Fernando Alonso doesn’t have fond memories of driving the Yas Marina circuit, especially when in a race for a Driver’s Championship. Two years ago he went from the championship leader to an also ran in the time it took for the sun to set in the Middle East.
Not that he wasn’t the favourite. The Spaniard had worked his way into a solid 8 point lead over Mark Webber after a late season burst of podiums. Further back in the race was the other Red Bull man of Sebastian Vettel, 15 points behind Fernando, while Lewis Hamilton was still mathematically in with a shout too – but being 24 points behind meant that it was all but over for him. Still, the first ever 4-way title battle was upon us, and it didn’t disappoint.
Vettel stuck it on pole position to take first blood, while Alonso could only manage 3rd. A top two result would take the crown for the Ferrari man though, so all was not lost. Hamilton was on the front row in 2nd place, and Webber, Alonso’s main challenger, lined up 5th. Jenson Button was 4th, his challenge ended a few races before.
The opening lap was a chaotic affair. Michael Schumacher spun in an attempt to pass team-mate Nico Rosberg, which caused him to spin and face oncoming traffic. Vitantonio Luizzi had nowhere to go, and rode up the Mercedes to park his Force India firmly on top of Schumacher’s car. Safety Car deployed, many took the opportunity to make their pitstop, including Rosberg and Vitaly Petrov.
Button had jumped Alonso for 3rd, but other than that the top 5 was pretty much the same. This all changed on lap 11 when Webber stopped after clipping the armco, changing on to the harder tyre and rejoining way down in 16th place, behind the likes of Rosberg and Petrov. Many felt that Red Bull had pulled the trigger to early and Webber had lost any chance of the title.
But, Ferrari moved to cover. With Mark being their main rival, and Fernando also clipping the barriers a few laps later, the team made the call to make the one and only stop on lap 13. Rejoining just ahead of Webber in 12th, they had put Fernando in the place he needed to be – ahead of his nearest rival.
Then it dawned on everyone. The front runners of Vettel, Hamilton and Button were still setting competitive times on older, worn option tyres compared the the fresher, but harder, rubber of Alonso and Webber. Both the top two contenders for the 2010 title had blinked too early, and they were now bogged down in the midfield.
Vettel and Hamilton started to trade fast lap times as they went further on their surprisingly competitive older tyres. On the same lap Fernando tried to pass Vitaly Petrov at Turn 11 and had to back out in case of collision, Hamilton made his stop. Vettel did one lap later, and emerged behind Jenson Button, who used his prowess in tyre conservation again to lead.
Hamilton dispatched Kamui Kobayashi, who had risen up the ranks thanks to better tyre management, and closed in on Robert Kubica, who had started on the prime. Vettel was released into the lead after Button pitted on lap 39, Kubica would drop to 5th after his stop, and Hamilton would try in vain to harass Vettel to the chequered flag.
The German won the race, took the title lead on the very last race, and in doing so, became the youngest champion the sport had ever seen.
What about Fernando?
With each passing lap, the Ferrari was stuck behind the rear wing of Vitaly Petrov as the title slowly slipped from his grasp. Despite gaining a reputation for putting into the wall at the first opportunity, Petrov held his own against a driver with the prowess and racecraft of Alonso to take a mighty 6th place. Fernando wasn’t happy at all – on the slowing down lap, he shook his fist at the Renault man in a show of frustration.
A 15 point lead over Vettel had turned into a 4 point deficit over the course of 55 laps, thanks to a win for Seb and a lowly 7th place for the Spaniard. Game over.
It’s strange to think that this race weekend coming, on the same track 24 months later, Fernando has turned from hunted to hunter, against the same man who took a title from his hands. If there was any cause for inspiration, this is it.