- Karun Chandhok's ESPNF1 column
An end of term feeling in Abu DhabiKarun Chandhok November 16, 2011
The race at Yas Marina was never going to live up to the drama of last year with the world championship all settled this time around, but even so it was a strange atmosphere in Abu Dhabi. There was a very non-entity sort of atmosphere in the paddock.
The driver's championship was settled in Japan and the constructors' in Korea. India was a new race and Brazil is the last race, but unfortunately Abu Dhabi just ended up being in between with most people having a more-casual-than-normal air about them all weekend.
Still, every race counts for points and every race has its importance for different reasons for different people. Economically, races in the Middle East are now very important for the teams. With McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes, Toro Rosso and Williams all raising substantial funding from the UAE and Bahrain, it's a big race for sponsors, VIPs and celebrities.
The facilities at Yas Marina are simply outstanding. No circuit in the world can compare to the incredible infrastructure of the circuit and on television under the lights, it is truly a spectacle that only Singapore could possibly compare to. A race like this is a fantastic example of how to use Formula One to promote your country and for tourism. My flight from the UK was pretty full of F1 fans flying out to the race - and why not? While Europe and particularly the UK starts to wind down towards the winter, Abu Dhabi presents a great chance to soak up some sun and enjoy a great weekend of racing and music at the concerts.
On track, the race was sort of decided in the first 20 seconds when Sebastien Vettel's rear tyre deflated. Red Bull and Pirelli still don't seem to have a conclusive answer and it didn't look like Seb did anything unusual at turn one, so I guess you have to just put that one down to bad luck. It was good to see that Lewis Hamilton was the one capitalise on the bit of bad fortune after all the trouble he's had this year.
The 2008 world champion has been back on form since Korea I believe - pole position there, a strong qualifying in India and again here in Abu Dhabi meant that he was rediscovering his mojo after a tough season. There's no doubt that Lewis is one of the most naturally talented drivers of our generation and as I said many times in recent months, every athlete, whether it's Roger Federer, Tiger Woods, Sachin Tendulkar or Lionel Messi will have good and bad periods in their careers and it's wrong to criticise Lewis too much.
Ferrari and Fernando were best of the rest with their almost typical weekend. I spoke with Stefano Domenicali on Monday and we were both commenting on how for the last few races, on the softer tyre in race conditions, Fernando is as quick as the McLarens and the Red Bulls. Unfortunately their one-lap pace in qualifying and their race pace on the harder tyre, particularly during the first 3-4 laps of the stint isn't as good. Both of these are classic signs of a struggle to generate the temperature in the tyre in the way that Red Bull and McLaren are able to, and I'm sure that Ferrari are going to spend some time going down the road to the Pirelli HQ in Italy over the winter to make sure they're in better shape at the start of 2012.
Renault had a tough weekend again. I went out to watch at a couple of corners in practice and they certainly look like they're struggling for traction more than anything. With plenty of slow second gear corners to accelerate from, a traction limited car was always going to struggle at Yas Marina.
Off to Brazil now for the final round of the championship and while the main stories are all written, there are plenty of sub-plots to look out for: Can Webber get his first win of the year? Can Massa finally get a podium this year? Can Schumacher get his first podium since his comeback? Will Button hold off Alonso for second place in the championship? Who will win the Force India vs Toro Rosso vs Sauber battle? And will Sebastien Vettel wrap up his year as the youngest double world champion with another victory? Answers in 10 days time!