The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix always is one of the highlights of the Formula One calendar – beautiful infrastructure, an impressive track, a twilight race… even more so for our team with Abu Dhabi being the last of our four “home races”, thanks to the state being home to the team’s co-owners Aabar.
The week at the track started pretty well for the team, which, after a very warm welcome from Aabar, also welcomed the announcement of Nico’s contract extension with the team to include the 2013 season and beyond.
The aim for the weekend was pretty clear – keep the momentum going, and score a double-points finish once again, after a convincing weekend at the inaugural Indian Grand Prix.
Thanks to a good effort from the whole team in Friday’s first two practice sessions, the engineers and drivers gathered good information on the car’s balance and tyre life with Michael and Nico being able to cover 694 kilometres, the equivalent of 125 laps.
Another promising factor came from Nico’s pace on the long runs, putting the team in a good position for the race.
Before that, we had to secure good positions on the starting grid during Saturday’s qualifying session….
Nico approached qualifying quite confidently knowing his and the team’s hard work on Friday to set-up the car might pay off. And even though Nico qualified in seventh place, a pretty fair reflection of the car’s current pace, he was left disappointed (it is always a good sign when drivers expect more!) as he felt that he could have done better.
The track temperatures dropped quite quickly during the session and Nico found himself struggling to get the tyres working properly when he needed to. He also ended up caught in traffic during his second run of Q3, not allowing him to warm the tyres properly which cost him on his final flying lap. Despite all that, Nico’s seventh fastest lap was only 0.078s behind Felipe Massa in sixth place, and 0.715s behind Alonso in fifth… mot a bad result, also knowing Nico only completed five laps, against six for all other drivers in the top six.
Starting on the clean side of the grid, Nico had a good start and made a run to the first corner, before he tried to overtake Massa and was left with nowhere to go on the outside. He ended up in the run-off area and lost a place to Michael. If fans were wondering what our team’s policy is when it comes to fights between our drivers, the next few corners probably answered that question! Nico took the fight to Michael, our guys kept it clean and it was Nico who crossed the start/finish line ahead at the end of the first lap.
From there, Nico controlled his pace, guided by his race engineer and managed to look after his tyres well. Nico was lapping consistently 0.3s slower than Massa, maintaining the gap at the front but also to Michael behind him.
Nico climbed to fourth following various pit stops until he pitted himself on lap 17. Thanks to good pace on his in and out laps, Nico rejoined the track in sixth place.
He then managed to maintain his pace for most of this second stint, once again looking after his tyres well.
Nico climbed to third during the stops, managing to stay out a bit longer before his second stop as the grip was still pretty good. It was also better for him to stay out with the softer tyres, as he expected some understeer with the prime tyres for his last stint.
Both Mark Webber and Jenson Button (on much fresher tyres) managed to overtake him on lap 47, before Nico pitted a lap later.
Nico then chased Felipe during the last seven laps, but the understeer didn’t allow him to get close enough, even though Nico lapped faster than the Brazilian driver during the closing laps of the race…
All in all, sixth place was a good result for Nico, who drove a very smart race, with a good job from the engineering team and from the pit boys… a nice way to celebrate his contract renewal by delivering the team’s third top-six result in four races.
Like Nico, Michael had a pretty solid day on Friday and jumped in his car on Saturday knowing a solid qualifying result was achievable.
His session turned out to be quite straightforward, once again helped by a smart move from the team who called him back and aborted a lap in Q1, knowing Michael was safe, to save an extra set for Q3. His lap time of 1.40.662 placed Michael eighth, right behind Nico.
Michael once again made a good start on Sunday, passed Nico in T1 and then fought hard to keep his place against his team-mate. The fight was quite enjoyable to watch, but ultimately Nico found a way past.
His pace in the opening laps was good, but sadly for Michael, his tyres gave up quite quickly during his first stint, due to the fact that Michael started on an older set used in qualifying.
Michael lost a place to Adrian Sutil on lap 16 because of the state of his tyres, right before he dived into the pit lane for his first stop. Michael re-emerged in 10th place and overtook Paul Di Resta on lap 19. He looked after his tyres amazingly well during his second stint, before stopping again on lap 42.
The gap Michael managed to create during that second stint allowed him to rejoin seventh, the place he ultimately finished in, despite having lost some small parts of the car during the course of the race… which didn’t help with the balance!
Michael also suffered from a slow puncture towards the end on the race, hence why he parked his car right after the chequered flag.
Michael made the most out of the car and scored a solid seventh place finish… which left him hoping to finish the season well in Brazil!
All in all, the team made the best out of every situation this weekend, from the cockpits but also from the pit and the pit wall. Good strategy, good work by the engineers, good pits tops… our next (and final) mission of our racing year will be to score another double-points finish in Brazil, before everyone focuses on our targets for 2012… see you then!