|Kimi Raikkonen. Legend.|
F1 gods, you totally rock! We begged you for a more exciting race after the borefests of Singapore, Japan, Korea and India. Heck when even the BBC’s lead presenter goes off message to pray for a miracle to inject some excitement into Formula 1, you know things are getting pretty desperate. And boy you didn’t let us down. Despite the overwhelming obstacles to there being a thrilling race in Abu Dhabi – namely, Vettel was taking part, another Tilkedrome circuit in dry and dusty desert conditions and Ferrari hadn’t managed to poach Adrian Newey overnight – you gave us a race to BLOW ALL OUR MINDS.
I feel like I’m still recovering three days later from the excesses of a F1 binge (of non-stop drama and stupendous racing) after being teetotal for so long! When F1 is boring, it is very boring but when it is exciting, then its the BEST sport in the world. The 2012 Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, we salute you for being AWESOME in every way possible. This is the story of your race!
|Abu Dhabi 2012. When epic racing meets a beautiful track.|
This blog (or rather the race-watching element) is brought to you from the slightly less glamorous world of Center Parcs. A place that I remember once vowing NEVER to set foot in. And then I had children. So with a heavy heart, I yanked the family out of the Subtropical Swimming Paradise and shoehorned them all back to our cottage for the start of the race. Alas I was unable to continue my one-woman boycott against the Beeb (in protest at the utter gibberish that their chief F1 writer keeps spouting on their website) because we did not have Sky Sports beamed into our cottage. So it was back to Top Gear Lite, aka Jake, Eddie and DC, to bring us all the action from the Yas Marina circuit.
Maybe I’m getting old/tired/adjusting to a post-Jake F1 world (delete as appropriate) but the mockney cockney (albeit two of the three are Irish and Scottish) lad banter is starting to get on my wick a bit now. Stop posting pictures of yourselves dressed up as Lawrence of Arabia on Twitter (yeh, we get it, Abu Dhabi is in a desert….so?) and just stick to Formula 1. Having said that it might have been preferable for Eddie to stay in costume than inflict that truly obscene shirt covered in giant strawberries on us all.
|Note to Jake and Eddie: this look is best left to Peter O'Toole|
So time for #DCsGridWalk (actually probably undeserving of a hash as its never something you see trending unlike the short televisual masterpieces of the Brundle Trundle on the Other Side). DC was slightly hampered (in addition to not being Martin Brundle) by the fact that the grid was bursting at the seams with lots of dignatories (boring) and arbs (swines). Still if in doubt, home in on Mark Webber. Sure enough, Mark told us his plan was to ‘get Lewis immediately’. DC then asked Pastor Maldonaldo would he be looking to consolidate or go forward. Duh. This is Pastor Maldonaldo we are talking about. Even if he is not exactly the New Senna, he definitely has the Senna fire in the belly for driving flat out (admittedly often like a lunatic) at all times.
My absolute favourite moment though of DC’s gridwalk was when he interviewed Alain Prost. Of all the things he could have asked Alain about (his prediction for the race, who would win the title, Alain’s experiences when fighting for any of his 4 world titles), he chose to remind Alain of how he got sacked by Ferrari for calling the car a truck!! Either DC really dislikes Alain and decided to embarrass him on live TV (fast forward a couple of hours and that’s karma, David…hehehehehe!) OR he just interviews people by saying the first thing that pops into his head. Its an interesting technique but potentially life-shortening if he was, for example, to have a quick chat with Bernie Ecclestone.
|Alain: The difficult Ferrari years.|
Talking of which, Bernie had issued an Imperial Diktat on the eve of the Abu Dhabi which was “Bernie says: “Think before you drive” And who would be so daft not to listen to Bernie hey?!! Just before the start of the race, we saw Bernie deep in conversation with Vettel. I suppose when you’re as All Powerful as Bernie, little things like showing bias don’t matter. It was same in the Schumacher Days (those halcyon, wonderful days of yesteryear when Schumacher was a god in a Ferrari) – Bernie very obviously always wanted him to win. Fair dos.
|Bernie having a moment with Vettel pre-race|
Eddie Jordan predicted that Vettel (who was starting from the pitlane having being demoted to the Back of The Grid – since when is the back of the grid in the pitlane but anyway?) would finish 8th. The husband predicted that Vettel would finish 8th and I predicted that Vettel would finish 6th. So the Abu Dhabi grid lined up as follows:
1. Hamilton 2. Webber
3. Maldonado 4. Kimi
5. Button 6. Alonso
7. Rosberg 8. Massa
9. Grosjean 10. Hulkenberg
Even before the race began, we had a moment of drama when Pedro de la Rosa’s HRT failed to move as a tyre blanket (actually I wrote down pig blanket which would have been funnier) had got stuck in the tyre. It was off to the pitlane for Pedro to line up behind Vettel’s Red Bull. A car that Pedro rarely gets to see close up unless he’s being lapped. So that was nice for Pedro.
|A race of two starts|
Are you READY folks? Time For The Start and Go Go Go…!
Kimi immediately made an absolutely stunning start to drive up on the outside of a sluggish Webber and had shot up into 2nd place behind Lewis who had made a super start. Webber had failed in his quest to ‘get Lewis immediately’ and was in 4th spot. Alonso passed Button then put a breathtaking move on Webber to catapault himself up to 3rd place. All before the end of the first lap. In my notes, I have scribbled ‘this is the most exciting race in ages already’. As you can imagine I was close to needing oxygen by the end but…ahem…spoilers.
Kimi was really racing Lewis hard and not too surprisingly Lewis was already on the radio complaining he couldn’t get heat into his tyres. We then were told that Vettel had damaged his front wing and his pit crew were on standby. It turned out that he had hit Bruno Senna who was just minding his own business on the first lap but quelle surprise there wasn’t a whiff of criticism for Saint Seb and his banzai move.
Missed totally by everyone (ie. the esteemed BBC commentary team) for a couple of laps was the First Lap Carnage. Luckily we had a gazillion replays to walk us through the incident. Basically the two Force India’s had a coming together sparking a pile-up involving Grosjean (puncture) and Nico Rosberg (broken wing). We were told that this was Grosjean’s 8th First Lap Incident of the year. Yes but it wasn’t actually his fault this time, eejits.
|It was all kicking off from the very start!|
Meanwhile, Lewis had got those tyres working finally and was pulling away from Kimi. Vettel was underlining the ridiculous superiority of his Adrian Newey-designed car by scything through the middle order pack despite having a damaged front wing. By lap 7, Vettel was P13 having just left Kovalainen for dead.
Time for our first OMG ‘this is sensational’ Murray Walker moment when on lap 9 there was a spectacular and heart-stopping crash involving Nico Rosberg and Narain Karthikeyan. Basically Narain was driving quite slowly (even more than usual – stop sniggering!) and Rosberg coming up behind him was taken completely unaware and his car was launched scarily into the air over the top of Narain’s HRT and smashed into the barrier. Thankfully and miraculously both drivers were unhurt.
|Safety Car - that rarest of things, a reliable Mercedes!|
Out came the Safety Car while all the bits of mangled HRT and Mercedes were cleared off the track. The camera panned onto Adrian Newey who was just staring at the front wing on the spare Red Bull to analyse (we presume) the effect of Sebastian Vettel losing his end plate. Maybe like us, he could not fathom how one of his cars could still go as fast without being fully intact. Whatever which way, it was a Study of a Genius at Work.
So fantabulous was this race that even under Safety Car conditions, we still got Dramatic Incidents. Highly amusingly, Vettel got caught napping by the Toro Rosso of Ricciardo braking in front of him and swerved into a polystyrene speed board and narrowly avoided the Armco but stoved in his other end plate in the process. Cue an enraged radio message to the Red Bull team. Yes, but Seb, it was actually your fault. Still it gave Adrian Newey a chance to stare at some more end plates. Pitstop for Vettel and back to the bottom of the class.
On lap 15, the Safety Car peeled in and Lewis put his foot down to keep his McLaren firmly ahead of the pack and started setting fastest laps. Vettel flew past Di Resta and de la Rosa and then suicidally started scrapping with Grosjean. First he passed him, then Grosjean took the place back, then Vettel overtook Grosjean again by utilising a strip of tarmac at the side of the track. The fact it was painted turquoise sort of gave the game away that Vettel had gained a place by going off-track. Naughty naughty – even the 5 year old called him a cheat. Red Bull were clearly bricking it as they told Seb to let Grosjean past and then a few corners later, Seb managed to pass him cleanly. All that just for P15. Meanwhile his title rival was serenely closing in on Maldonado in 3rd place.
|Yet another mechanical failure for Lewis Hamilton.|
Then we had our next OMG moment. LEWIS HAMILTON HAD STOPPED ON THE TRACK AND WAS OUT OF THE RACE. The team told him they had lost all power and didn’t know why. Somewhere in his Death Star in a corner of the Abu Dhabi paddock, Ron Dennis was chuckling a maniacal chuckle to himself. Actually does anyone know Ron’s whereabouts just before Lewis’s car conked out. This shocking development meant that KIMI RAIKKONEN led the race and before we could barely draw breath, Alonso had passed Maldonado to move into 2nd place. Lotus radioed Kimi to update him on developments to be told “leave me alone…I know what I have to do”. Truly marvellous! Kimi Raikkonen is a legend in his own lifetime.
|The last Lotus (driven by Senna) to win a F1 race was way back in 1987.|
On lap 23, Webber (remember him?) tried a daft move on Maldonado somehow expecting the Williams car might disappear into thin air. It didn’t. Cue contact and a very impressive spin for Webber. Elsewhere on track, Perez took Massa for 5th and Button showed Webber how to perform a clean overtaking move by passing Maldonado for 3rd place. Webber’s next hapless victim was poor old Felipe Massa. Another rookie style overtaking move. Another collision. Webber shot back onto track into the path of a startled Massa who literally had a rabbit in the headlights moment and sent his car into a huge spin. Way to go, Mark.
|'Noooooo, its Mark Webber again'|
Blimey – we’re only half-way and I’m drained from reliving all the drama so far. Its like they sucked all the excitement out of the previous 4 races and just injected it all into Abu Dhabi. Still, no complaints in this quarter! So the order at the half-way point was 1. Kimi, 2. Alonso, 3. Button, 4. Maldonado, 5. Perez, 6. Webber, 7. Vettel.
We then had our first flood of scheduled pitstops starting with Alonso on lap 29 and he emerged just behind Vettel. All the frontrunners pitted in dizzyingly quick succession and suddenly Vettel was in SECOND place. The commentators started feverishly speculating whether he would have to stop again but as Alonso and Button starting eating into his lead, it looked increasingly likely that a pitstop was nigh. Sure enough the call came on lap 38 and although it wasn’t the slickest pitstop, Vettel re-emerged onto the track in a stupendous 4th place.
But (thought the F1 gods) we don’t just want to give you a potential Lotus win and a mindblowing drive from Vettel, we also want to give you another bumper car pile-up. Lap 39 and a mahoosive crash knocked the Abu Dhabi GP for six. Trying to rewind my way through the carnage (literally): Perez squeezed past Grosjean. Perez then tried to pass Di Resta forcing Paul onto the grass. Perez ran wide then crashed into Grosjean as he rejoins the track. Grosjean then crashed into Webber. Result: Grosjean and Webber forced to retire, Perez somehow kept going and time for the good old Safety Car to spring into action. Did no one listen to Bernie?! There wasn’t much thinking going on out there!
|'Why is no one listening to me? They will be sorry.'|
Kimi’s engineers radioed through to remind him to keep his tyres warm ahead of the restart to which we were treated to another superb riposte of “yes, yes, yes, yes. I'm doing all of that. You don't have to remind me every single time”. God I love that man.
Lap 43 and the race got underway again. Schumacher had picked up a puncture which sank him back to P16 after his forced pitstop. I guess retirement can’t come quickly enough for Schuey. Sob. With 8 laps to go, the top three were Kimi, Alonso and Button but JB was coming under intense pressure from Vettel. Finally on lap 52, Vettel took Button for a truly incredible potential podium spot. Not to be outdone, Alonso was driving like a man possessed setting fastest laps and had closed the gap on Kimi to 1.7 seconds with 4 laps remaining.
The husband and me were by now literally nervous, gibbering wrecks. Lotus is probably the husband’s all-time favourite team in F1 and he was beside himself with excitement at the prospect of Lotus’ win since 1987 (Ayrton Senna at the Detroit GP). And joy of joys, Kimi clung on to take the chequered flag to WIN the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Un-freaking-believable.
|Kimi takes the chequered flag at the end of a truly spectacular Grand Prix|
Here are the results from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2012:
1. Kimi Raikkonen – The iceman cometh! A flawless drive from F1’s coolest antihero.
2. Fernando Alonso – He gave everything and drove brilliantly to take 2nd after qualifying in P6 but could not totally hide his devastation to see Vettel on the podium.
3. Sebastian Vettel – A truly phenomenal drive. He rode his luck and benefited from copious amounts of on-track carnage. He told his team over the radio “don’t stop believing”. Perhaps Vettel was having Journey's Greatest Hits piped through on his uber-cool headphones before the race?
4. Button – Decent race but struggled with lack of pace. The 2012 McLaren won’t make it into his Hall of Fame.
5. Maldonado – Drove brilliantly to finish 5th despite being without KERS for most of the race.
6. Kobayashi – From 15th on the grid to P6. Seriously impressive stuff!
But perhaps the greatest moments of the race were yet to come when David Coulthard came onto the podium to conduct the post-race interviews. #PottyMouthPodium alert.
|Over 75,000 hits so far on YouTube!|
Asked by DC to describe his emotions, Kimi replied “Not much really. Last time you guys was giving me shit because I didn’t really smile enough.” Vettel then caused further embarrassment (or hilarity depending on your viewpoint) by saying “it was obviously a chance to f*** it up and we didn’t do that” and added helpfully that his car was “bloody quick”. As DC carried on interviewing the other drivers, Vettel sneaked up behind DC and tipped a bottle of pretend rosewater champagne all over DC and his very expensive suit. Coulthard looked absolutely thunderous by the end. Some days the licence fee is worth every single penny.
So with 2 races to go, Vettel has 255 points and Alonso has 245 points. That is a pretty nice cushion for Vettel to have and one which was barely conceivable on Sunday morning. In 10 days time, Formula 1 reconvenes in Austin, Texas where Ferrari boss, Luca di Montezemolo, has personally ordered nothing less than a Ferrari win.
The End is Coming but who will triumph? The driver who takes inspiration from a 1980s American soft rock band or the driver who looks to Japanese Samurai warriors for inspiration? Will Kimi throw a curveball into proceedings with another storming drive? With zero points in the last 4 races, will Mercedes win another point this season? Will Perez ever score another point for Sauber? And perhaps most importantly of all, has Bernie contacted Larry Hagman’s people to see if he can do the podium interviews?