Fernando Alonso was right: the pressure is all on the shoulders of whoever is behind and is forced to chase and can't miss a move. But when the Spaniard said that he was leading the World Championship, and he smiled in amusement at the spectacle of a Red Bull Racing in an apparent state of confusion. Now the roles have reversed, and in Maranello no one smiles anymore, indeed many are scanning the horizon, worried by a Ferrari team that seems on the verge of a nervous breakdown. With one of the most energetic interventions that can be remembered under his management, Stefano Domenicali, in India, prevented the team from disuniting by intoxicating itself with the dross of an inopportune internal controversy (triggered by an ambiguous sentence from a nervous Alonso, to which part of the team reacted wildly through a statement from technical director Pat Fry). Now everyone is trying to find serenity and postpone the day of clarification to an hour after the end of the World Championship. And so it's all a proliferation of relaxing statements. Fernando Alonso responded personally to the flood of honey entrusted by Ferrari to social networks after the race, with a circumstantial denial: it is not true that he wanted to post a tweet in which he complained about the absence of important developments on his Ferrari. Peace made, then? Only in part, because it's enough to scratch a little under the pre-packaged statements to see the obvious signs of a wound that hasn't healed. Just see how pilots and engineers have been armoured (more than usual) to avoid contacts - unwelcome in this phase of confusion - with journalists (especially Spanish). The FIA itself seems to have sensed the ferment bubbling in the Ferrari garage, and to give a little interest to the weekend, it has summoned for the Friday press conference the man who at the moment is at the epicentre of the small earthquake: Pat Fry, from whom some relaxing and, hopefully, conclusive words are expected, if not sincere. The situation is otherwise very delicate. The Abu Dhabi race has enormous strategic importance in the plans drawn up by Alonso to get back into the race for the world championship. The circuit - inaugurated in 2010 with the dramatic night of the title given to Vettel - is not favourable to Ferrari and, moreover, due to its conformation, it does not allow many overtaking. Considering that Ferrari's weak point is precisely that of never being able to start from the lead, one can understand how the goal indicated by Alonso (to stay close to Vettel to play for it in the following two races, in Austin but above all in Brazil) is very ambitious. Almost everything will depend on the famous developments. In other words, the updates and aerodynamic improvements that the Scuderia will be able to bring to the track here in the Emirates. Fernando Alonso had said the Thursday before the Indian Grand Prix, to those who asked him to evaluate the pieces brought to the track:
"Enough talk. We need facts".
And the facts have shown that Maranello's efforts were not enough. Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber (surpassed only because he had broken the Kers) were from another planet. Now Ferrari tries again:
"We will bring developments both to Abu Dhabi and to America".
Pat Fry himself says, omitting the rest of his thoughts:
"Praying they work".
In any case, Fernando Alonso has no intention of reducing his ambitions: to regain the first position in the World Championship lost to Sebastian Vettel, who has leapt to the lead thanks to four successes in the last four races in the East, overtaking the Spaniard, also thanks to two accidents in which the Ferrari driver was involved despite himself.
"There are still three races to go and the championship is still our main objective".
Fernando Alonso confirms, on the eve of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, his and Ferrari's only objective: to recover the first position in the Drivers' World Championship lost to Sebastian Vettel.
"We need to recover and it would be nice to finish ahead of Sebastian in Abu Dhabi regardless of position. And if I win it will be even better. But for this we need to take a step forward. At the moment we are not strong enough to win. I hope we can make some changes to the car and improve its competitiveness and get closer to Red Bull on both Saturday and Sunday. We believe in our means and have faith in the team and in the work we do. We have shown that we never give up and know how to fight to the end. When things get stressful and difficult, we can still give the 100%: The team has a long history of battling for the World Championships. Everyone is very motivated and, in India, we have seen some positive signs in terms of pace compared to Red Bull, although we need to gain another couple of tenths, particularly on Saturday. We have some updates here though, and more to come in the US. The season has had its ups and downs and we have seen a streak of four consecutive races for Red Bull, so I think sooner or later it will have to have a dip as well".
As for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the Ferrari driver is confident in the right combination of factors to achieve a good result.
"We have tried to prepare for this race as best we could. We have some new parts that we will evaluate tomorrow. We don't plan to completely close the gap to Red Bulls, just five days away between India and Abu Dhabi. There is no magic component in Formula 1, but we are trying to put them under pressure, after they have had four easy races. We want to be close enough to them, capitalizing on their every little mistake, while we have to be perfect in these next three race weekends. A mechanical failure is always in the air, and that goes for them as well as for us. We have to make sure we have a very strong car, so that we can do all three of the final races without mechanical problems. We know that Red Bull can be slightly more fragile, as demonstrated by Webber's KERS problem in India, so we have to press them and be at the limit, because if Vettel had had that problem, no one would have noticed as he was ten seconds ahead".
Inevitably, the subject of the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is also touched upon, when Fernando Alonso looked set to take the title right at the final round, but failed to clear the final hurdle, stuck behind a slower car.
"We're not thinking about the race held here in 2010, when we lost the Championship: this year we want to win the World Championship at the last race in Brazil. Thanks to Kers and DRS, the situation of 2010, which cost me the title by staying stuck behind another car for too long, should never repeat itself. In the last two years we've seen how these solutions have made the races more exciting, spiced up with a lot of overtaking".
Finally, it was time for Fernando to deny the hypothesis raised by the media of an argument the driver himself had with the team's Technical Director.
"A discussion with Pat Fry after the race in India? A nice invention by someone from the Italian press. Honestly, he was also very creative! Sooner or later, I'll talk to him to understand how he invented this story. We know, and it's a fact, that we are slower than Red Bulls: we all agree, me, the team, our fans, everyone knows it. We are very united in our efforts to resolve this situation".
Arriving at the decisive challenge, Fernando Alonso disguises himself as a samurai, filling his twitter profile with haiku and quotes on a Japanese military theme. Why?
"Simple, because samurai are fighters. Like me. They are those warriors who face an enemy with firearms with sharp swords. And if they don't have swords, they know how to use their hands, their teeth, their shoulders…".
Exactly like him. Who finds himself in Yas Marina facing in a duel with a final flavor an enemy equipped with an extraordinary weapon, the Red Bull Racing of this season finale, as fast and reliable as ever. And so he has to make do as he can, trying to use everything he has available. Talent, character, psychology, fate. And we can swear, as long as he has a glimmer, even the slightest, the Alonso who saw himself battling in India will do everything to put the nose of his car in front of that of Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull Racing. Yes, because, regardless of the final standings, the Spaniard's goal is exactly this. He still arrive before Sebastian Vettel. Don't lose any more points, in view of the last two races which should be more favorable to Ferrari. Partly because of the circuits, hopefully more suited to the characteristics of the red, partly because in the meantime other important updates to the car should arrive from Maranello. But Fernando Alonso explains to those who ask him what news he expects to find.
"You can't radically change a car in five days".
Apparently, however, already here in Abu Dhabi a new rear wing should make its debut on which a lot of focus is placed in Maranello. Maybe they don't think they'll reach Red Bull's level of performance, but sure they'll get a little closer than in the past.
"We have to keep up with them, we have to let them feel our pressure. We know their car is very fast but also that it's a bit fragile, we have to try to stress them as much as possible".
It is a fundamental theme, that of reliability. So much so that just as Fernando Alonso talks to journalists about his samurai, nearby Sebastian Vettel says he is worried.
"Of course we are ahead and I am very happy. But if you go to review the Indian Grand Prix, well... in the last few laps we had sparks from the back of the car. It was nothing serious, but it's good that those sparks remind us how vulnerable we are and push us not to make a mistake".
In other words, message received. The other fundamental theme, in this phase, is that of the nerves. They must be as spread out as possible. Fernando Alonso knows it well, just as he knows well that the team is coming out of a complicated week in terms of internal relations. So when the Spanish and English journalists ask him to go back to the internal controversies that arose immediately after the Indian Grand Prix, he attacks:
"A nice invention of the Italian media. When you're fighting for the title, there's always someone ready to destabilize, usually from abroad, this time from Italy. But the truth is, everything is fine".
In reality, Alonso is well aware that something has happened within the team. And he is well aware that the first to admit it was the team principal, Stefano Domenicali:
"We are good at hurting ourselves".
But the need for tranquility, right now, comes first. And then the best thing is to find a good enemy against which to compact the team. Friday 2 November 2012, during the first practice session, the two McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button are the fastest cars. Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso follow. All the riders test with the Medium tyres. Van der Garde does not score timed times, due to a problem with the engine of his car. In the first free practice session, Valtteri Bottas takes the place of Bruno Senna at Williams, Giedo van der Garde that of Vitalij Petrov at Caterham, Ma Qinghua replaces Narain Karthikeyan at HRT, Jules Bianchi replaces Paul di Resta at Force India, while Max Chilton takes the car of Charles Pic at Marussia. For Chilton, who finished fourth in GP2, it was his debut in a weekend in the Formula 1 world championship. In the second session on Friday, the drivers tested the Soft tires and Sebastian Vettel set the fastest time. The German precedes the two McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. Mark Webber marks the fourth fastest time, despite being penalized by a problem at Kers which forces him to make a pit stop. Sebastian Vettel immediately raises his voice. It is Red Bull Racing's reigning World Champion fastest car in the second free practice of the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix. The Ferrari of Fernando Alonso finished with the seventh fastest time, ahead of his teammate, Felipe Massa.
"The one that just ended was a Friday like many others, in which we did everything on the schedule. The track has changed a lot, as was to be expected, because there aren't many races held here during the weekend: at the beginning we found it very dirty but then it improved considerably and tomorrow it will certainly be in even better condition".
Tell Fernando Alonso at the end of the day. While Felipe Massa reiterates:
"We did everything in our work programme, which is always positive, both in the first and second free practice sessions".
He picks up where he left off. From a Red Bull Racing that travels 0.8 seconds faster than the Ferrari and from a team, that of Maranello, which tries in every way to shorten the distance. What could turn out to be the most important weekend of the season doesn't exactly start in the best way for Fernando Alonso. Finally, as he strongly requested in recent weeks, the engineers from Maranello managed to send him some new parts that seem to work, and yet the gap from the top of the class has remained intact compared to Friday in New Delhi, indeed, it has even increased. And yet, at least in words, there is a little more optimism compared to the previous races. Pat Fry, Ferrari's technical director, reassures:
"Some of the solutions we have brought for this race seem to work when we brought the innovations planned for the final part of the season to Singapore, we immediately realized that they wouldn't work and we understood that we would have to suffer. Today, however, the results were more comforting and therefore the situation is undoubtedly more promising".
As always, however, a distinction must be made. On the one hand there is the race pace, on which Ferrari has felt most confident since the beginning of the year and on which Fernando Alonso has built his fortune.
On the other hand, there is the old weak point of the Maranello car, the fast lap, what is needed in qualifying to start in front, not risk being involved in the typical clashes in the center of the grid and prevent the usual fugitives from having the classic comfortable race. Especially on circuits like Abu Dhabi where overtaking is difficult. Pat Fry continues:
"It is undeniable that we are trying to do everything possible to improve in qualifying. Our race pace is good. But on the fast lap we have to keep pushing".
The mechanics of the Maranello team know something about this, having used one of the four jokers granted annually by the Federation to those teams that need to stay at the circuit longer than allowed by employee employment agreements. Twenty hours and thirty minutes of uninterrupted work on the two machines. Some kind of record. Which, hopefully, will bear fruit already this morning during qualifying. Ferrari matters a lot to us. Just as he counts a lot on the contribution that McLaren promises to make in the hunt for Red Bull Racing. Suddenly, in fact, the British cars started to be competitive again. Lewis Hamilton's times are very similar to those of Seastian Vettel, and the same goes for Jenson Button. Their rapprochement could be the real extra weapon in the hands of the samurai Alonso. Which, in obedience to a happy omen, does not lack words of appreciation for his old rival, Lewis Hamilton. Psychology, the Spaniard is convinced, in these moments can be as important as a new wing. Or maybe even more. Saturday 3 November 2012 Lewis Hamilton sets the fastest time during the third practice session. The British driver precedes his teammate, Jenson Button. Sebastian Vettel, after waiting 56 minutes in the pits due to a technical problem with the braking system, set his only valid time in the final minutes of the session. The Ferraris remain further behind. A few hours later, Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time in Q1, followed by the second fastest time set by Nico Rosberg. Sebastian Vettel touches a guardrail, and finishes in eighth position. Jean-Éric Vergne also spun and was eliminated together with the Caterham drivers, Heikki Kovalainen and Vitalij Petrov, the Marussia drivers, Timo Glock and Charles Pic, and the HRT drivers, Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Kartikeyan. In the second phase all the drivers switch to the use of Soft tyres. Lewis Hamilton again set the best time, followed by the two Red Bull Racings of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel. The two Force India drivers, Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta, the two of Sauber, Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi, Michael Schumacher, Bruno Senna and Daniel Ricciardo are eliminated. Lewis Hamilton took pole in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the third to last round of the Formula 1 World Championship. The McLaren driver, reiterating his brilliance also highlighted in practice, conquered the 25th pole position in his career. The Briton will start from the front row joined by Mark Webber's Red Bull Racing. Sebastian Vettel highlighted some problems, making some small mistakes, but still won the second row, flanked by Pastor Maldonado's Williams. Fernando Alonso instead does not go beyond the fourth row: seventh time for the Spaniard, who will start behind Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button.
"The reality is that we did the best we could, we reached the limit of what we had in hand".
Comment Fernando Alonso.
"All the new parts worked, they improved the car but the others don't stay at home watching TV, they improve too and if you're behind you tend to carry that deficit for a while. We have to think about tomorrow, qualifying is always our weak point but on Sunday we have a good race pace. We have to be optimistic and see what happens, the races are long and our goal remains to score fourteen points more than Vettel in three races".
Then, a twist in Abu Dhabi, good news for Fernando Alonso and Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel will start from the last position on the starting grid. The penalty for the German driver, third after the official practice, was decided for having used an insufficient amount of fuel in qualifying. Alonso, who had closed the session with the seventh fastest time, moved up to sixth place on the third row. The German shut down the Renault engine of his Red Bull Racing and parked the car on the side of the track at the end of the practice session. Vettel was placed under investigation by the marshals who found only 850 ml of petrol in the tank against the liter which by regulation must remain when the car returns to the pits, for possible analysis. The World Championship leader is relegated to the back of the grid and, by team decision, will start from the pit lane: this will allow the team to make some changes to the setup of the German driver's car. The front row remains unchanged, with Lewis Hamilton ahead of fellow Red Bull Racing driver Mark Webber. Behind them, on the second row, will be the Williams of Pastor Maldonado and the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen, the only other driver who, theoretically, could still enter the fight for the world title. In front of Fernando Alonso, in fifth position, Jenson Button will start in the second McLaren. Sunday 4 November 2012, before the warm-up lap a technical problem blocked the HRT of Pedro de la Rosa, who had to start from the pit lane following Sebastian Vettel. At the start of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton maintains the first position, ahead of Kimi Räikkönen, Pastor Maldonado and Mark Webber. Shortly after, Fernando Alonso also manages to pass the Australian Red Bull Racing driver. In the rear there is a contact between Bruno Senna and Nico Hülkenberg, while Romain Grosjean and Paul di Resta suffer a puncture. Sebastian Vettel, who started from the pit lane, also damaged his front wing in the early laps in contact with Bruno Senna. During lap 8 there is an accident between Narain Karthikeyan's HRT and Nico Rosberg's Mercedes: the German's car hits the Indian's, then taking off over the HRT. The race direction decides to let the safety car onto the track. During the period with the safety car on the track, Sebastian Vettel, who had already climbed up to twelfth position, hit the start signal panel of the second DRS zone to avoid contact with Daniel Ricciardo. Shortly afterwards the German returned to the pits, replaced the front wing and put on Soft tyres, dropping back again to twenty-first position.
At the restart, Lewis Hamilton maintained first position while, in the rear, Sebastian Vettel continued to chase Romain Grosjean and climbed to eighteenth position, overtaking the line that determines the track: for this reason, the German returned the position but, shortly after, was able to overtake the French again. During lap 20 Lewis Hamilton, calm leader of the race, was forced to retire due to a technical failure. In the meantime Pastor Maldonado starts having trouble with the tires and during the 21st lap Fernando Alonso takes second place. The Spaniard is six seconds behind Kimi Raikkonen, now race leader. Two laps later Mark Webber also attempted to overtake the Venezuelan, but the two cars collided and the Australian spun, dropping to seventh place behind Sergio Pérez. During lap 24 Jenson Button passed Pastor Maldonado at the same time as an impeccable Sergio Pérez got the better of Felipe Massa, and moved up to fifth place. Sebastian Vettel meanwhile climbs up to eighth place. The German gains a further position on lap 26, when Mark Webber collides with the car of Felipe Massa. The Brazilian spun and lost three positions. During lap 29, Sergio Pérez also passed Pastor Maldonado and moved up to provisional third place, before making his pit stop. Between lap 28 and lap 32 all the drivers in the top ten pitted to change tyres: Kimi Räikkönen remained in first position, ahead of Sebastian Vettel, who had been on Soft tires since lap 13, followed by Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button, Romain Grosjean, Paul di Resta, Sergio Pérez, Mark Webber and Pastor Maldonado. Sebastian Vettel changed tires on lap 37, put on Soft tires and rejoined the track in fourth place, ahead of the group of cars preceded by Romain Grosjean, who also stopped in the early stages of the race like Paul di Resta. During lap 38, Paul di Resta attacks the Frenchman, and Sergio Pérez also tries to take advantage, but goes wide and rejoins the track, hitting Romain Grosjean's car which, in turn, involves Mark Webber. The latter two are forced to retire. The race direction sends the safety car back to the track. This allows Sebastian Vettel to close the distance to the top three of the race to zero. In the closing laps, Fernando Alonso puts pressure on Kimi Räikkönen, as did Sebastian Vettel pressuring Jenson Button. With four laps to go, Sebastian Vettel passed Jenson Button and took third place.
Kimi Räikkönen wins the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, beating Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel. For the Lotus F1 Team it is the first victory since the change of name, while for the Lotus name, also considering the victories of the historic Team Lotus, active from 1958 to 1994, it is the 80th world success, the first since the 1987 United States Grand Prix, achieved at the time by Ayrton Senna. McLaren, thanks to Jenson Button's fourth place, conquers the new record for consecutive points finishes for a constructor: 56. Red Bull Racing does not get the points necessary to mathematically win the Constructors' World Championship. The Kimi Raikkonen Show had already begun before the finish line, when the incautious Lotus race engineer, glimpsing the prospect of his first victory of the season, had begun to press him by reading the gaps from Fernando Alonso. But Kimi immediately interrupted him, saying:
"Okay, now call it quits, and let me drive in peace".
After a while, with the finish line now in his sights and the adrenaline beyond the danger levels, the engineer tried again:
"Pay attention to the temperature of the tyres".
But Kimi replied:
"I've been paying attention throughout the race, there's absolutely no need to remind me".
Thus putting an end to radio communications. It is difficult to say how much Formula 1 missed Kimi Raikkonen, with his digression into the world of Rally. Suffice it to say that his return to victory covered the news of Lotus' return to victory (Ayrton Senna's team that hadn't won since 1987). But now he's here again, with his Baltic irony, involuntary and misunderstood (first of all by him), with his non-existent and sincere answers to the point of rudeness. And he promises to stay there for a long time. And so there he was, free to mistreat the entire circus, while thinking about which bottle of vodka to sacrifice to celebrate his victory number 19 (the last time at Spa 2009, with Ferrari) mocking the journalist who still persists with the normal questions. Kimi, people want to know: how good is it for you to win in F1 again?
"Not too much, actually. I have to say in the past they said I didn't smile and now I make the same mistake. I'm happy for the team, and I hope it motivates everyone and sets us up for more good races in the future".
Button and a race to forget - Jenson Button lost the podium in the final part of the race, when he was overtaken by Sebastian Vettel.
"It wasn't a great race. I am happy, but the final result wasn't great, I couldn't keep up with Fernando and I couldn't keep up with Vettel who had new tyres".
Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso recovers three points on his rival, Sebastian Vettel, in the race for the World Championship, but never misses an opportunity to spur on the team:
"I'm happy. We weren't super competitive over the course of the weekend. I had to fight in the first laps, I made some overtaking, the strategy was good. I tried to attack Kimi but this was the best result I could achieve today. We have to fight until the end. In short, second place is the best result I could get starting from the third row".
Fernando Alonso is exhausted: 55 breathless laps in the middle of the desert have drained his strength. He also struggles to drink from the bottle of water that an FIA official hands him. Yet he doesn't give up, and even in the press conference he continues his psychological work to the detriment of poor Vettel who, exhausted too, no longer reacts.
"Do you think Vettel was unlucky in this race? I don't think so. In my opinion he is indeed a lucky man. Everything that has happened to him thus far has happened to him on a Friday or a Saturday. On Sunday, however, when points are awarded, things have always gone well for him. Let's talk about it when something goes wrong on Sunday…".
Taking stock, therefore, it went well.
"Yes, it was a perfect Sunday. Perfect race, perfect strategy, perfect pit stops".
But overall the car did not convince.
"No. The car never had the right pace over the weekend. For this reason, a second place on Sunday means that everything was perfect. We did our best and fought for the win, it was a surprise".
With Vettel starting from the pit lane Ferrari only recovered three points, is he disappointed?
"Honestly, I'm more focused on our race than on Vettel's or on the calculations for the standings. However, our simulations the day before gave us a maximum of fifth or sixth position. We should have taken eight or ten points. Not more. Regardless of Vettel. He was good. He got the most out of free track situations and was then helped by the safety car which always brought the group back together, eliminating the gaps in the most important moments".
With ten points behind you and only two races to go, do you feel doomed to win at least one?
"Of course it would help. But honestly I don't think it will be fundamental".
Did the developments you brought work?
"Yes, they worked, but we're talking about an advantage of hundredths of a second, when the gap to the person in front of us is at least 0.2 seconds. And as long as our rivals also bring something that works, the distances don't change in the end".
"So we have to keep working in Maranello. Much. Day and night. And keep bringing new parts. And try to be optimistic".
Who will win the World Championship?
"I am very confident. We will fight to the end. Ok, we're not fast enough and that's true. And we have to be honest with ourselves, we have to accept that. Our weak point right now is performance. But to be honest we must admit that we also have strengths and we must have the intelligence to leverage those. I think if we can stay ahead of Vettel in the next two races we still have a chance".
Finally to the podium: this was the race for Sebastian Vettel, leader of the World Championship but with only ten points ahead of Fernando Alonso. The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix showed us one of the most incredible comebacks in the history of F1, certainly facilitated by the two entries of the Safety car and the technical retirement of poor Lewis Hamilton (he was in the lead like in Singapore...), but still incredible.
"At one point I even hoped to win. After the first laps it was difficult because I started badly, I damaged the wing, the safety came in, I made a mistake, we decided to change strategy and then the race was fantastic. The second safety helped me, then I made a very difficult overtaking on Button, I had to fight, I passed him at turn 11, he was very correct. The title? There are still two races, things can change, if I had started third today it would have been different, I'm proud of that what I did, the car is incredibly fast, I believe in the title. I was hoping for the podium to be honest, but I managed to pass Button who was very correct".
While the Ferrari team principal, Stefano Domenicali, says:
"Vettel had the safety car which made the race easier for him. I have to say that you can't complain about today's fate. Alonso has recovered three points, there are two races to go, the important thing is to believe in it all the way, the important thing is to stay there, we have to work well in these weeks, it's not over yet, Vettel had a good race and took advantage of the right moments".
A comeback that kept everyone in suspense and which slightly overshadowed Kimi Raikkonen's first victory with the Lotus, but which failed instead to overshadow the beautiful, indeed amazing, race of Fernando Alonso, second. A second place conquered with strength, a (usually) good start and many fast laps which in the end led him to the final assault by Kimi Raikkonen, just when he was now close to the checkered flag. This is why there is talk of a reopened World Championship, even if a ten-point lead with only two races to go is a lot: with such a strong Fernando Alonso (as Christian Horner also admitted) anything can really happen. That's the beauty of racing, you know. But when a rider is so stubborn, fast and pushes to the end, against everyone and everything, it is more than legitimate to speak of a reopened World Championship. So in the last two races there will be a championship within the championship, with Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso who will have to give everything without ever risking anything: the first one who gets something wrong will probably give away the title to the other. A final therefore to be seen, with Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen ready to do everything to win. On the other hand, nothing can be expected from the second drivers: in Abu Dhabi the gap between the top drivers and their teammates appeared immense: Felipe Massa, Jenson Button and Mark Webber were responsible for ridiculous performances, at least in relation to those of their colleagues. You know, when a world championship is at stake, things get tough, but seeing such compliant riders is impressive. A spin in the middle of a duel with Mark Webber compromised Felipe Massa's race:
"Webber tried to overtake me on the outside, then I tried on the inside, he touched the curbs, he came back into the middle of the track with a maneuver at the limit, I don't even know if we touched, but the spin started from there. I missed a good opportunity for the race. I tried to recover but I couldn't have the ideal traction to overtake Kobayashi".
Finally, speaking of impressions, we cannot forget as if nothing had happened the crazy accident on lap nine between Narain Karthikeyan and Nico Rosberg, with the latter literally flying over the HRT. Luckily no consequences for the two drivers but - once again - we witnessed an F1 that grazes a driver's helmet. What do we have to wait to have something that improves the safety of the pilots, a worldwide beheading? And above all, has the World Championship really reopened or is it just an illusion, a feint of fate? many wonder in the paddock, while in the evening the DHL men dismantle the circus, thus returning the island of Yas Marina to its desert. But it is a wrong question, and therefore there can be no right answer. The truth is that the 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix - the most beautiful race in recent years - delivered another, much higher and more important verdict: whoever between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso manages to win this incredible World Championship, they will have deserved it. Take Vettel for example. On Saturday evening they informed him that he would have started from the pit lane due to a foolishness committed by his team (they had put too little petrol in his tank and therefore he was found underweight). He shrugged and told reporters that in his opinion, problems in sport are opportunities. During the night he had the settings of the car changed. Then he got on the Red Bull Racing, lowered his visor and started to recover. Very fast, mean, hungry, to use his word. In short, splendid. Ok, for heaven's sake, also lucky and facilitated by two safety cars that came out at the ideal moments and by the two Toro Rossos (which indecorously avoided the passage of the Red Bull, and it's no coincidence). But terrifying in never giving up, in always biting opponent and track, and in climbing in a climb from last to third place. A third place conquered and consecrated with a manhunt-style overtaking against a Jenson Button who couldn't handle the pressure. Fernando Alonso, however, was not outdone. On the contrary. Perhaps given the assumptions - the aerodynamic, technological, mechanical and existential inferiority of his Ferrari - his performance takes on even more heroic contours. Fernando started sixth, and in the end he finished second, carrying out a greater number of real overtakings than his opponent, three: Maldonado, Button and Webber, three maneuvers at the limit, perfect in terms of technique and timing. Which allowed him to conquer second position, to defend himself from the arrival of the enraged Vettel and to conquer three important points, certainly not fundamental, for the World Championship.
Between two Sunday, November 18, 2012 we go to Austin, Texas, where Sebastian Vettel will play the first match point. Were he to earn more than 15 points over Fernando Alonso it would officially be his third victory in three years. But it won't be easy. For the United States Grand Prix, a package of novelties is ready from Maranello. But now a lot, almost everything, will depend on how the most delicate moments of the next two races are managed and on the contribution that the respective teammates will be able to give to the first two drivers (in terms of points stolen from the competition). And here both Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel seem to be in bad shape. Felipe Massa has fallen back into his competitive half-sleep. Worse than him Mark Webber. Who refused to follow the team order, and was called to the pits for no reason, ruining the race for him so as not to ruin it for Sebastian Vettel. In short, the impression is that, more than on them, whoever wants to win the World Championship will have to count on the external help of Kimi Raikkonen, who returned to victory, and Lewis Hamilton, who missed out on victory due to the fragility of his car. Do you remember the classic calculations that are made at the end of the season? Does the driver win the World Championship if he finishes second twice and the other does not place, or does the competitor win, etc.? Here, all this no longer applies: in the case of Fernando Alonso, he wins the World Championship only if he is ahead of Sebastian Vettel. That is, if he wins the last two Grands Prix. A sort of condemnation, given the monstrous performances of this end-of-season Red Bull Racing, which progressed like never before to bring Sebastian Vettel to the top of the world with two races to go. In fact, a fast car like the Red Bull finishes third if it starts last, and therefore there is little hope if the Spanish driver thinks he can do it with a podium or a placement. Yet there is another possibility. And it's also quite concrete: that the Red Bull Racing team makes some mistakes.
The race at Yas Marina, on the other hand, showed a real sampling of woes, resolved with a fair amount of luck. First the team's mistake in putting on petrol, then Sebastian Vettel's double accident which resolved without consequences: the touch at the start and then the demolition of the billboard signaling the possibility of using the DRS under the safety car. It's true that the collision at the start was slight, the billboard was made of polystyrene, but this season those blessed ailerons have always blown away to pieces at the slightest impact. And such resistance had never really been seen. In any case Vettel, despite having driven like a champion, still made two mistakes in the end. It must be admitted. Will he be wrong again? Mystery. However, there are those who do not give up and believe in the comeback: and it is the president Luca Montezemolo who says:
"I am the first to believe it. It was a difficult weekend to interpret starting from Saturday evening when I witnessed an unclear situation regarding Ferrari. I want to understand why the technical innovations we brought to the track only partially improved the performance of the F2012 and in any case insufficient to allow Alonso to fight for the very first positions in qualifying despite the different expectations of our own engineers".
Says the president of Ferrari, before highlighting the merits of the Spanish driver.
“Yesterday Fernando unleashed his umpteenth great race of the season, in which he gave his 120% again and still managed to fight until the end for the victory but it is clear that we need to do more for the next races. This is what I asked Domenicali and his men today: we have ten crucial days ahead, in which we must do everything to show up in Texas with a car capable of aiming for victory".
Then, looking at the next Grand Prix, Montezemolo says:
"Words are zero: this must be our goal".
Recovering ten points in two races is a feat.
"However, I remain confident because anything is possible. It depends on us: once again in the last fifteen years we have come to fight for the title right to the end and we have seen how far more difficult situations in the standings have then been reversed. It is up to us to leave no stone unturned: I am sure that the desire to win drives all the men and women of Ferrari and that everyone will work with absolute determination, giving the 120% that Fernando continues to give".
Ten points in ten days, orders Montezemolo the day after Abu Dhabi. Because there are so many - ten days - until the start of the next United States Grand Prix. In reality, the president of Ferrari is wrong. Because the Grand Prix has already begun. The first to move was Sebastian Vettel who will play his first match point of the season in America: if he were to increase the gap from Fernando Alonso by another 15 points, then it would be mathematically impossible to close. And his move was to anticipate the track designed by the Americans for their brand new event and immediately build a small threat to their direct opponents. He tells the German sod:
"I tried the circuit of the Americas on the simulator, and I really liked it, it seems to me a happy cross between the Indian and Korean circuits".
Two tracks evidently chosen not by chance, given that his Red Bull won on both this year, dominating the entire weekend. A form of pre-tactic to increase the pressure on the adversary, ie Ferrari which, to tell the truth, seems to be holding the pressure better than the Red Bull Racing team.
"Based on the assumption that Austin is currently a mystery to everyone and that simulations are one thing and reality is one thing, the American one seems to me full of copies of many other circuits, and therefore it is indefinable".
Stefano Domenicali's answer, who really doesn't get upset by so little. The Ferrari team principal prefers to try to follow up on the words used by Montezemolo in the usual Monday meeting in Maranello.
"I want to understand why the technical innovations we have brought to the track have only partially improved performance, despite the different expectations of the engineers themselves. We have to do everything to go to Texas with a car capable of aiming for victory".
The engineers are trying to fulfil the Ferrari president's wish, even if it's not easy. Times are tight and the machine has already completed the development cycle foreseen by the original projects. If the performances are not as expected it is because many of these developments have not worked. However, there will certainly be some new pieces in Austin (and there will be some, even if much less relevant, in Brazil as well). The hope is that on a track different from the - notoriously hostile - Abu Dhabi one, even the components brought to the last race will give a decidedly better response. This expectation is encouraged by what happened to McLaren: in the last few races it had suffered a lot but when it arrived in Abu Dhabi the exact same car was the fastest on the track. A sign that by now all the single-seaters are so much developed that unpredictable details can quickly change the whole scenario.