Conclusions From The Abu Dhabi GP


Lewis looks better for the Hamiltons, while Abu Dhabi begins to look the part in the light of twilight…

Lewis looks better for the Hamiltons, while Abu Dhabi begins to look the part in the light of twilight…

Welcome back, Lewis. From the depths to the heights, Hamilton has finally turned a corner, turning his back on 2011 and in a positive mood for 2012. He’s even smiling again and, though it’s always easy to spot what you expect to see, he looked far much like his former self racing around the Yas Marina Circuit having showed up in Abu Dhabi looking far happier with his self. Lesson one: A happy driver makes for a better driver.

Hamilton’s belated admission on Friday night that his private life had impacted on his public form was confirmation of what many had suspected and speculated, but a second set of remarks also suggested that his inner harmony will not be entirely resolved with an end to single life. His envy-led description of Jenson Button’s comfortable “bubble” listed four layers of protection and support – “He’s got his Dad, who’s there at every single race, he’s got his manager, he’s got his friends and his girlfriend there all the time” – and though the ordering may have been entirely arbitrary, the root of Hamilton’s annus horribilis may well have been his decision to jettison his father as his manager back in January. At a secondary risk of seeing what is being looked for, it stood out a mile after his victory this weekend that Hamilton instantly dedicated his triumph to his mother. If that wasn’t sufficient words for thought, he then spoke afterwards of needing to have “more people around me – my dad, my mum, my brother”.

Cue lesson two: Girlfriends are great – I have to write that, she may be reading this – but for a Formula 1 driver brought up divorced from disappointment and difficulty, there are no friends like family.

It goes without saying, meanwhile, that Hamilton’s victory has been hailed as one of his best. It was ever thus after each of his 17 grand prix victories. Still, gentle scoffing aside, Hamilton’s self-attributed accolade – “When I was doing the in lap I was thinking this was one of my best wins” – was justifiably attached on this occasion due to the measure of control he maintained throughout the race after inheriting the lead on lap one.

Under the hardest type of pressure which can be exerted in F1 – a pursuit made by Fernando Alonso – Hamilton never wavered. Never once did he break clear, but, better still, never once did he crack. It was a victory made all the better – and thus arguably one of his best – precisely because he was never allowed to enjoy it by his remorseless former foe. “I was doing like qualifying laps every lap, trying to close the gap, one tenth up, one tenth down for the whole stint,” commentated the Spaniard. Lap for lap, blow for blow, it may not have been a classic fight with neither driver able to land a knockout punch, but it was a titanic bout at the front if you followed it on the timesheets.

The only shame was that only one of them could win. These two bring out the best of each other and so it showed on Sunday, with Alonso, reinvigorated by the opportunity for victory, utterly brilliant in wrestling his Ferrari to the front and Hamilton equally excellent in matching his former foe in response for response, tenth for tenth.

A cute thought is that both deserved victory. A harder one is that had the race been run entirely on soft tyres, Alonso would have been favourite to prevail. The gap at the first round of pit-stops was 1.2 seconds and declining rapidly. By the end, with Alonso returning to the track for his final stint on the medium compound with Hamilton still comfortable but still in sight, it had reached six seconds. To generalise, Ferrari are frontrunners on soft rubber and midfield trundlers on any of the harder tyres. It’s their Sunday Achilles heel and second only to qualifying in general on their winter to-do list.

With the shine of Abu Dhabi being followed by the scruffiness of Brazil, the 2011 season will finish with a sharp contrast of the old and the new. Abu Dhabi is the embodiment of F1’s embrace of the modern, all style and almost no historical substance. Yet, now in its third year, it’s beginning to look – and sound – the part. This was its best event so far, and though the race was mostly processional, that was also mostly the result of happenstance. Albeit with the artificial aid of DRS, overtaking was possible – something which was distinctly difficult last year when just eleven changes of position occurred on the track.

It’s easy to disparage Abu Dhabi and its like as being too showy, too new, too plastic, but its introduction on to the schedule does have the considerable benefit of showing Formula 1 in a brand new and arguably better light. Cast in the twilight of evening, F1 is a stunning spectacle.

Overtaking better, backmarkers bad. It’s been a worsening problem through the season and the pity was that the open invitation to send out an attention-focusing deterrent was resisted by the stewards when they shelved Pastor Maldonado’s second infringement of the afternoon for retrospective consideration. Better instead to have simply black-flagged the Williams then and there, though, given his difficulty spotting blue flags, it’s by no means certain that a black flag wouldn’t have been issued in vain.

Perhaps Maldonado is a better driver than he is able to demonstrate in the Williams, but given that he has been out-performed in mediocrity by Rubens Barrichello that seems unlikely. His promotion to F1 has almost literally been pointless – his 10th place in Belgium remains the sole occasion this season when he has troubled the scorers. Barrichello’s collection of four points hardly amounts to a haul, but as a comparison to his team-mate, it amounts to a thrashing.

Phew. So Sebastian is still mortal then and fallible like the rest of us. At the risk of being made a mug by the post-mortem into his puncture, an instant impression was that a mistake by Vettel was a factor in his demise, with the World Champion pushing too hard and too far over the kerbs. Red Bull’s reluctance to speculate on the matter has prompted criticism but if the fault was theirs, and Vettel’s tyre was literally undone by reduced pressure, then their reticence is understandable because awkward questions will have to be asked about whether the car was safe to race.

Refuting that charge, however, should not have taxed Christian Horner unduly – there’s no way to be certain that was the cause, F1 is an inherently dangerous business, Red Bull had no prior warning etc etc – so it was especially disappointing that the Red Bull boss didn’t front up to dead-bat as much. As he’s always