Oh Dear. The Yas Marina circuit’s ability to suck the life out of the most promising of grids struck again today. After yesterday’s practice and the shenanigans that followed, it looked like we might be in for a classic; Mark Webber on pole, Kimi Räikkonen at the very back and Jenson Button in a low-drag McLaren on the right tyres all looked to have races in store that might keep us awake.
By the end of lap one — by the first corner — all three stories were ‘neutralised’ (to use F1’s new favourite word). Kimi clouted a Caterham, JB tail-ended a Force India and, at the front, Vettel got ahead of Webber and that was that.
Webber’s start wasn’t bad for once, but Vettel just hit the hyperspace button and, by the end of lap one, was where he wanted to be, close to two seconds ahead. And, from there he just pulled away to the extent that by the time he made his first stop on lap 14, he was able to resume in the lead. By the time he made his second, he had forty seconds over Romain Grosjean. Just like the last time he raced under floodlights, Sebastian Vettel was in his own race. There may be more dramatic ways to show just how fast you are, there are few less ambiguous.
The race summed up the second half of 2013 perfectly. Red Bull untouchable in their game, scoring a perfect on-two, and Vettel not thinking once about sparing his teammate’s blushes. Behind Vettel and Webber, Rosberg was once again the best of rest, the best of the Mercs and behind him Romain Grosjean, whose steady mature pace has been the big story since Spa.
Behind Rosberg Fernando Alonso (fifth) and Felipe Massa (eighth) both did more than should be expected of the F138 which has, after a promising start, proven to be another single-seater Ferrari that’s just not as good as it should be. Alonso’s driving in the last ten laps did a lot to keep your correspondent awake. Beginning with a move on Jean-Eric Vergne out of the pits that looked at one stage likely to put the Ferrari into a neighbouring Emirate (and an interview with the stewards) and after that some fastest-lap-setting moves on Di Resta (an impressive sixth on a one-stop strategy) and Lewis Hamilton in seventh.
Ah yes, and talking of sucking the life out, today it has to be said, was another disappointing race from Lewis Hamilton. Is it me or is the Lewis Hamilton of 2013 a very different man from the Lewis Hamilton of 2007? Lewis made a great start today but also got himself in a position where he was obliged to tuck too tight into the inside of Turn One. He was swallowed up by the cars he was intending to pass and was obliged to spend the race not getting by cars he should in theory have been able to pass easily.
And this on a circuit where his talent usually shines. We know he’s yet to get the brakes on the W04 the way he likes them, and the team were obliged to rebuild the rears on the grid. But still…
The way F1 is right now, the rewards go to those who can drive a race outside the strategy predetermined on a Saturday night, no matter where the stops put you on the track. Wasn’t Lewis the bloke who could always makes the pass? Something wrong here.
Mercedes may have bagged a bunch of points in their battle with Ferrari for second behind Red Bull, but some questions will need to be asked about the performance of their superstar.
Their bigger issue will be Red Bull. This was another astonishing performance today, maybe their most dominant yet this season. It was suggested at the start of this season that, come the summer break, teams would decide to devote their engineering either to the remainder of 2013 or to 2014, depending on their position relative to Red Bull. And yet, before Spa it looked like both Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso might still be in with a shout.
Red Bull, maybe just way too addicted to winning, clearly spent the summer working on the RB9. Will that mean the complex RB10 will suffer? I would not want to bet on it. Vettel has now won 11 races this season, seven on the trot, matching the record of Michael Schumacher. Two more wins this year will match not only Schumacher’s overall non-consecutive record of 13 wins in one season, but match Alberto Ascari’s record of nine consecutive wins across two seasons. Come Australia 2014 who’s going to bet against Vettel and the turbocharged-hybrid RB10 making it ten?