Lewis Hamilton: There and Back Again

By on Monday, November 14, 2011

Lewis Hamilton: A sweet victory indeed

Lewis Hamilton won the third Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that could have featured a mighty fight between Vettel and Hamilton if the former hadn’t retired at Turn 2 courtesy of an unexpected tyre failure. After a spontaneous loss of pressure, Vettel’s right rear tyre punctured, causing him to  spin off and created a welcome surprise for the Brit, who had won his last grand prix 4 months ago in Germany. Fernando Alonso beat one McLaren and one Red Bull to get the runner up spot. Jenson Button picked up the last podium position, making it 7 podiums out of last 8 races, which rightfully earned him the second moniker of this weekend as the first team mate ever to beat Hamilton in a season. Well done. The first one is obviously “hairy monster.”

The race panned out in line with the pre-race expectations. The top 10 were all set to make a two-stop race bar di Resta who chose not to set a time in qualifying, and backmarkers would be pushing boundaries by stopping only once. Here soft tyres went as far as 32 laps in the extreme on Nico Rosberg’s car and 23 laps on average for the top six (excluding Webber for obvious reasons). Last year Bridgestone brought super soft and medium tyres. Here with Pirelli it could not have been workable as their tyres are already well apart from each other in terms of pace. Nonetheless, they would have tried to bring super soft and soft so teams might have got different strategy window.  Red Bull tried to do something different in Webber, that’s why for the second consecutive race Sauber tried to gamble on a safety car. In India, Force India had done it as well. Pirelli seems to be on the conservative side a little bit more now.

Following a clean start,  Hamilton led, Alonso, after a terrific start and a bold move on Jenson, was second, from Jenson from Webber from Massa. Rosberg and Schumacher had a fantastic battle until the end of second straight, where Nico managed to reclaim his position back. If Nico hadn’t done the pass, he would have passed Michael eventually as he was the faster Mercedes in Abu Dhabi. He drove a perfect race, running third for a while and took 6th cementing his championship position against Michael. Schumacher now has to outscore him by 7 points in Brazil, which will tie them in points but Schumacher will beat him by virtue of his 4th place in Canada.

Meanwhile in front, Hamilton and Alonso had a 12-second buffer behind them by Lap 10, meaning that the victory pendulum had to go to either Hamilton's side or Alonso's side. There was a mere 1,9 seconds between them when the first stops came. Ferrari elected to pit him at the same time with Hamilton. In the last lap before the stop, Hamilton did a 1:46.516, Alonso did a 1:46.022. In hindsight, Ferrari could have made Alonso to stay out in order to make up some ground, but they decided to do it in the second stop. When Hamilton pits on Lap 40 for the second and last time, Alonso stayed out and did a 1:44.719, a full second faster than what Hamilton did a lap before. Although the Spaniard put the hammer down and pulled two super laps out of bag, it would not have been enough to leapfrog Hamilton as he had 3 seconds cushion when he pitted. An HRT in front the Alonso and a slow stop obviously didn’t help his course, but it would not have made any difference. McLaren and Hamilton was a tad quicker than Alonso today. His second place was largely down to the pass on Button in the first lap.

Further back, Button couldn’t put much of a fight as his KERS decided to let go nearly in the beginning of the race. He tried to manage the situation very well and kept Webber at bay until the first stops. McLaren here executed two excellent pit-stops, one for Hamilton and 8 seconds later for Button, unlike Webber, whose slow pit-stop not only left him 7 seconds behind Button, but also made him lose a position to Massa. The gap was just 1 second before the pit-stops and from that, Webber never recovered. It was, in turn, Button’s chance as he was able to cruise his car without pushing too much now that he was unchallenged. Red Bull tried to pull something out of box and changed Webber’s strategy to make him stop 3 times. In theory, it could have worked out but McLaren's quick thinking prevented that. They pitted Button just one lap later from Webber just to put him in front Mark on the circuit. That way, Mark didn’t find a clear track in front of him, instead he had to overtake Jenson, losing a lot of time doing so. In three laps while trying to pass Button, Webber lost a total of 5 seconds, so lost his chance. He kept going and overtook Massa, who had a low key weekend, spinning at Turn 1. Nope, it was not Hamilton’s fault. He was winning the race when that happened!

Further back, Force India seemed very strong this weekend as opposed to what we witnessed a fortnight ago. They more or less guaranteed the 6th position in the standings. Buemi was running a very strong 7th when he retired and those were the points that the team could well regret in their fight with Sauber, which managed to salvage one point with Kobayashi who started the race from 16th. This was Kobayashi’s first point since the German GP in July. Renault are also continuing to slip back, with Abu Dhabi now the third race in a row they left a race without a point. In the first ten races, Renault took 66 points. For the last nine races though, they got only 6 points. Whereas Force India’s factsheet shows this: 20-37 and Toro Rosso’s: 17-24. If it weren’t podium results at the beginning of the season, Renault would be sitting duck now.

After the last race in 2010, circuit officials had promised to do some changes to the track in a bid to favour overtaking. In fact, they had announced that they were going to change Turn 5-6-7, Turn 9 and Turn 13-14 but they decided to abandon them as DRS looked like a solution they’d been searching for all along to cure overtaking ache of the circuit. However,  the top 10 qualifiers finished also in Top 10, except for Vettel whose position went to Kobayashi. The classification at the end of first lap remained unchanged until the end of race. Buemi and di Resta had 6 overtaking manoeuvers between them, only the last of which had resulted an ultimate position change. DRS proved effective, yes, but what good an overtaking if it doesn’t result in a position change? Last year, drivers couldn't change their positions as they weren't able to overtake. This season, drivers couldn't change their positions either but this time it was because they were too able to overtake, which cancelled them out! The car behind overtook the car in front in the first DRS zone, then the car behind overtook the car in front in the second DRS zone.

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