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Renault still refuses to take the blame for Red Bull Abu Dhabi qualifying debacle

By Berthold Bouman

Although Red Bull Racing has pointed the finger at Renault after the Abu Dhabi qualifying debacle, the French engine manufacturer refuses to take the blame for the incident which cost Sebastian Vettel his third qualifying place, and as a result the current World Champion had to start the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from the pit lane.

Vettel had to start from the pit lane

Vettel was instructed to park his car at the end of qualifying, according to Red Bull at the request of Renault. “I’m not sure what the issue was at the end, I was just told to switch off the car,” Vettel said after qualifying.

As regulations say cars have to return to the pit lane under their own steam, and still have enough fuel in the tank for the FIA technicians to take a one litre sample, Vettel was demoted to the back of the grid, but for technical reasons opted to start from the pit lane. The FIA ultimately was able to extract 850ml fuel from the tank, but that was not enough to comply to the regulations.

Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner said last Saturday after qualifying, “During the slow down lap following the final run of Q3, Renault instructed to immediately stop Sebastian’s car on the circuit due to an issue with the fuel system.” Renault’s Remi Taffin confirmed he ordered the car to be stopped, “We saw something on the telemetry and did not want to risk the engine.”

On Tuesday, Horner said it was probably a human error, “To be honest, we have no clear answer but I suspect that it was human error.” He also hinted Renault had offered Red Bull no explanation as to why there wasn’t enough fuel in the car, at the same time Renault maintained they hadn’t made any errors calculating how much fuel Vettel needed for his final qualifying run.

On Thursday Red Bull again said they were not involved in the fuel debacle, and Vettel stated, “We saw some numbers going down, and in order to save the engine, save the pumps in between etcetera, we decided to stop the car, convinced that we had enough fuel in the car to provide a sample.”

Asked why there wasn’t enough fuel in the car Horner commented, “It’s difficult [to say], because Renault was sure there was enough fuel in the car.” And he further explained, “What happens is the engineers for the engine side calculate the amount of fuel to be put into the car. As a team, we are not involved in it.”

But on Friday Taffin denied Renault had made a mistake, and refused to take the blame. “We need further investigation. We have checked the numbers, we have looked at what we did with the ‘robot’ and each number says there should have been enough [fuel],” said the Frenchman.

With ‘robot’, Taffin was referring to the fuel rig Red Bull uses, and he suspects there was something wrong with the equipment. “Along with the supplier, Red Bull is now checking [the equipment], we have checked everything on our side and we have not seen any problems.”

FIA tells drivers to watch their language during official media events

By Berthold Bouman

“Language gentlemen, language!” is what the FIA said in a letter that was sent to all teams after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. According to the BBC, FIA Director of Communications Norman Howell warned teams and drivers about the use of foul language during official media events.

Abu Dhabi podium: Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel

In the letter Howell says it is “very much our collective responsibility to make sure drivers are aware such language has no place during media events,” and “shines an unwelcome beam of adverse publicity on their teams and sponsors, the sport and FIA.” It could even lead to disciplinary actions as there is a general rule that says competitors can be punished for bringing the sport in disrepute, an article added to the Sporting Regulations after the Renault crash-gate scandal.

In the letter Howell further says, “I understand that in the ‘heat of battle’, adrenaline, elation and disappointment make for a dangerous and heady mix. But F1 drivers are not the only ones being interviewed in such conditions: I think of boxers, rugby and football players who are routinely interviewed live on television after a gruelling sporting effort. They manage to avoid inappropriate language.”

BBC reporter David Coulthard interviewed Kimi Raikkonen, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso on the podium of the Yas Marina circuit last Sunday and when he asked Raikkonen how he felt about winning the race after his comeback he answered in his own typical way, “Not much really.” When Coulthard tried to get more out of the notoriously taciturn Finn and asked, “People want to know how amazing it is to win a Grand Prix – tell us,” Raikkonen grimaced and said, “Last time you guys was giving me shit because I didn’t really smile enough!”

When Vettel was asked about his race and the fact he had started from the pit lane he said, “It was obviously a chance to fuck it up and we didn’t do that.” Coulthard immediately apologized to the TV viewers and spectators at the circuit for the foul language. The BBC reported they received 22 calls (21 complaints and one comment) and removed the foul language from their online iPlayer on-demand service.

Vettel later posted an apology on his personal website saying, “I’m terribly sorry for using the wrong words on the podium today and I’m sorry if I have offended anyone who was watching. In the heat of the moment, I didn’t use the right words and I apologise. I’ll do it better next time.”

Raikkonen was already grumpy during the race when Lotus on the team radio informed him about what was going on behind him, and he just said, “Just leave me alone, I know what I’m doing!” And when his team told him to warm-up his tyres while the Safety Car was on track he said, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, I’m doing all the tyres. You don’t have to remind every second.”

Raikkonen hasn’t reacted on the FIA letter, and he probably won’t, he let’s his racing do the talking, and that is what he did in Abu Dhabi when he won the first race for Lotus since 1987. He will probably think, “I don’t give a shit what they say about me,” that’s typical of Raikkonen, and we love him for it!

Webber frustrated by accidents and incidents during Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

By Berthold Bouman

Mark Webber, who was taken out of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after 37 laps, was frustrated about the many accidents and incidents. Sergio Perez, Romain Grosjean and Paul di Resta were dicing for position ahead of the Australian, but Perez was a bit too greedy as he thought he could pass Grosjean and di Resta in one move.

Mark Webber, Red Bull

Instead he hit di Resta, bounced off-track and when he moved back onto the racing line the Mexican hit Grosjean, spun and Grosjean had to move to the left to avoid a collision, but the Frenchman unwillingly moved straight into the path of Webber’s Red Bull. Webber and Grosjean both had to end their race.

“I probably should have hung back a bit,” said Webber. “It was getting pretty heated and it’s not unusual for that lot to hit each other. But I thought there was an opportunity to pass all of them down the inside and had it not been for Grosjean moving across to avoid Perez, it would have worked.”

Webber had a bad start and said, “I was slow away, which meant I dropped back to fourth and I was stuck in traffic thereafter. The car was strong when I was running on my own, but I was hardly ever in clear air and there seem to be a lot of incidents on this track when cars are running close together.”

After the first Safety Car period  Webber collided with the Williams of Pastor Maldonado, the Australian spun, very quickly got his car pointing in the right direction again and he could at least continue his race again, but lost a few places in the process.

Webber commented, “Maldonado and I made contact at one point and there were lots of other incidents.” Indeed, more incidents as Webber later in the race hit the Ferrari of Felipe Massa at Turn 11, this time Massa spun and Webber could continue, but a few laps later he was eliminated from the race after the Perez-Grosjean-di Resta incident.

“This place isn’t my favourite track,” Webber said on Monday, adding, “but a golfer can’t only play par 3s and I have to perform everywhere too. I was pleased with how I drove, particularly in qualifying, but it wasn’t to be in the race. That’s racing.”

Abu Dhabi GP: Sensational Raikkonen grabs first win for Lotus, Alonso second

By Berthold Bouman

Kimi Raikkonen scored the first win for Lotus during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the Yas Marina Circuit today, during a turbulent race with several incidents and accidents and two Safety Car periods. Fernando Alonso was second for Ferrari, while Sebastian Vettel finished third after he had started from the pit lane.

Raikkonen gives Lotus first victory

Raikkonen, usually a man of few words said, “I’m very happy for the team, and for myself also. You never know what’s going to happen during the race; the safety cars made it quite tricky, but I’ve had similar races many, many times this year. Perhaps we were not the fastest at the end, but we were quick enough and consistent enough to win so it’s great for the team.”

Lewis Hamilton was away quick at the start of the race, but Mark Webber again had one of his famous slow starts, much to the delight of Raikkonen, who took over his second place, while Pastor Maldonado and Alonso after one lap emerged as third and fourth, and Webber as fifth.

Damage limitation was the name of the game for Vettel who started the race from the pit lane on the medium tyres, scoring points was his sole mission for today. Therefore Alonso’s strategy changed as well, as this was the opportunity to get ahead of Vettel in the race for the 2012 title.

Vettel damaged his front wing in a fight with Bruno Senna who had been forced into a spin at the first corner, but despite the loss of some downforce the German was already in 14th place after six laps. Meanwhile, Alonso was getting closer to Maldonado, determined to take over his third spot, but at the same time Webber came closer to Alonso and therefore the Spaniard had to keep an eye on his rear view mirrors as well.

But the Safety Car came out as Nico Rosberg and Narain Karthikeyan had a big crash near the Yas Marina Hotel. The Indian’s HRT slowed down suddenly and Rosberg hit the back of the car and was launched into the air at high speed, the German landed on all four wheels again but hit the barrier very hard and was very lucky to escape without injuries.

The perfect situation for Vettel, as all cars were now close together again, of course leader Hamilton had to keep an eye on Raikkonen behind him, as the Finn was in a good position to jump him at the restart. But it wasn’t Vettel’s day as he almost hit the Toro Rosso of Daniel Ricciardo who was warming up his tyres, Vettel had to take avoiding actions and swerved to the right, hit one of the Styrofoam DRS signs and damaged his front wing even further. He came in on lap 13 for a new front wing and new tyres, and rejoined the race in 21st and last position.

The Safety Car disappeared into the pit lane again on lap 14, and Hamilton was away well,  Webber immediately attacked Alonso, but the Spaniard again managed to keep the Red Bull behind him. At the back of the field Vettel was battling with the Lotus of Romain Grosjean, overtook him but the Red Bull left the track with all four wheels, and Vettel already knew what was coming and this gave his place back to the Frenchman, and overtook him once again one lap later.

At the front Maldonado, Alonso and Webber were still dicing for third place, but the surprise of the day was Hamilton, who was suddenly seen cruising around the track and had to park his car as he had lost all power, and, much to the delight of his fans, now Kimi Raikkonen was leading the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Again a surprise as Alonso passed Maldonado with the assistance of DRS, and the Ferrari driver was then in second place, and again in a better position to get ahead of Vettel in the race for the 2012 title. More sensation as Webber was knocked off track when he tried to overtake Maldonado on the outside, the two touched wheels, Webber spun and fell back to seventh place.

Jenson Button did get past Maldonado one lap later, and the 2009 champion took third place without a hitch. Vettel had already progressed to eighth place, but all eyes were on Webber as he was again in trouble as he hit the Ferrari of Massa when he tried to overtake the Brazilian, who then spun after he had hit the kerbs too hard due to the collision, but both drivers could continue their race.

After 29 laps it was time for the first round of pit stops, for most drivers it would be the only pit stop. Last to pit was Raikkonen, he stayed in the lead and this was his chance to win a Grand Prix. After 33 laps the order was: Raikkonen, Vettel, Alonso, and Button was fourth; Grosjean, Di Resta, Perez and Webber were battling for fifth place.

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull

But Vettel still had to pit and came in on lap 38, and left the pit lane again on a fresh set of softs, and rejoined the race in fourth position. But the Safety Car came out again after Paul di Resta and Perez had been fighting for position, Perez ran wide, came back on track but hit Grosjean, Webber who was behind them, couldn’t avoid the Lotus; they collided and both were out of the race. Perez was rewarded with a ten-second stop-and-go penalty.

When the Safety Car came in again, Raikkonen was still leading, Alonso was second, Button third and Vettel was fourth. Raikkonen seemed to be in good shape as he started to pull away from Alonso, while Vettel was attacking Button for third place, while the latter was closing in on Alonso in second place.

Vettel was still struggling to get past Button, as the McLaren driver perfectly defended his race line and Vettel even with DRS activated couldn’t get past him. With just four laps to go, Alonso came closer and closer to Raikkonen. With three laps to go the inevitable happened and Vettel managed to pass Button and was then third.

Just one lap to go and Alonso was only 1.2 seconds behind Raikkonen, but the Iceman didn’t lose his cool and scored the first race victory for Lotus this season.

Second place was the best he could do today according to Alonso, “I’m very happy, we were not super-competitive this weekend. We fought good in the first laps, good overtaking then strategy enabled us to fight for the victory. In the last laps Kimi was a bit slower so we attack, but second was the best possible result for us today. We keep fighting to the end.”

Vettel was happy with his achievement today and said, “It was a good race for us today, a big chance for Ferrari and Fernando, but we didn’t allow it. I enjoyed it a lot today, more than anything. I damaged the front wing pretty early with Bruno (Senna), which was not ideal, but we were able to carry on and not lose too much.”

Despite his win, Raikkonen is no longer in contention for the 2012 title, which will be decided between Vettel and Alonso. Vettel is still leading with 255 points, Alonso is second with 245 points, and Raikkonen third with 198 points.

Abu Dhabi GP: FIA excludes Sebastian Vettel from qualifying after fuel issue

By Berthold Bouman

Sebastian Vettel has been excluded from qualifying after the current World Champion parked his Red Bull under the walkway of the Yas Hotel, earlier today Vettel maintained he didn’t know why his team had ordered him to stop after the chequered flag had been waved. “I don’t know why I had to stop,” he said. “It was probably some problem but it shouldn’t be something major.”

Vettel has to start from the back of the grid

To Sky Sports he said, “We’ve got an issue and Renault asked us to stop the car and that’s what we did. Until I get more info I can’t really say much more. It could be one of many, many things,” thus suggesting it was an engine or KERS related issue.

Regulations say a car must return to the pit lane under its own power, and there must be sufficient fuel in the car left (one litre) for the FIA Stewards to take a sample, but the FIA Stewards said the was not sufficient fuel in the car to do so. Therefore Vettel was excluded from qualifying and will have to start the race from the back of the grid, he originally qualified in third place. A document released by the FIA stated:

“The Stewards received a report from the Race Director that car 1 failed to return to the pits under its own power as required under Article 6.6.2 of the FIA Formula One Technical Regulations. The Stewards heard from the driver and team representatives and studied telemetry evidence that showed the reason why the car was stopped. The Stewards accepted the explanation and considered the incident as being a case of force majeure.

However a report was received from the Technical Delegate that showed during post-qualifying scrutineering an insufficient quantity of fuel for sampling purposes. The Stewards determine that this is a breach of Article 6.6.2 of the FIA Formula One Technical Regulations and the Competitor is accordingly excluded from the results of the Qualifying Session. The Competitor is however allowed to start the race from the back of the grid.”

Article 6.6.2 of the Technical regulations states:

Competitors must ensure that a one litre sample of fuel may be taken from the car at any time during the Event.

Except in cases of force majeure (accepted as such by the stewards of the meeting), if a sample of fuel is required after a practice session the car concerned must have first been driven back to the pits under its own power.”

This is of course a big blow for Vettel and Red Bull’s championship aspirations, as his main rival Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso will move up one place on the grid and will start tomorrow’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from sixth spot and will now have ample opportunity to make up his 13 points deficit to leader Vettel.

Abu Dhabi GP: Hamilton takes pole for McLaren, Vettel under pressure

By Berthold Bouman

“It will be massively, massively tough to take pole here,” said Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner ahead of qualifying for round 18 of the FIA Formula One Championship, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Pole for Lewis Hamilton

And indeed, it was a tough day for Red Bull as Lewis Hamilton took pole for McLaren, while Vettel was clearly under pressure and had to be satisfied with third place, but there was more going on as the double World Champion was instructed by his team to park his car on the circuit after the chequered flag had been waved to signal the end of qualifying, probably due to a technical problem.

Pole-sitter Hamilton said, “Our car works incredibly well around here. Our aero package really suits this track; the set-up was perfect, and everything came together perfectly for qualifying. My lap felt really great – I enjoyed it so much. I love this track!”

In Q1 Pastor Maldonado set the first representative time of 1m42.595s on the clock for Williams, like most drivers in Q1 the Venezuelan was lapping the Yas Marina circuit on the medium tyres. With 15 minutes to go Fernando Alonso took over the lead with a time of 1m42.74s, but just minutes later Maldonado improved Alonso’s time with two-tenths of a second and was back in first place again.

Both Red Bull drivers stayed in the garage but with 10 minutes remaining in Q1, went out for their first run. Lewis Hamilton was the first to set a time under the 1 minute 41s barrier with a lap of 1m41.497s, while at the same time Vettel touched the wall with his right rear wheel, he nevertheless finished his lap and took fourth place at the time.

Paul di Resta was the first to go out on the soft tyres, as he was in 17th place and close to the drop-out zone, and he took eighth place on his fresh set of softs. Also Jean-Eric Vergne was in the drop-out zone, he went out on the softs but made a mistake and spun his Toro Rosso at Turn 20. He wasn’t able to improve his time on the next lap and thus the Frenchman didn’t make it into Q2.

Also Heikki Kovalainen, Charles Pic, Vitaly Petrov, Timo Glock, Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan didn’t make it into the next qualifying session.

In Q2 Maldonado again was quick and took first place, but not for long as Hamilton took first place with a lap of 1m41.366s. Vettel was visibly struggling with his car, and he seemed to be under great pressure to score pole, on his next lap he again made a mistake but all the same took second place with seven minutes remaining.

Hamilton, meanwhile, had improved his time and was leading with 1m40.901s, while Webber and Vettel were second and third. Di Resta was again in the danger zone, improved his time but his 13th place was still not good enough for a spot in Q3, thus Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez, di Resta, Michael Schumacher, Bruno Senna, Kamui Kobayashi and Daniel Ricciardo didn’t make in into Q3.

The sun had set at the start of Q3, the lights were on and so was the battle for pole position. The ambient temperatures dropped which meant less grip for the yellow marked soft Pirelli tyres, and thus Kimi Raikkonen was out first for a quick run before the circuit cooled down even further, soon followed by both McLaren and Red Bull drivers.

Hamilton was very fast, he scored the fastest lap with a time of 1m40.630s, four-tenths faster than Vettel. All then returned to the pits for a new set of tyres, and subsequently went out again for the second all-deciding qualifying run. All were driving at the limit but none of them could improve Hamilton’s time, who took pole for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Vettel was clearly under pressure

“Still, I’m realistic: the race tomorrow is going to be tough. At the start, it’s down to the team to make sure the clutch performs perfectly because the getaway will be incredibly important. Our race pace is very strong, but so is Red Bull’s – and staying ahead will be tough, particularly with the double DRS zones,” Hamilton commented.

Webber was second and Vettel third, Maldonado fourth, Raikkonen and Jenson Button were fifth and sixth, while Alonso was seventh. Neither Vettel, nor Horner were prepared to say anything about why the German had to park his car, but it could be his KERS was playing up, which also happened on Friday.

Asked about why he had stopped his car Vettel said, “I don’t know why I had to stop. I was asked to stop. It shouldn’t be something major. It was not ideal this morning not being able to run. But we were settling in quite well this afternoon and the pace was there. McLaren were very quick. I was not entirely happy with my qualifying, I could have done better but whether it would have been enough to beat Mark I don’t know.”

Alonso couldn’t match the pace and said, “We were not competitive today but myself I am happy with the performance in qualifying, I can repeat 100 times; that was the maximum today.”

It will be a tough race for Vettel tomorrow, although he is now probably  less worried about his main rival Alonso, who will have to make up a lot of places during tomorrow’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, to keep his title hopes alive.

Abu Dhabi GP: Caterham hoping to unlock potential of car upgrades

By Berthold Bouman

Mixed results for Caterham today at the Abu Dhabi Yas Marina circuit, a bad day at the office for Dutchman Giedo van der Garde, who had to sit out his stint in the Caterham during the morning session. When he went out for his usual installation lap, he encountered electronic problems, returned to the garage and was sidelined for the rest of the session.

Not a good day for Giedo van der Garde

“Obviously that was a pretty frustrating session, but these things sometimes happen. As soon as I went out on the installation lap I could hear that the engine sounded different to my previous FP1 runs and from what I understand the problem looks like it’s to do with the electronic boxes or the looms,” said van der Garde. Fortunately the 27-year old Dutchman will have another two days in the Caterham during next week’s Young Driver Test, also at the Abu Dhabi circuit.

For Heikki Kovalainen things went smooth during both Friday sessions. “In the first session we ran a number of the new parts we brought here and then did comparison runs in FP2, as well as trying the soft tyres on a performance run, and a longer stint at the end of the session,” said the Finn.

And he further explained, “The key to unlocking the potential of the upgrades is finding the right set-up and with the amount of laps we ran over both FP1 and FP2 today we’ve generated enough data to give us a good chance to find something we can work with tomorrow.” Which means the Caterham engineers will be sifting through the car data all night, and hopefully find a good set-up for tomorrow’s qualifying.

Vitaly Petrov was happy the Caterham mechanics found the problem van der Garde encountered in the morning, and he was able to do three runs this afternoon. “It was all sorted out by the start of FP2 so we could get on with the program immediately. On my first run we had a few handling issues to sort out so we made some mechanical changes and saw an immediate improvement on the second run,” said Petrov.

And he added, “By the time we put on the soft tyres the times were getting quicker with every lap and I think we found a balance that’s working for us around here.”

Kovalainen was 19th in FP1 and 20th in FP2, while Petrov was 19th in FP2.

Abu Dhabi GP: Vettel leads Hamilton in second practice session

By Berthold Bouman

Reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel was fastest for Red Bull during the second free practice session today at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. The German set a time of 1m41.751s, which was 1,534 seconds faster than this morning’s fastest time.

Vettel fastest this afternoon

Most drivers started the afternoon on the medium tyres, but when the sun went down, the lights went on at the Abu Dhabi circuit, and drivers switched to the soft compound, and in the end it was Lewis Hamilton who was second for McLaren, just 0,168 seconds slower than Vettel, suggesting qualifying tomorrow could be tight again.

Jenson Button took third place, but was half-a-second slower than Hamilton, while Mark Webber took fourth place in the second Red Bull. Lotus were back where they belong as Kimi Raikkonen took fifth, and Romain Grosjean sixth place, a major improvement compared to this morning.

The next two are also team colleagues, Fernando Alonso led Felipe Massa and thus Ferrari occupied seventh and eight place, but both were almost a second off the pace, which could be disastrous for Alonso’s title aspirations, the Spaniard really needs to score good points this weekend.

Maldonado was again in the top ten on ninth place, Sergio Perez was the fastest Sauber driver and completed the top ten. Bruno Senna was back at the wheel of his Williams again, and scored 11th place, further down we find the two Germans who also share the same name: Nico Rosberg was 12th for Mercedes, while Nico Hulkenberg was 13th for Force India.

Michael Schumacher was 14th in the second Mercedes, and Paul di Resta was back in the car this afternoon and took 15th place. Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi was a bit off the pace this afternoon and was 16th, while both Toro Rosso drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne did exactly the same as this morning and finished in 17th and 18th place respectively.

Vitaly Petrov was also back in the Caterham and had a big moment when he spun at Turn 8, no damage was done and the Russian driver was 19th, closely followed by his team mate Heikki Kovalainen who took 20th spot.

At the back were the usual suspects, Timo Glock and Charles Pic were 21st and 22nd for Marussia, while Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan were 23rd and 24th.

Tomorrow morning all 24 drivers have one more chance to work out the car set-up they need for the all-important qualifying session, in 2010 and 2011 Vettel started the race from pole. He won the race in 2010, but it was Hamilton who won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last year, after Vettel had retired with a puncture on the very first lap.

Abu Dhabi GP: Hamilton fastest for McLaren in Friday morning practice

By Berthold Bouman

Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time during the Friday morning practice for round 18 of the FIA Formula One World Championship, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The McLaren driver lapped the Yas Marina circuit in 1m43.285s, while his team colleague Jenson Button was second, 0.333 seconds slower than Hamilton.

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren

Current championship leader Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull was third, more than seven-tenths slower, Fernando Alonso took fourth place for Ferrari during the closing stages of the morning practice, but despite the new parts Ferrari brought to Abu Dhabi, he was a full second slower than the number one.

Mark Webber was fifth in the second Red Bull, Michael Schumacher, who will retire at the end of the season, was sixth for Mercedes with a time of 1m44.694s. Pastor Maldonado was back at the front this morning as he took seventh spot in the Williams, while Nico Rosberg in the second Mercedes was eighth, exactly half-a-second slower than Schumacher.

The fastest Finn and the fastest Friday morning test driver Valtteri Bottas was in good shape again as he took ninth spot, he was followed by his compatriot Kimi Raikkonen in the Lotus, both were over two seconds slower than pace-setter Hamilton.

Eleventh place was occupied by Felipe Massa in the second Ferrari, Nico Hulkenberg who moves to Sauber next season, was the fastest Force India driver on 12th spot, while Jules Bianchi, who took over the wheel from regular driver Paul di Resta, was 15th.

Fastest Sauber driver was Kamui Kobayashi who lapped the circuit in 1m.45.722s, Sergio Perez, who had a hairy moment as he almost crashed in the pit lane entrance, was 16th. Romain Grosjean was 14th in the other Lotus, the Toro Rosso pair Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne took 17th and 18th place respectively.

Another flying Finn on 19th place, as Heikki Kovalainen was the fastest Caterham driver, Friday morning driver Dutchman Giedo van der Garde spent the morning in the Caterham garage while his mechanics were frantically trying to sort out an engine problem.

Timo Glock was 20th for Marussia, Pedro de la Rosa was 21st for HRT. Again two Friday morning test drivers on 22nd and 23rd place, Max Chilton had an outing in the Marussia, while Chinese driver Qing Hua Ma enjoyed his ride in the second HRT, but was seven seconds slower than Hamilton.

Abu Dhabi GP – Alonso: Ferrari to fight until the very end

By Berthold Bouman

Fernando Alonso is still confident his Ferrari team will fight to end, he said ahead of this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. “I think we believe and we trust in the team and the job we do, we have shown that we never give up and know how to fight until the end. When things become stressful and difficult, we can still give 100% and the team has a lot of experience fighting for World Championships,” said Alonso, who is currently second in the Drivers’ Championship, 13 points adrift of leader Sebastian Vettel.

Ferrari to fight until the end

According to the Spaniard Ferrari is very well-prepared for this weekend’s race, “We have tried to prepare for this race better than ever. We have some new parts that we will be checking tomorrow.” But he admitted it will be difficult to strike back, “We don’t think we will close the gap to Red Bull completely, with only five days between India and Abu Dhabi. There is no magic part in Formula One but we are trying to put them under pressure after they had four very easy races.”

Ferrari’s last three races must therefore be perfect as Alonso said, “We want to be close enough to them to capitalise on anything they do not do perfectly, while we need to be perfect for these next three race weekends.”

Mechanical failures are always lurking around the corner, not just for Ferrari but also for Red Bull, as Mark Webber demonstrated during the Indian Grand Prix, the Australian lost his KERS power and could not keep his second position and lost it to Alonso. “We need to push them and be on the limit, because if it had been Vettel who had the problem, no one would have noticed because he was ten seconds in front,” Alonso said.

But the title can also be lost by a bad race strategy, something that happened to Ferrari in 2010 on the Yas Marina track, Alonso lost the title to Vettel as he got stuck behind slower cars. But Alonso doesn’t think history will repeat itself this weekend. “Thanks to KERS and DRS we should not have a repeat of the situation in 2010 that lost me the title when I was stuck for too long behind another car. In the last two years we have seen that these elements have produced exciting racing with plenty of overtaking,” he confidently said.

And last but not least, Alonso denied he and Ferrari Technical Director Pat Fry had an argument after the Indian Grand Prix. “A nice invention from someone in the Italian media. It was quite creative to be honest! Now or later, I will speak to him to see how he invented this. We know and it’s a fact that we are slower than Red Bull: we all agree, me the team, our fans, everyone knows. We are very united in our efforts to fix this situation!”

Abu Dhabi GP: Championship hopes pretty much over says Raikkonen

By Berthold Bouman

Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen, who signed for another year with Lotus, has admitted his chances of winning the 2012 Drivers’ Championship are pretty much over. Raikkonen finished seventh in India, and is still third in the race for the title, but he is 67 points behind leader Sebastian Vettel. “The Drivers’ Championship battle is pretty much gone for me I think, but hopefully in the next race we can have the speed to be able to take more Championship points,” said the Finn ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Title hopes are over, according to Raikkonen

He has only raced once at the Yas Marina track, in 2009 and it was his last race for Ferrari as he retired after the 2009 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. “I’m looking forward to improving on my record at the track and I’m sure it should be a more interesting race for me this time round,” he said.

Asked about the track he said, “The facilities are second to none at Abu Dhabi. The track layout makes it really challenging for overtaking, while there are not too many places to pass. You really have to qualify well to be on the top, and to get a strong result from there. There are many corners and you need good overall downforce and grip. The car has to ride the kerbs very well, too.”

What are the challenges of the Yas Marina circuit? “Having an evening race with a mixture of day and night makes a different challenge from circuits that we see anywhere else. We start with the sun and finish with the lights. It’s different, interesting and spectacular too,” replied Raikkonen.

The Iceman still hopes to score points for the championship this weekend, “Hopefully we can be a bit smarter and use our race speed to take some more Championship points. The car is good, and if we manage to qualify higher, then I think we would be in a good position to be able to take the most from the next few races.”

After his return to the sport at the start of this season, Raikkonen is satisfied with his Lotus team, “I have been very happy with the team; how they work, how they approach the races and how they invest in developing the car. I think with the progress behind the scenes at Enstone we could be fighting for the podium even more often next year and also be able to make a stronger challenge for the Championship.”

Asked about his motivation, he gave the same answer as he always gives, “My motivation is as strong as it’s always been. I’m keen to race on!”

Abu Dhabi GP: Williams looking for trouble-free weekend and hope to be competitive

By Berthold Bouman

Pastor Maldonado encountered many problems during the Indian Grand Prix, while Bruno Senna saved the day as he scored one point for his team. Williams is now looking for a trouble-free weekend in Abu Dhabi, and Mark Gillan, Williams’ Chief Operations Engineer, thinks cooling the car will be important.

Pastor Maldonado, Williams

“The Yas Marina Circuit layout of long straights and relatively tight corners puts a lot of energy into the brake system and with reasonably high ambient temperatures the general car cooling has to be run relatively open too,” he explained. “As per last year Pirelli bring their medium and soft tyres to this race and from an aerodynamics perspective the car will be set in medium to high-efficiency trim.”

Maldonado said about the challenges of the Yas Marina Circuit, “The race throws up some unique challenges because we start off driving in hot daytime conditions, but then the sun goes down and the temperature drops quickly. You therefore have to find a set up that balances these different conditions. The track also changes a lot each day and there is quite a lot of sand on the track surface which you have to deal with.”

Senna thinks the track suits the Williams, and hopes to be competitive this weekend, “Abu Dhabi could be an interesting track for us. It has a large number of slow corners which has not traditionally suited our car, but it is also hard on brakes and that is an area where our car has been very strong all year. We have had a lot of updates to the car recently so hopefully we can have one of those trouble-free weekends where everything comes together and we can be competitive.”

Video: Maldonado gives us his thoughts on the Abu Dhabi race this weekend

Video: Senna gives us his thoughts on the Abu Dhabi race this weekend

Pirelli: The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from a tyre point of view

By Berthold Bouman

Pirelli has nominated the Medium (Prime, white marked) and Soft (Option, yellow marked) rubber compounds for round 18 of the FIA Formula One World Championship, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The Yas Marina circuit has a smooth and fast surface, and has a wide variety of corners, taken at different speeds.

Pirelli tyres

Pirelli expects the tyre wear to be low, and therefore drivers can push harder without damaging their tyres. One of the main peculiarities of the track is that the race starts when it is still light, and finishes in the dark, which means track temperatures will fall instead of rise.

Pirelli’s Motorsport Director Paul Hembery has fond memories of the track, as it was the track where Pirelli tested their Formula One tyres for the first time back in 2010. “In 2010, the teams sampled our tyres there for the very first time at the official end of season test following the Grand Prix. That was a very special test, as we were brand new and the teams needed to understand our tyres. We’ve returned to test in Abu Dhabi a few times since, and we actually launched our 2012 programme to the international media there as well at the beginning of this year,” explained Hembery.

About the race strategies this weekend he said, “We know that the combination of the medium and the soft tyre works extremely well here, and with the teams also having plenty of data about the circuit characteristics, they should be in a strong position to construct some race strategies that will make a real difference to the outcome of the weekend. With the championship so closely balanced now, having the right strategy could quite literally decide the title.”

Pirelli technical tyre notes:

Abu Dhabi, like many circuits, requires a medium-downforce set-up to guarantee good straight-line speed down the long main straight, which is more than one kilometre, but also enough downforce to provide enough braking stability and aerodynamic grip through the corners.

There are comparatively few high-speed changes of direction, so in order to help traction, one of the key demands that the tyres face on the Yas Marina circuit, the engineers tend to set up their cars with a comparatively soft rear end. At the start of the weekend the dust on the track surface can cause graining, and there is quite a high degree of track evolution.

Abu Dhabi is located at sea level, ensuring a high ambient air pressure. This benefits engine power, which increases further as temperatures fall towards the end of the race. This too has a significant effect on tyre wear and strategy.

Abu Dhabi 3D Track Experience – Video by Pirelli

Abu Dhabi GP: Mercedes aiming to improve performance

By Berthold Bouman

Mercedes is hoping for a stronger result this weekend during round 18 of the FIA Formula One World Championship, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Nico Rosberg retired from two of the last three races and scored no points at all, while Michael Schumacher, who will retire again at the end of the season, also didn’t score points during the past three races.

Schumacher and Mercedes hoping for better results

Team Principal Ross Brawn said, “Our team has had a challenging time during the season-ending flyaway races so far. However, we are continuing to work hard on improving our performance, while also taking the opportunity to look at developments which will be relevant next season. We would like to end the season on a positive note, and hope to have a stronger result this weekend.”

Schumacher was certainly not happy with last weekend’s race, “Admittedly, ‘fun’ is not exactly the right word to describe the race I had on Sunday in India. However, I hope that what we learned about our car across the weekend can be translated into something positive in Abu Dhabi.“

About the venue itself he was more positive and said, “Abu Dhabi is one of the races I look forward to travelling to. The facilities there are state of the art, very modern and very attractive. The timing of the race makes it even more appealing: it’s something quite special and uniquely fun to race from day into night.”

Rosberg agrees with compatriot, “The Abu Dhabi race is one of the highlights on the calendar and every year it seems to become better and better. I really enjoy driving the track, particularly with the unusual twilight conditions, and the setting around Yas Marina is very special.”

He thinks the tyre strategy will be important, “On the track, tyre work will again be crucial this weekend. We are working hard on it and our goals this weekend will be to score some points and to learn for next year.”

Mercedes Motorsport Director Norbert Haug is looking forward to yet another home Grand Prix, “This will be the fourth visit to Abu Dhabi which is, along with Great Britain, Germany and Malaysia, one of our home races and certainly a season highlight. The facilities in Abu Dhabi are exceptional and the spectacle of the day-night race is unique in the Formula One calendar.”

But he admitted scoring a good result won’t be easy, “Overtaking is difficult in spite of the long straights and many braking zones but the DRS zones significantly improved the situation last year. Overall, the level of competition behind the quickest teams has got ever closer throughout the season and a few tenths of a second in lap time can make a difference of many positions in both qualifying and the race.”