Friday 1 November 2013

Abu Dhabi: Where it all Began- The success story of Red Bull and Vettel

Image Courtesy - Telegraph.co.uk

After clinching his fourth consecutive driver’s world championship, Sebastian Vettel is undoubtedly the king of F1, at least for the moment. There might be couple of drivers currently who are more talented than him; however they will have to wait or come up with something out of the extraordinary to beat him or even come closer to him.

Fernando Alonso came close last year and in 2010 with his Ferrari, reliable but lacked the final punch which was so badly needed to beat Vettel and his Red Bull or whatever the fancy names he calls his car. Mark Webber his team-mate had his best chance to win in 2010 and since then he never looked set to beat Vettel, while Raikkonen excelled in few opportunities where Lotus looked good.

The race now shifts to the Middle Eastern world, Abu Dhabi. A race amidst the twilight on the streets of this Emirate capital welcomes the new world champion albeit a familiar face who previously has won this race twice including the inaugural race in 2009. The last of his two victories is a significant one, the one which wrote the most defining chapter in the legacy of Vettel’s racing career and gave him the momentum to move to another level.

It was the evening of 14th November 2010; four drivers came into this season finale having a chance, a mathematical one to win the driver’s title. Fernando Alonso with 246 points, Mark Webber with 238 points, Vettel with 231 points and Hamilton with 222 points, which was a record in itself. Never has F1 seen a four-way battle for the top spot. Ferrari and Alonso were confident and so was Mark in Red Bull. It was Vettel’s second year with the Red Bull and was not yet the senior driver of the team while Hamilton had nothing really to lose.

In one of the pre-race press conference, Vettel was asked – “You are leading the race, Webber is in second place, Alonso in third and the race would be finishing. What would be your behaviour Vettel?” The wonder kid from Germany smiled, paused and answered in a calm manner – “I was asked a similar question at the last race. It is just Thursday guys, if we ever get to that situation, we’ll see”

All the title contenders were placed in top five after qualifying. Vettel and Hamilton occupied the front two positions while Alonso and Webber were to start from second and third row respectively.

The race started and by the end of lap one safety car was called to slow the pace while the track marshals removed the wreckage of Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes and Liuzzi’s Force India. The race resumed its normal and usual pace after lap five with the top five being Vettel, Hamilton, Button, Alonso and Webber in that order. Alonso was to win the championship if the race finished in that order. He looked set to do what ‘Raikkonen’ had done in 2007 by winning the championship with Ferrari in his first year.

Drama unfolded on lap 11 when Mark Webber was called on to pits. Why? He was getting stuck behind Alonso and this way he could make up some ground and challenge for the lead or was there some other reason?

Ferrari race strategists keeping a closer eye on Webber were planning to counter this with their own strategy. Alonso was the fastest driver on the circuit before he was called to pit on lap 15. Was the call to pit as a result to keep Webber in check or to replace the degradation of softer tyres on Alonso? Did they have a good look at other drivers on track and their strategies before calling him in? Surely, they would have factored all this considering it was going to be a one-pit stop strategy?

Alonso re-joined the track in 12th position and ahead of Webber and the pit strategy worked. More importantly, he was behind a long chain of cars that had already pitted and would not be required to pit another time. On lap 24 Vettel pitted and the pit-stop was pitch perfect, reminiscent of Ferrari’s ruthless stop at Suzuka in 2000 which gave Michael the championship.

Vettel came ahead of Kobayashi and Kubica with clear track ahead of him. Hamilton overtook the Sauber and Renault in pursuit of victory while Alonso was stuck behind the other Renault of Petrov. With each lap down, one could see the disappointment in the faces of Ferrari fans, their crew and Andrea Stella in particular, the race engineer for Alonso who was heard constantly delivering motivational messages lap after lap on the radio. It was just one of those days where things could go all wrong and it did for the team from Marenello. Those despairing faces dressed in red appeared even more hopeless and all they could expect was for some retirements at the front.

On the other hand, the team of Red Bull were anxious, knowing Webber’s chance had dwindled and Vettel’s victory would mean nothing unless Alonso finished outside of top five. They waited with fingers crossed.

Vettel crossed the line and won the race by 10 seconds. He was not announced as the World Champion immediately and instead he was asked to hold till they could confirm the finishing order. It was looking good and so Vettel waited patiently while he heard out the messages from his race engineer on the radio. “Hamilton P2, Button P3, there’s another two cars coming on turn 15 and 16, Rosberg P4, Kubica P5 and.......Der Meister”

Tears were all I could sense hearing Vettel react to being the World Champion. Yes, he became the World Champion and it was unbelievable. He led the championship for the first time that season and what a day to have done that.

As the German national anthem played, my mind could only think of that Sunday evening in Japan 10 years before this race. A German by the name of Michael Schumacher was in tears of joy winning his 3rd driver’s championship and the first of his five with Ferrari. His junior had arrived on the big stage. 
Vettel in his younger days with this hero Michael Schumacher
In 2008, it was Hamilton who had become the youngest World Champion and now the world was to see another youngster claim the throne. Since that day, he has gone on to win three more titles.

On 3rd November 2013, Vettel will race as a four-time World champion on the Yas Island track. He will be fully aware of the day on this track which gave him the momentum to surge ahead and stamp his authority on the track.

Next year with the rule changes, return of turbo engines and Ferrari having a powerful driver’s line-up, it promises to be an exciting season. Will Vettel be crowned for the five time come Abu Dhabi next year? I don’t know and honestly even Red Bull doesn’t know. What they do know is that it is all theirs to lose. But for now, they will race in Abu Dhabi knowing this is where it all began, the legacy of Vettel and Red Bull in particular. 

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