F1 Power Rankings: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

There are only three races to go in the 2012 Formula One World Championship but there are only two drivers still in the hunt for the World Drivers’ Championship. It’s a straight shootout between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso. The German driver has the advantage in both the points and in out right speed from his car. Can Alonso catch him? I examine that and more in this week’s Formula One Power Rankings.

#1 Sebastian Vettel (Last Race #1)
Seb has been too busy winning to make up pre-race quotage worth reading: “In just three years, the race has grown to be one of the highlights of the season. Starting at dusk and finishing in the dark makes it something unique and impressive… The circuit itself is impressive: 5.5km long, with large run-off areas and a pit lane exit that goes through a tunnel to the other side of the track.”

#2 Fernando Alonso (LR #2)
So can Fernando catch Vettel? Well, with Ferrari having issues with its wind tunnel, new upgrades to the F2012 that will improve the performance might be too much to ask. While we know that Fernando is fast, I don’t think he has enough speed to outpace the RB8. The championship will come down to luck and reliability. However, with average temperates at the final three races is in the low to mid-20s (Celcius), it’s unlikely that the RB8’s heat-related reliability issues will pop up. It’s not looking good for Alonso.

#3 Mark Webber (LR #7)
@AussieGrit really likes the visual spectacle of this event. It’s like the Coke 600 except without the emphasis on adjusting the car for track temperature changes: “I like the twilight element to the race – starting in the day and finishing at night. The facilities are world class… The race has a great atmosphere and it looks good on TV for the fans at home. It’s a phenomenal spectacle and I’m looking forward to racing there.”

#4 Jenson Button (LR #3)
Jenson thinks things are pretty even at the front of the grid: “I think this will be another closely matched race: India showed us that the gap between the top three teams is extremely close at the moment, so I wouldn’t like to predict the exact pecking order. As in the last few races, I think Red Bull will go into the weekend with a slight advantage, but I’m confident that, with a clear run through practice, we can be right up there too.”

#5 Felipe Massa (LR #4)
Pirelli motorsports boss Paul Hembery explains why his company does most of its tyre testing at the Yas Marina Circuit: “The reason why we’ve often chosen Abu Dhabi for our testing and for other functions is because it has a bit of everything, which enables each aspect of a tyre’s performance to be thoroughly assessed, and because the track itself features some very modern, state-of-the-art facilities.”

#6 Kimi Raikkonen (LR #5)
The Iceman talks about his last race at Abu Dhabi and tells you what he thinks about the layout: “That was a boring race, I can tell you! I finished the race back in 12th position and there was nothing I could do during the race… The track layout makes it really challenging for overtaking, while there are not too many places to pass. You really have to qualify well to be on the top, and to get a strong result from there.”

#7 Lewis Hamilton (LR #6)
Old Louise Hamilton might the only person who likes this circuit: “It’s a track where you can really push the car, which is what I most enjoy. There are a wide variety of corners – I love the fast sweeps in the first sector – and it’s incredibly satisfying to hook together a good sector through the tricky marina section of the lap. Good mechanical balance makes all the difference here because you’re always changing direction.”

#8 Nico Hulkenberg (LR #9)
Nico officially announced his move to Sauber yesterday. Naturally, he didn’t talk about it in his pre-race quotes for Force India: “I think Abu Dhabi should suit us a bit more than India. It’s a twisty circuit with more low-speed corners and it’s a bit more like Singapore, where we looked quite competitive. So I’m optimistic going there.”

#9 Romain Grosjean (LR #8)
Grosjean talks about the team’s new coanda exhaust system. I don’t know what that means either: “The Coanda exhaust is now much better understood. We have to do some work to try to get better results in low grip conditions, especially in qualifying – which is somewhere that I think we can improve – and then in the race the car is just very, very good as usual. So we will continue working on it and try to get some good results in Abu Dhabi. ”

#10 Daniel Ricciardo (LR #12)
Now you may be asking why I have Danny Boy up this high in the power rankings when he missed the points in the last race. Well, the fact is that he’s been the best driver in terms of consistent points finishes among the 13 drivers not already ranked at this point. Apart from the drivers ranked 1st through 9th, he’s the only driver to score multiple points finishes since the end of the European season. Toro Rosso would be foolish not to re-sign him. Mind you, I said the said the same about Buemi and Alguersuari last year…

#11 Nico Rosberg (LR #10)
Keke’s kid’s quotage makes it sound like Mercedes is officially focusing on 2013: “”The Abu Dhabi race is one of the highlights on the calendar and every year it seems to become better and better. I really enjoy driving the track, particularly with the unusual twilight conditions, and the setting around Yas Marina is very special. On the track, tyre work will again be crucial this weekend. We are working hard on it and our goals this weekend will be to score some points and to learn for next year.”

#12 Michael Schumacher (LR #11)
When Old Seven-Time talks about the facilities at the track rather than the track, you know that Hermann Tilke has designed a winner: “Abu Dhabi is one of the races I look forward to travelling to. The facilities there are state of the art, very modern and very attractive. The timing of the race makes it even more appealing: it’s something quite special and uniquely fun to race from day into night.”

#13 Paul di Resta (LR #14)
Dario’s cousin is most concerned with chasing down Sauber: “Abu Dhabi is a crucial weekend for us. The car was quite strong there last year so there’s every reason to believe that will carry over into this year. Also, it’s the sort of track that has suited us this year so hopefully we can maximise things and get both cars in the points. If we want to get close to Sauber that’s what we need to do.”

#14 Sergio Perez (LR #15)
Checo goes nostalgic on us in his pre-race quotes: “Abu Dhabi is a very special place for me. It was there where I jumped into a Formula One car for the very first time. This was only two years ago, but it feels as if this test took place ages ago. Time goes by very quickly in Formula One. I had worked so hard to get into this cockpit and I remember very well all the special emotions attached to that moment.”

#15 Kamui Kobayashi (LR #13)
Kobayashi Maru has fond memories from his first time at Abu Dhabi: “I find the Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi very exciting because it’s a twilight race, and the only one of the season. It’s very special to start in daylight and then race in the dark. This creates a really unique atmosphere, which I like. For me Abu Dhabi is a special race anyway because it was only my second Grand Prix back in 2009, and actually a very good one as I was able to score points.”

#16 Jean-Eric Vergne (LR #17)
JEV notes that there’s a re-learning curve for circuits he’s visited in lower formulae: “I’ve raced on tracks I didn’t know at all in the past few races and that’s made things a little more complicated. And even when I’ve been to a circuit in the lower categories, it’s much different in F1. It’s no problem to learn a circuit, but to feel totally comfortable on a track in F1 is another thing.”

#17 Bruno Senna (LR #16)
Bruno says his car is good on the brakes but crap in slow corners. That doesn’t make much sense to me: “Abu Dhabi could be an interesting track for us. It has a large number of slow corners which has not traditionally suited our car, but it is also hard on brakes and that is an area where our car has been very strong all year. We have had a lot of updates to the car recently so hopefully we can have one of those trouble free weekends where everything comes together and we can be competitive.”

#18 Pastor Maldonado (LR #18)
Pastor is the only one who wants to talk about the unique circumstances of racing at the Yas Marina Circuit: “The race throws up some unique challenges because we start off driving in hot daytime conditions, but then the sun goes down and the temperature drops quickly. You therefore have to find a set up that balances these different conditions. The track also changes a lot each day and there is quite a lot of sand on the track surface which you have to deal with.”

#19 Heikki Kovalainen (LR #19)
Heikki has a personal anecdote for us this week: “As my girlfriend’s parents now live in Abu Dhabi we’ve spent quite a bit of time this year and as well as being a good place to race it’s also really good for the time off between Grands Prix. The weather makes training easy and there are several good golf courses where I can keep working on lowering my handicap so it’s somewhere I really like going to.”

#20 Vitaly Petrov (LR #21)
Petrov talks about the importance of braking at Abu Dhabi: “I really like Abu Dhabi. There’s always strong support from Russian fans around the track and the circuit itself is a good technical challenge where one of the most important areas we’ll be working on is braking stability. You can make up a lot of time if you can really attack the braking zones, particularly into turns eight and eleven after the two longest straights, so we’ll be working hard on that in the practice sessions.”

#21 Timo Glock (LR #20)
Has Tim O’Glock been told he won’t be back next year? He just hasn’t had the same joie de vie that he’s had in the past: “Abu Dhabi is a special race. It’s like a night race but with the added factor of starting the race in full daylight, but being dark by the time we finish. So it’s something different and very impressive to be out on the track when the light is changing and the track is fully lit at the end.”

#22 Charles Pic (LR #22)
Chuckie’s focus is on Friday and Saturday work to protect 10th place in the World Constructors’ Championship on Sunday: “If we can perform at least as well as we did [in India] on race day, I will be happy, but the wider objective continues to be to catch up to Caterham, which is now within our sights. We also need to work on our preparation on Friday and Saturday as we need that improvement to put us in the best possible position for the race.”

#23 Pedro de la Rosa (LR #23)
Pedro suffered a brake failure in India and is justifiably worried about it happening again this weekend: “The Yas Marina is a circuit where braking, maximum speed and grip are essential and it’s very smooth so you can be aggressive with the height and bring out a very low car…  It will be another tough challenge for our brakes so it’s very important to understand what happened in India, fix it and try to finish the race.”

#24 Narain Karthikeyan (LR #24)
I didn’t know this but apparently the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is a second home race for Indian drivers: “I’ve never been to Abu Dhabi; it will be my first time racing there and I hope to adapt well to do the best job possible. The circuit looks fantastic and there will also be a lot of Indian fans spurring me on which is always helpful. After finishing the Indian Grand Prix in front of my home crowd I’m determined to complete another good weekend in Abu Dhabi.”

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