Lucky? From pitlane to podium - the full story of Sebastian Vettel's Abu Dhabi GP
Was World Champ Sebastian Vettel lucky to finish third in Abu Dhabi? Judge for yourself as we review the Red Bull driver's topsy-turvy day
By Pete Gill
Last Updated: 05/11/12 3:21pm
11am UK Time: The FIA issues confirmation that, following his dramatic late-night expulsion from qualifying, Vettel will start from the pitlane rather than at the back of the grid after his Red Bull team elect to fit his car with a new gearbox and alter his gear ratios and suspension settings.
It's a tactical decision, but also a gamble: although the alterations will improve Vettel's straight-line speed by five miles per hour, they will hinder his progress through the slow corners and be to the overall detriment of his lap time.
However, with Vettel required to leapfrog at least fourteen cars to reach a points-paying position, it's a trade-off the team feel they have to risk.
12.22pm UK Time: Via Sky Sports F1's Ted Kravitz, Race Director Charlie Whiting clarifies that Vettel will only be released from the pitlane once all the other cars have rounded the first corner and "disappeared from view".
12.50pm UK Time: Surrounded by a posse of photographers, Vettel's RB8 lines up at the end of the pitlane. As the World Champion sits in his car, Bernie Ecclestone wanders along the pitlane to wish the German well. Meanwhile, debate continues to rage about his prospects in the race. Christian Horner subsequently reveals that Vettel himself had predicted a podium finish. Speaking after the race, however, Vettel admits that "the top five was the target".
In any case, it's clear that Vettel faces a formidable challenge if he is to prevent Fernando Alonso from making substantial inroads into his title lead.
12.55pm UK Time: Pirelli report that just three cars will start the race on the medium tyres, the harder of this weekend's two compounds: Michael Schumacher, Bruno Senna and Vettel.
12.58pm UK Time: The first of Vettel's 'pulls' towards the points: the HRT of Pedro de la Rosa breaks down on the grid. It is steered back onto the pitlane where it lines up directly behind Vettel's Red Bull.
The Formation Lap: Vettel continues to wait in the pitlane. Over the radio, and with the temperature of his tyres plunging, the team urge their driver to "stay cool".
1pm UK Time: Vettel is finally released from the pits. The leaders are many as six corners clear when the Red Bull finally emerges through the tunnel and onto the track. But even as Vettel begins to catch the backmarkers, he is handed another helpful early boost as he passes the broken-down Force India of Nico Hulkenberg and puncture victims Romain Grosjean and Paul di Resta.
Lap One: With Nico Rosberg also limping back to the pits following his collision with Grosjean's Lotus, Vettel crosses the line in twentieth position, 15.1 seconds adrift of race leader Lewis Hamilton. After being punted off track at the first corner by the errant Hulkenberg, Bruno Senna is less than one second ahead of the Red Bull.
Lap Two: Rosberg pits, promoting Vettel to nineteenth.
Lap Two: Vettel follows Senna through as the Brazilian passes the HRT of Narain Karthikeyan and then plunges up the inside of the Williams. It is a clumsy, over-optimistic move and Vettel is exclusively culpable for the resultant contact.
"There's damage to my front wing," an animated Vettel reports over his radio but, despite the brief appearance of his pit-crew outside his garage, the team instruct him to stay on track. He ends lap two 15.2 seconds behind Hamilton despite the McLaren driver taking a brief excursion off the track.
Lap Three: The gap to Hamilton climbs to eighteen seconds as the Red Bull team try to determine the extent of the damage on Vettel's car. It doesn't, however, affect the RB8's straight-line speed, and Vettel is able to pass both Senna and Charles Pic in a single swoop along the backstraight.
"There is damage to the right-hand side, we can see it," radios the German's race engineer Rocky Rocquelin. "It's up to you if you want to pit, we're ready for you." Vettel holds his nerve and carries on - crossing the line in sixteenth.
Lap Four: The Caterham of Vitaly Petrov is easy meat to Vettel and, in an extension of the same move, the World Champion out-brakes Timo Glock's Marussia with his fifth on-track overtake of the race to climb to fourteenth. Back in the Red Bull garage, Adrian Newey calculates that the front-wing damage will cost his driver a tenth of a second per lap. He stays out.
Lap Seven: Out of sight from the television cameras, Vettel catches and passes the Caterham of Heikki Kovalainen. The gap to the leaders continues to climb, however - the Red Bull is now 21 seconds behind Hamilton. Red Bull confirm to Ted Kravitz that the broken element is a winglet on the RB8's front-wing endplate.
Lap Nine: The Safety Car is deployed after Rosberg rams into the back of Karthikeyan. Vettel is thus able to attach himself to the pack and, as an additional bonus, promoted to twelfth after Toro Rosso call in Jean-Eric Vergne for an unscheduled early stop.
Lap Twelve: Although the field continues to trail around behind the Safety Car, there's unexpected drama as Vettel is caught unawares by a hard-braking Daniel Ricciardo and is forced into an evasive swerve that sends his RB8 crashing into a DRS marker-board. The result is a thousand pieces of polystyrene and crippling damage to his already-broken front-wing. It's the end of the dilemma: Red Bull have no choice but to pit Vettel at the end of the lap.
Lap Fourteen: Vettel pits for a new nose and a brand-new set tyres. He returns in 21st position, reattaching himself to the pack just in time for the race's resumption.
Lap Fifteen: On fresh rubber, Vettel breezes past Di Resta and the sitting-duck HRT of De la Rosa.
Lap Sixteen: With Charles Pic's Marussia accounted for by both cars along the backstraight, Vettel briefly leads Romain Grosjean but, on the instruction of his Red Bull team, lets the Lotus back past after instigating his move around the Frencham by placing all four wheels over the racing line as they enter the start-finish line.
Lap Seventeen: Second time around and Vettel makes no mistake as he forces his way past Grosjean cleanly - and impressively - at the end of the second DRS zone.
Lap Eighteen: For the second time in the race, Vettel overtakes both Petrov and Glock to reach fifteenth.
Lap Nineteen: Vettel crosses the line 23.5 seconds adrift of Hamilton as speculation begins about whether his tyres are capable of lasting the remaining race distance. If they are, then a high-scoring points-position will surely be in range.
Lap Twenty: Driving the Toro Rosso of Red Bull's junior team, Vergne takes, in the words of race commentator David Croft, "a very wide line into the hairpin", providing Vettel with straightforward passage through to fourteenth and the rear of Kovalainen's Caterham.
Lap Twenty-One: Vettel crosses the line not only ahead of Kovalainen but also in twelfth position as Hamilton retires from the race. Just four seconds of track-time now separates the World Champion from a points-paying position.
Lap Twenty-Two: Without any of the collateral damage of the opening lap, Vettel passes Senna - who, like the rest of the frontrunners before him, has yet to pit - to reach eleventh.
Lap Twenty-Three: While attention is focused on Mark Webber's tangle with Pastor Maldonado, Vettel enters the top-ten for the first time in the race as he passes the second Toro Rosso of Ricciardo.
Lap Twenty-Five: The flagging Schumacher has no defence to Vettel and, with the Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi pitting just as Vettel begins his approach, the Red Bull finds himself as high eighth and just four seconds behind the sister Red Bull following Webber's earlier Maldonado-induced spin.
Lap Twenty-Six Another helpful slice of luck works in Vettel's favour as he is able to drive past a rear-facing Felipe Massa and into seventh after the Ferrari is sent into a smokey spin by an overly-aggressive Webber.
Lap Twenty-Eight: Alonso stops for a new set of tyres, promoting his World Championship rival up to sixth.
Lap Twenty-Nine Both Jenson Button and Pastor Maldonado also pit, propelling Vettel into fourth.
Lap Thirty: After making rapid gains towards the second Red Bull, the question of whether Webber will yield position to his team-mate becomes academic as Red Bull order the Australian to pit. Almost unnoticed, the Sauber of Sergio Perez also pits from second position, leaving the road clear for the World Champion as he crosses the line with only race leader Kimi Raikkonen ahead of him on track.
Lap Thirty-One: Raikkonen pits before returning to the circuit two seconds clear of Vettel. Alonso is a further three seconds further down the road.
Lap Thirty-Four: A relative lull in proceedings is enlivened by the increasingly-urgent questioning of whether Vettel can make it to the end of the race without stopping again. To do so, he'll need to make his set of medium tyres last for over forty laps.
Lap Thirty-Five: Although the significance is not yet apparent, Webber and Perez continue to lose a second per lap whilst tucked up behind the out-of-sequence Di Resta and Grosjean.
Lap Thirty-Six: Pirelli brief Ted Kravitz that they expect Vettel's tyres to reach the end of their shelf-life approximately ten laps before the end of the 55-lap race.
Lap Thirty-Seven: Vettel's radio crackles into life. "Box, box, box." Red Bull have blinked - but it's immediately apparent that the call is a calculated compromise. With Perez and Webber still losing substantial time behind the relatively slow Grosjean and Di Resta, even a slow stop for a set of the soft tyres does not prevent Vettel returning to the track in fourth and comfortably clear of the four-car pack. He is, however, over fifteen seconds behind the third-placed Button and almost half-a-minute adrift of Raikkonen.
Lap Thirty-Nine: Perez triggers mass carnage as he hits Grosjean who in turn rams into the side of Webber. With debris once again strewn across the track, Race Director Whiting deploys the Safety Car for the second time in an hour.
Lap Forty: "I think Sebastian Vettel's middle name must be lucky," comments Martin Brundle as the 25-year-old, running with a brand new set of the softs, cruises up to the rear of Jenson Button's McLaren. The Englishman, like the two drivers ahead of him, is running on the slower but more durable mediums having started the race on the soft compound he set his fastest qualifying time with. "Vettel could win this," predicts the Sky Sports F1 pundit.
Lap Forty-Three: The race resumes with Vettel all over the back of Button. But despite the advantage of fresher rubber, Vettel cannot find a way around the MP4-27.
Lap Forty-Six: Another attempted overtake is rebuffed.
Lap Forty-Eight: And another.
Lap Forty-Nine: Having shadowed the McLaren through the second DRS zone, Vettel takes a look up the inside into Turn Twelve before having second thoughts and pulling out of the move.
Lap Fifty-Two: The job is finally done. With a better exit of turns eight and nine than the McLaren, Vettel tip-toes his way around the outside of the McLaren into the chicane and then holds the position into the right-hander. "It was tough," Vettel later reflects. "I thought I'd get through him a little quicker. It was a hairy move with just a little bit of room, but he behaved very fairly - you can't do that sort of move with all the guys."
Lap Fifty-Five: The race ends with Vettel crossing the line in third, already three seconds clear of Button, and another three seconds behind Alonso. The World Champion's lead of the championship is thus retained with the Spaniard still ten points adrift with two races of the season remaining.
"He just drove an unbelievable race," Red Bull boss Christian Horner enthuses to Sky Sports F1. "He must be the luckiest driver in F1," counters Lewis Hamilton.
Alonso opts to keep his own counsel.