Vettel and Hamilton lead the way in Abu Dhabi again

2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton have shared the front row of the grid in all three Abu Dhabi Grands Prix so far.

The contest between the pair last year was very close. McLaren were quickest throughout practice and Hamilton topped Q1 and Q2.

But as track conditions changed in Q3 he was unable to improve on his Q2 time. Vettel couldn’t beat it either – but he was able to set a time quick enough to beat Hamilton to pole position.

The pair were the only drivers to lap the Yas Marina circuit in under one minutes and 42 seconds today, raising the prospect of another Vettel-Hamilton front row.

McLaren weakness on the soft tyre, which was also apparent in India, factored again in today’s running. That plus Red Bull’s usual qualifying advantage may be enough for Vettel to secure another pole position.

Longest stint comparison

This chart shows all the drivers’ lap times (in seconds) during their longest unbroken stint:

Sebastian Vettel109.213108.742111.808108.434108.51
Mark Webber106.648105.346121.704103.366103.213
Jenson Button108.802108.823108.321108.159108.272108.111108.115107.884108.35108.196107.868107.702107.558111.018107.432136.312
Lewis Hamilton106.843110.359102.79114.942118.453102.777111.903106.048102.095122.407
Fernando Alonso106.817107.315107.566107.074119.154
Felipe Massa108.351108.633109.239108.894108.08107.997107.671107.987107.786111.8107.568107.473128.213
Michael Schumacher110.272109.567109.531109.384114.186109.371108.867108.873108.947112.329108.858111.458139.128
Nico Rosberg110.422110.567110.075109.931110.542113.659109.131109.043110.069109.707113.646109.203109.468108.999143.309
Kimi Raikkonen108.67108.346109.323108.564136.151
Romain Grosjean115.74108.699122.497108.499108.469108.419108.361108.949108.89108.782
Paul di Resta109.172109.363108.994117.371108.701108.86108.732108.49109.567108.443128.66
Nico Hulkenberg109.394109.421113.115108.532110.381110.883109.618109.184109.145109.092
Kamui Kobayashi109.209110.592110.394108.998109.484109.537108.623108.399108.415108.476131.534
Sergio Perez103.855112.515109.002103.456112.384103.252112.363103.106
Daniel Ricciardo109.998109.591110.546109.453109.217129.712
Jean-Eric Vergne107.364106.326106.161111.587106.13
Pastor Maldonado109.733108.981108.915114.023108.409108.36108.149108.122108.573108.02107.678107.738108.19133.962
Bruno Senna109.649109.356109.663109.981109.108109.445108.716125.733
Heikki Kovalainen111.401110.457110.77110.656111.18110.541110.561125.303
Vitaly Petrov112.053111.787111.744110.891110.565111.045110.828110.407110.467133.632
Pedro de la Rosa111.83112.079115.069111.494126.005
Narain Karthikeyan112.633111.711111.102111.863112.171125.571112.696111.517112.877
Timo Glock111.248111.1111.105112.736110.968110.904
Charles Pic112.588113.179112.242111.522111.436

On more than one occasion in second practice Hamilton extended his run as he tried to find more time over a single lap. His engineer warned him it would reduce the time available for his race simulation later in the session, which proved to be the case, as can be seen in the graph above.

Jenson Button, however, was eager to ensure he got a longer high-fuel stint: “I wanted to do plenty of laps during my long run today, since I missed out on quite a lot of long-run running on Friday in Delhi – and that set me back for the rest of the Indian Grand Prix weekend.

“I’m pleased to report that our car feels reasonably good over a long run here, so now we’re going to be focusing on understanding just how hard we can push the tyre during a long run.”

Fernando Alonso also had a shortened high-fuel run: “We focused more on aero comparison on Fernando’s car, sacrificing a bit the long run” said Ferrari after practice.

The willingness of drivers like Hamilton and Alonso to compromise their race preparation may be because the tyre choice here seems quite conservative and the tyres are holding up well over a stint, as was also the case in India. “Tyre degradation is not as big as last year,” admitted Nico Rosberg.

Felipe Massa did a longer stint and race engineer Rob Smedley told him at the end of the session that his lap times compared favourably with Button’s.

Sector times and ultimate lap times

CarDriverCarSector 1Sector 2Sector 3Ultimate lapGapDeficit to best
11Sebastian VettelRed Bull-Renault17.943 (4)42.924 (1)40.876 (1)1’41.7430.008
24Lewis HamiltonMcLaren-Mercedes17.811 (1)42.950 (2)41.072 (2)1’41.8330.0900.086
33Jenson ButtonMcLaren-Mercedes17.946 (5)43.123 (6)41.264 (3)1’42.3330.5900.079
410Romain GrosjeanLotus-Renault17.951 (6)43.119 (5)41.320 (4)1’42.3900.6470.110
52Mark WebberRed Bull-Renault17.972 (7)43.053 (3)41.441 (6)1’42.4660.7230.000
65Fernando AlonsoFerrari17.932 (3)43.091 (4)41.457 (7)1’42.4800.7370.107
79Kimi RaikkonenLotus-Renault17.890 (2)43.254 (9)41.388 (5)1’42.5320.7890.000
86Felipe MassaFerrari18.080 (11)43.135 (7)41.608 (11)1’42.8231.0800.000
918Pastor MaldonadoWilliams-Renault18.095 (12)43.335 (13)41.568 (10)1’42.9981.2550.000
1015Sergio PerezSauber-Ferrari17.991 (8)43.538 (15)41.525 (9)1’43.0541.3110.052
1119Bruno SennaWilliams-Renault18.035 (9)43.554 (16)41.498 (8)1’43.0871.3440.104
128Nico RosbergMercedes18.195 (15)43.242 (8)41.716 (13)1’43.1531.4100.047
137Michael SchumacherMercedes18.190 (14)43.330 (12)41.662 (12)1’43.1821.4390.085
1412Nico HulkenbergForce India-Mercedes18.196 (16)43.314 (11)41.745 (14)1’43.2551.5120.000
1511Paul di RestaForce India-Mercedes18.168 (13)43.307 (10)41.948 (15)1’43.4231.6800.155
1614Kamui KobayashiSauber-Ferrari18.073 (10)43.449 (14)42.035 (16)1’43.5571.8140.132
1716Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso-Ferrari18.259 (17)43.673 (17)42.106 (17)1’44.0382.2950.222
1817Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso-Ferrari18.353 (18)43.699 (18)42.884 (19)1’44.9363.1930.069
1921Vitaly PetrovCaterham-Renault18.411 (19)44.012 (19)42.822 (18)1’45.2453.5020.000
2020Heikki KovalainenCaterham-Renault18.516 (20)44.055 (20)43.083 (20)1’45.6543.9110.128
2122Pedro de la RosaHRT-Cosworth18.827 (23)44.422 (21)43.296 (22)1’46.5454.8020.162
2225Charles PicMarussia-Cosworth18.694 (22)44.652 (23)43.227 (21)1’46.5734.8300.098
2324Timo GlockMarussia-Cosworth18.590 (21)44.541 (22)43.457 (24)1’46.5884.8450.001
2423Narain KarthikeyanHRT-Cosworth18.949 (24)44.691 (24)43.383 (23)1’47.0235.2800.383

After practice Hamilton said “it was quite tricky to get a good time from the [soft tyre]. Tonight we’ll need to do some work around figuring out how to switch our [softs] on.”

He set his best time on his sixth lap on the soft tyres. He will need to access more of the tyre’s performance sooner as spending six laps getting a time out of the tyres in Q3 would mean starting the race on seven-lap-old rubber.

Pirelli say the soft tyres are worth “0.4s to 0.8s” over the mediums. But both McLaren drivers got less than this: Hamilton found 0.176s, Button 0.230s. Vettel, however, gained a whopping 0.871s.

Lotus, who have tended to prefer more aggressive tyre choices, found even more time. Kimi Raikkonen’s soft tyre lap was over a second quicker than his effort on mediums.

Romain Grosjean found over 1.2 seconds – and reckoned he could have gone even quicker: “I did not drive the best lap of my life with the option tyres today; with the first set of options you put on you have to go for it, so I think I can still improve a little bit.”

Putting his best sector times together (above) shows Grosjean could have been ahead of Webber. But note how close the battle for third place is behind Vettel and Hamilton – Fernando Alonso will be eager to ensure he comes out on top of that scrap to get in a strong position for the race.

Complete practice times

PosDriverCarFP1FP2Total laps
1Sebastian VettelRed Bull-Renault1’44.0501’41.75157
2Lewis HamiltonMcLaren-Mercedes1’43.2851’41.91955
3Jenson ButtonMcLaren-Mercedes1’43.6181’42.41255
4Mark WebberRed Bull-Renault1’44.5421’42.46643
5Romain GrosjeanLotus-Renault1’45.7431’42.50054
6Kimi RaikkonenLotus-Renault1’45.4221’42.53243
7Fernando AlonsoFerrari1’44.3661’42.58752
8Felipe MassaFerrari1’45.5671’42.82357
9Pastor MaldonadoWilliams-Renault1’45.1151’42.99863
10Sergio PerezSauber-Ferrari1’45.8111’43.10658
11Bruno SennaWilliams-Renault1’43.19134
12Nico RosbergMercedes1’45.1941’43.20055
13Nico HulkenbergForce India-Mercedes1’45.5871’43.25554
14Michael SchumacherMercedes1’44.6941’43.26755
15Paul di RestaForce India-Mercedes1’43.57834
16Kamui KobayashiSauber-Ferrari1’45.7221’43.68952
17Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso-Ferrari1’46.6491’44.26051
18Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso-Ferrari1’46.7081’45.07345
19Vitaly PetrovCaterham-Renault1’45.24536
20Valtteri BottasWilliams-Renault1’45.34725
21Jules BianchiForce India-Mercedes1’45.76922
22Heikki KovalainenCaterham-Renault1’47.4181’45.78256
23Timo GlockMarussia-Cosworth1’47.8911’46.58957
24Charles PicMarussia-Cosworth1’46.67422
25Pedro de la RosaHRT-Cosworth1’48.3541’46.70748
26Narain KarthikeyanHRT-Cosworth1’47.40635
27Max ChiltonMarussia-Cosworth1’48.88722
28Ma Qing HuaHRT-Cosworth1’50.48720
29Giedo van der GardeCaterham-RenaultNo time3

The track temperature in first practice reached 47C at one point – some 15C higher than in the second session. This is why the second session is considered much more representative of likely conditions in qualifying and the race.

Throughout the season lap times have been up to a second down on 2011, mainly due to the limits on exhaust-blown diffusers. But here the cars are more than two seconds slower than before. This seems to be due to the surface of the track being slipperier than usual, and the higher kerbs installed at several corners.

Mark Webber lost time in the second session with a familiar problem: “We had a KERS issue, which wasn’t the same as last week. It never helps to miss some running on the track during practice, but it’s not a big deal.”

Yas Marina is not one of Webber’s strongest circuits: “Normally I struggle around car park sort of race tracks,” he added after today’s running had finished.

Sergio Perez is eyeing a top-ten starting position again: “I think my position in the second session is pretty much what we are capable of here,” he said. “This means Q3 is possible.”

Speed trap

#DriverCarEngineMax speed (kph)Gap
115Sergio PerezSauberFerrari322.5
218Pastor MaldonadoWilliamsRenault3220.5
319Bruno SennaWilliamsRenault3220.5
414Kamui KobayashiSauberFerrari3211.5
55Fernando AlonsoFerrariFerrari319.82.7
66Felipe MassaFerrariFerrari319.62.9
717Jean-Eric VergneToro RossoFerrari319.23.3
812Nico HulkenbergForce IndiaMercedes318.24.3
911Paul di RestaForce IndiaMercedes318.24.3
1023Narain KarthikeyanHRTCosworth317.55
1122Pedro de la RosaHRTCosworth317.35.2
127Michael SchumacherMercedesMercedes317.15.4
138Nico RosbergMercedesMercedes317.15.4
1424Timo GlockMarussiaCosworth316.65.9
1525Charles PicMarussiaCosworth316.56
1621Vitaly PetrovCaterhamRenault316.16.4
1720Heikki KovalainenCaterhamRenault316.16.4
1816Daniel RicciardoToro RossoFerrari315.96.6
1910Romain GrosjeanLotusRenault315.17.4
209Kimi RaikkonenLotusRenault3157.5
214Lewis HamiltonMcLarenMercedes314.18.4
223Jenson ButtonMcLarenMercedes3148.5
232Mark WebberRed BullRenault311.910.6
241Sebastian VettelRed BullRenault311.411.1

Lotus ran their latest exhaust update on Raikkonen’s car. This is intended to claw back some of the straight-line speed they lost when they introduced their Coanda exhaust in Korea.

They remained near the bottom of the times but curiously the four cars that were slower than them at the speed trap were the same four that were quicker on lap time.

Ferrari’s straight-line speed is better, and recalls their tactic from India of gearing the car to make up places in the DRS zone in the race.

2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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Image © Red Bull/Getty images, McLaren/Hoch Zwei, Yas Marina/LAT

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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36 comments on “Vettel and Hamilton lead the way in Abu Dhabi again”

  1. First Formula One world championship.
    Everything starts there.. an incredible season which was going to give a start to legendary drivers, tracks and cars. All to be followed episode by episode!

  2. Brilliant article Keith, really sums up the day very, very well.

    I fear the McLarens aren’t going to beat Vettel and will only hurt Alonso’s title chances by being between the two contenders. If that happens, the title race is pretty much over…

    The qualy will be interesting. Seems like Vettel and Hamilton will be out of reach for others, but Button, Webber, Lotuses, Ferraris and possibly Maldonado will all fight for the next spots on the grid. It really will be crucial for Alonso to get a perfect lap, as it could mean many places on the grid.

    1. Can’t see anyone else than Hamilton or Vettel getting this one … What could come into play is also the fact that McLaren seems great on medium thus I expect Lewis to reach Q2 and maybe even Q3 on those tyres which will left him plenty of soft. Could it be enough to take pole over RedBull, let’s see tomorrow.
      Definitly looking beter for McLaren. RedBull still there and Ferrari, not bad but can’t see them take the win as it stands, they will need something to happen

  3. I was expecting this. As usual Mclaren’s are quick around this circuit, and Vettel has been on a roll. Seems like the best place Alonso can get is third, he needs to beat Vettel in the race though.

    1. I really hope Ham can do some magic and get the pole. Perhaps then we’ll get a decent race.

  4. weekend over imo, another vettel win another boring abu dabhi grad prix, championship boredom. sorry to be glum but its the most possible outcome come sunday night

  5. The Red Bulls look really, really slow in a straight line. This will surely harm them in the race.

    Let’s say Red Bull will get a one-two in the race. Vettel takes the lead on lap 1, Webber still in second. Then Webber is vulnerable to the McLarens/Ferraris and will be overtaken by them. But Vettel will have pulled a sufficient gap to win the race.

    If after lap one Vettel leads, but a McLaren or Ferrari is second, then Vettel will have to get the magical 1 second gap before DRS is enabled. If he doesn’t succeed in this, he will be overtaken. So, I think that this race will be decided within three laps.

    1. I can’t help but wonder how Vettel was fastest in S2, where the 2 extremely long straights are located.

      1. Probably because he has much better traction out of the corner, so he has better acceleration. You spend the majority of the straight accelerating and only a bit of it on the limiter, so there’s time to be made on both sides of the scale.

        1. Even so…

      2. Amazing traction from both chicanes and low gear ratio so that he spend a lot of time at top speed.

    2. @andae23 There’s nothing new in that, RBR usually prop up up the speedtrap data. I think they will be more susceptible than usual here because of the huge straights and slow corners but I’m pretty confident that Vettel will bag pole again.

  6. I love how people are so confident on this matter, and act like if they know exactly how the race will pan out. Why even bother watching, then?

    1. I always make a prediction of what’s going to happen (and I’m always pretty confident that’s how it will be), and 90% of the time I’m completely and utterly wrong. And I’m 100% ok with that :)

  7. Difficult to compare long runs today with many people doing more consecutive laps in qualifying mode. Massa indeed looks competitive to Button, with the latter a little more consistent. From the sector times during the live timing I got the impression that Alonso was a good half a second faster than anyone else on high fuel (with Vettel and Hamilton being on the pace of Button).

    If Alonso can get within reach of Vettel in the opening laps – and why not, he’s been the strongest driver on the first lap this year, imo – then maybe he can actually challenge Vettel. If, on the other hand, he’s still fighting the Lotuses by that stage, Vettel will disappear on the horizon.

    I also find it interesting to see that not only the Red Bulls, but also the McLarens have very poor straight-line speed. Last year I remember them usually going for high downforce setups, though this year they have also been spotted near the top of the speed trap. Not this time, though.

    This race also bodes well for Williams. They’ve looked reasonably quick all day, and Maldonado’s long run was actually better than Button’s. Combined with the fact that they are among the fastest cars in a straight line, they look set to score some good points again for a change.

  8. Seems that Ferrari focused on a good top speed, to make use of DRS and sleep stream to take some places or avoid loosing position during the race. Hope it works!

  9. “Normally I struggle around car park sort of race tracks,”

    Mark never fails to amuse me! :D

    1. Well, at least he isn’t a PR robot unlike almost everyone else on the grid!

    2. @pielighter he does really bad when he doesn’t like the circuit, doesn’t he? And he does brilliantly when he likes them.

      From Silverstone to Abu Dhabi… 19 shades of Webber !

      1. @fer-no65
        On the circuits he likes he can be as good as anyone, but when he doesn’t like them then he can be as rubbish as anyone as well.
        I think that is his greatest weakness as a driver. Otherwise he is very solid and well rounded, I think, but he just isn’t consistent enough in terms of performing to the best of his abilities at all times.

        1. @mads yeah. Just like in 2010, and this year aswell. And to some extent, 2009 too. The first half is always his best bit, then he fades away. Slowly, but he fades away.

          1. @fer-no65 I’d argue he’s at his best in the middle 3rd of the season – but yeah, I agree with your point.

      2. He hasn’t done too badly here, a 2nd, one to forget and a 4th.

        1. 2nd was something like 17s off his teammate though, and almost lost 2nd as well.

  10. If mclaren continue to struggle on the softs, it will be interesting to see if they decide to qualify on the mediums. They could still easily get the second row, maybe Hamilton could even get on the front row, and it would possibly give them a better strategy for the race.

    1. Hard to call at the moment. The track is still very green. The softs do better once there is plenty rubber already laid down. By qualifying we could see a completely different picture.

    2. @jleigh
      Considering how little they improved on the softs, then yes it would be possible. But we still have no idea about fuel loads, engine mapping and so on. But I think that all the top teams has really just left the idea, of qualifying on the harder tyre, to rot in hell after Red Bull tried it in Canada a few years ago. And with McLaren’s pace so far I think it would be too much of a risk. Yes it could work, but it could also come flying back at them and we would all laugh at how they managed to ruin another possible win with stupid decisions.
      If they really have that sort of pace on the medium tyre, then I think their best is to follow the normal route and just try to beat Vettel by outpacing him on that tyre later in the race.
      They need to knock Ferrari off 2nd in the WCC, so they can’t start risking too much, especially not when they look set to get at least a double podium.

  11. I was not able to sleep last night. There is so much tension going on. I dont know how will i handle the moment when Seb will become three times world champion before Alonso. The miracle has to happen in Abu Dhabi. In both 2007 and 2010, Alonso was on course to become 3 times world champion and was let down by his team both times. If Seb wins the title i would start believing my friend who is not an F1 fan. He says ” All the drivers in F1 are equal. The difference is the car”. Its the 6th year in waiting and has been very tough to be Alonso’s fan..

    1. Btw which double world champion in F1 history never became 3 times world champion despite of in contention for atleast 3 times and taking the fight till the end of the season?. Maybe Mika?

      1. Same way Alonso won 2005 and not Raikkonen. Alonso did prove he is worthy double Champion while driving for Ferrari. For the rest we have to wait and see.

  12. Ultimate lap analysis is useless since driver can press KERS wherever sector they want to.

    1. You supposed to mean DRS?

      1. @eggry I get what Raka is saying now. Ultimate lap analysis is 3 best sectors – potentially from 3 different laps. So what if Vettel finishes his KERS on his 1st sector, then backs off for a lap, and then uses it all in Sector 2, then backs off – then uses it all in Sector 3. His ultimate lap would contain 3 allotments of KERS

        1. @raymondu99 it might be. But I’m not sure teams testing KERS at so many points. I think it’s quite obvious since they tested it on simulator already.

    2. It’s mainly for qualifying, not race predictions

  13. Massa’s pace looks quite encouraging and consistent, it will be good to see him continue his recent run of form and help Ferrari seal 2nd in the WCC.

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