rejoined just ahead of Webber – who had passed Alguersuari – but behind Petrov.
“With hindsight it would have been better not to pit so soon – but it’s easy to say that when you have all the facts.”
Up front Hamilton pitted on Lap 24, Vettel on Lap 25. Crucially, Vettel came out ahead of Robert Kubica, Hamilton behind him. Vettel was able to ease away from the battle between the Renault and McLaren and eventually regained the lead when Button pitted on Lap 40.
“I was able to match Sebastian’s pace in the early part of the race – but, after my pitstop, I was stuck behind Robert. It was just impossible to get past him – he made no mistakes – so it wasn’t possible to resume my attack on Sebastian.”
Alonso’s championship was slipping away: he needed to pass Petrov and Rosberg to get close enough to Kubica and Hamilton to retake fourth position when the Pole eventually stopped. But he couldn’t pass Petrov.
“I had a long battle with Fernando but the car had good top speed today, so I was able to control the situation. If he had tried a move, then I didn’t want to crash into him, but it didn’t come to that.”
“We made the wrong decision in terms of strategy, and there is no point in making excuses. We concentrated too much on what Mark was doing and then we were left bottled-up in traffic and that cost us the title. You could say we looked too closely at what was going on behind us without seeing what was in front of our nose. It’s a shame because losing like this hurts. It hurts a lot.”
Chris Dyer – chief track engineer, Ferrari
Vettel won the race with a 10-second gap to Hamilton and Button. Rosberg came home an excellent fourth, Kubica fifth and Petrov sixth. Alonso and Webber were seventh and eighth. Alguersuari held off Massa for ninth.
“I had a good race today. Most of the time it was just a case of keeping my head down, though I did look at the screens from time to time. I think the car was phenomenal. Red Bull gave me wings. Again.”
“It was a fantastic race and a great job by Sebastian.”
As a small bonus for his victory, Vettel also became 2010 Formula One Drivers’ Champion, the youngest man to do so.
“We are sad, but we have to keep our heads held high. We are Ferrari which means we are condemned to having to win, so a second place is a defeat: but that is also part of sport and we have to accept it. Congratulations to Vettel: he had the quickest car and in the end he was the best.”
Stefano Domenicali – team principal, Ferrari
“I want to congratulate Red Bull and its drivers: over the course of the season they have had a little something extra and they deserve to be where they are today.”
“You have to take your hat off to Sebastian, he’s done a great job all year and to lead the championship at the last race, he’s got the timing right and I fully congratulate him on the World Championship.”
“Congratulations to Red Bull and Sebastian who drove an excellent race today and deserved to win the title.”
Peter Sauber – team principal, Sauber
Congratulations to Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel for winning the Drivers’ Championship. They were the most competitive team throughout the season and Sebastian was the best driver, therefore deserving to take the title.”
Franz Tost – team principal, Toro Rosso
“Big congratulations to Sebastian for his great victory and taking the title today. That was extremely well done.”
"I am just delighted with the way that Sebastian drove today. The fact that we did it without team orders, the fact that at the end of the day the best guy won it – that's the way it should be."
Christian Horner – team principal, Red Bull Racing
“I’ll be going to the Red Bull party this evening and I imagine there will be a very lively celebration. But I’ll be keeping a clear head and leaving early because I’m playing a DJ set between 3 and 5am. It’ll be good. You should come!
“We have to enjoy this moment because it is our moment. The race started in daylight and I think in a way it will also finish in daylight… if you know what I mean.”
And that’s it for 2010. Five continents, 19 races, many thrills, a few spills. Five drivers and three teams led their respective championships but in the end a record of 15 pole positions, 20 podiums and nine wins was enough to secure Red Bull Racing both titles. The team will enjoy a long and thoroughly deserved rest before 2011 testing begins. Tomorrow.