Vettel scrambles to retain lead as Raikkonen seals first Pirelli win
Lotus driver and 2007 Drivers’ Champion, Kimi Raikkonen sealed the first victory of his Formula One comeback with Pirelli in Abu Dhabi; the 19th of his career. The Finn used a one-stop strategy, fast becoming the favoured method of negotiating a Grand Prix on Pirelli’s second season tyres, stopping on lap 31 to move from the P Zero Yellow soft to the P Zero White medium tyres. Having started fourth on the grid, he took the lead following the retirement of McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton on lap 19, holding it to the finish. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso used an identical strategy to Raikkonen, stopping three laps earlier, reducing his gap to the lead of the Drivers’ Championship to 10 points with two races to go. He would have closed the gap even more had it not been for the current leader, Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, who started from the pit lane after having his qualifying times disallowed.
One of three starters to start on the medium P Zero compound, Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher and Williams’ Bruno Senna being the others, Vettel produced a commanding performance to go from last – having been released from the pit lane once the rest of the field was into turn one – to third at the finish. Despite some damage to his front wing endplate, Vettel was already up to 13th by lap seven, when he benefitted from a safety car that closed up the field and altered the tyre strategy.
Toro Rosso driver Jean-Eric Vergne, Force India’s Paul Di Resta and Lotus driver Romain Grosjean were the only drivers who changed their tyres during the safety car period. Vergne and Di Resta changed to the medium tyre while Grosjean changed to the soft tyre (having made his first pit stop on the opening lap from soft to medium tyres following an incident at the start). Vettel also changed tyres from medium to soft on lap 13, when he came into the pits for a nose change, still under the safety car period. Vettel then used the extra speed of the soft compound – worth around half a second per lap – to climb up to second place and he pitted for his final set of softs on lap 37, rejoining in fourth just before a final three-lap safety car period that closed up the field once more.
Alonso was the first driver in the top six to make a scheduled stop on lap 28, moving from the soft to the medium compound, followed by McLaren’s Jenson Button and Williams driver Pastor Maldonado on the following lap. The final one-stopper to pit was the other Williams of Bruno Senna, who went from the medium to the soft tyre on lap 32 and finished eighth.
The race started in track and ambient temperatures of around 30 degrees centigrade, which dropped slightly as the race continued, minimising tyre wear. The smooth track surface of Abu Dhabi also helped to contain the amount of tyre wear, as the teams made the most of their knowledge of Pirelli’s compounds accumulated over the year. Most drivers were able to make a one-stop strategy work, while the highest-placed two-stopper was Vettel in third.
Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery commented: “Congratulations to Kimi for becoming the eighth different winner we’ve seen this year, and to Lotus and Eric Boullier, for his first win as team principal, after what was one of the most exciting grands prix of the year, which revolved around two safety car periods.
“The timing of the first safety car altered the race strategies for everyone, enabling the soft tyre runners to go even longer, while two drivers switched to the medium tyre and Sebastian Vettel went onto the soft: the start of an amazing run. It also meant that one stop was quite clearly the way to go for most competitors, as the five laps under the safety car reduced the overall amount of tyre wear during the race, which was already low. This enabled the drivers who stopped early to complete up to nearly 30 laps on the medium compound and make up places by undercutting those who stopped later. It was definitely a mixed-up race with several different strategies at work, which gave the fans some spectacular action to watch from start to finish.”