Formula 1

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2010: Race Preview

4 Mins read

It began 35 weeks ago in Bahrain, and this weekend it ends, just 266 miles away from where it all started, in Abu Dhabi. After 18 rounds and 1074 racing laps the Formula 1 drivers' championship is still undecided, and so the Yas Marina Circuit will stage the climax of this titanic battle.

Four drivers can still win this, the greatest prize in motorsport. Two have won it before, and two are within 55 laps of winning it for the first time.

Of those who have won it before, Fernando Alonso is in a much better position to win another. If the Spaniard wins or comes second on Sunday, then a third title is his, regardless of what the other contenders manage.

On the other hand, Hamilton needs a miracle if he is going to claim title number two. He must win in Abu Dhabi, Alonso must fail to score, Mark Webber must finish sixth or lower and Sebastian Vettel must finish no higher than third.

But perhaps the biggest intrigue will be the battle between the Red Bull pair. Fresh from securing their team the constructors' title in Brazil with a one-two finish, Vettel and Webber have pace and the talent to get the same result in the Middle East.

Indeed, Vettel led a one-two finish for the team at the inaugural race last year. To win his first championship though, the German can't just rely on his own driving ability – he also needs a bit of luck from somewhere else. To lead a one-two here on Sunday is not enough – Alonso will still be champion if he finishes third. Vettel needs Alonso to finish fifth or lower if he is going to be the world champion.

Incidentally, if we have a scenario where Vettel wins, Webber is second, and Alonso is fifth, all three drivers would have 256 points. Vettel would beat Webber on race wins (5-4) but the German would have the same number of wins, second-places, and third-place finishes as Alonso (5, 2 and 3 of each). A count-back to fourth-place finishes would give Vettel the title (he wins 3-2 on these).

If Mark Webber gets the win, then he needs Alonso to finish third or lower – meaning he needs someone, his teammate perhaps, to take second place. And here is where the interest lies. If, with two laps remaining, Vettel leads Webber with Alonso third, will the German move over to hand the title to the teammate he has been fiercely competing against all season?

These are circumstances that Red Bull could realistically find themselves in, given that Vettel has out-performed Webber in the last four races, and won in Abu Dhabi last season. One assumes that Vettel will move over voluntarily for the good of the team, but it may take a nudge from Christian Horner, his team principal.

Webber must definitely finish fifth or higher if he is going to have any hope of winning the title, and Vettel needs to be first or second. The Renault engines in the back of the RB6s are coming to the end of their working lives, and finishing the race in Abu Dhabi isn't a forgone conclusion. Alonso is also in the same boat, if not even more marginal on engines, and so engine longevity for these drivers may be key in deciding the fate of the title.

Championship permutations aside, there are a few other things to be tidied up this weekend. Williams and Force India are locked in a tight battle for sixth place in the constructors' championship. That may sound like a small triviality, but could mean millions of pounds extra in next season's budget for whichever team claims it. Williams have the position at the moment, but are only one point ahead of Force India.

There is also the battle of the new teams to consider – or the battle for tenth place, as it is otherwise known. Lotus Racing currently holds that position, thanks to a twelfth place finish for Heikki Kovalainen in Japan.  If Hispania or Virgin Racing wants to leapfrog them, one of their cars will have to finish eleventh or higher. Considering there were only two retirees in Abu Dhabi last season, this is quite an unlikely prospect.

There are other drivers on the grid who will be driving for themselves. Although the top teams have settled driver line-ups for 2011, there are positions to be filled down the rest of the grid. Drivers under threat of the boot from their existing teams will be going for a good final performance, whilst other drivers will be treating Abu Dhabi as a shop window, hoping to impress prospective employers. There may be a larger degree of pushing and overtaking attempts, all adding to the spectacle.

The sport also says a farewell to Bridgestone this weekend, after fourteen seasons of providing tyres for Formula 1. The Japanese company have had a successful time in the Formula 1, claiming ten drivers' and ten constructors' championships. They also managed to provide tyres which allowed cars to go round Turn 13 at Indianapolis in the 2005 United States Grand Prix, something that rivals Michelin failed to do that year.

The Yas Marina Circuit is without doubt the most expensive on the calendar, and in some ways the most spectacular. It is a 'technical' track, and does lack the exciting, flowing corners of somewhere like Spa or Suzuka, but drivers are challenged, and can make mistakes. The fact that the race begins in daylight and ends in darkness provides an additional challenge to the drivers, who have to manage tyre temperatures and grip levels as the track cools. Oh, and the pit lane exit goes through a tunnel underneath the first corner.

Qualifying begins at 13:00 GMT this Saturday, with the race starting exactly 24 hours later. There will be reports, reaction, and comment available on this website throughout the weekend as the 2010 F1 champion is crowned.

And then it all begins again – 17 weeks later – back in Bahrain.

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David is an occasional contributer to the site on matters related to Formula 1. You can follow him on twitter at @Dr_Bean.
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