- Karun Chandhok's ESPNF1 column
Kimi was an absolute starKarun Chandhok November 8, 2012
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was one of the best races of the year! I was on commentary duty for ESPN STAR Sports over the weekend and have to say I needed a bit of a lie down after that race. The circuit facilities in Yas Marina and the organisation of the event are second to none, but the circuit itself isn't the best layout for racing, or a particularly outstanding layout to drive. The previous races haven't really been classics for overtaking or racing but this year's race fully made up for that!
While the three guys on the podium all totally deserved their results, there's no doubt in my mind that had Lewis Hamilton's car not broken down, he would've cruised to victory. Lewis had looked brilliant all weekend and in both qualifying and the opening part of the race it looked like nobody was going to touch him. Where he looked very good in particular was in the final sector of the lap - the short, sharp, point and squirt sections where the track has a lot of subtle camber changes. You really need to be on top of the car and hustle it around by the scruff of its neck to deliver the lap time in this sector - something which Lewis does superbly. Both Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso also looked strong through sector three, but the way Lewis had the rear of the car dancing around was a beautiful display of controlled aggression. A real race of should've, would've, could've!
Kimi Raikkonen was an absolute star on Sunday - almost as much for his radio transmissions and totally nonchalant attitude as for his well managed race where he soaked up the pressure from Fernando at the end with apparent ease. I have to say, his safety car restart was about as close to perfect as you could've got - the gap between him and the safety car as they went over the SC line was tiny! His strong return to F1 has been one of the big surprise success stories of F1 2012 - I really wonder what odds you would've got for Kimi winning a race and finishing 3rd in the world championship in February.
The team from Enstone have had a good car all season long, but for one reason or another, the win hadn't come through for them. Kimi in particular has been remarkably consistent all season long, always hovering around the top five and just quietly racking up the points - somewhat reminiscent of his 2007 title winning campaign. I am particularly pleased for Eric Boullier, the team principal at Lotus. He came into the top job at a tough time at Enstone but he's a great guy and a real racer who has delivered for his shareholders.
Fernando did what Fernando does again by scoring more points than he should've given the pace of the Ferrari this weekend. I love watching the onboard from Fernando's car on the opening lap. His amazingly quick hand actions and decisive moves are a masterclass in how to attack the start of the race for any driver. Ferrari has clearly gone for a different approach in the last few races where they know they're not quick enough over one lap in qualifying. They've aimed to have a car that works well in the races in terms of tyre management and in particular has good straight-line speed with the right longer top gears to maximise the DRS. While this allows them to be stronger in the races relative to qualifying, to win a world championship battle like the one they're in, you really need to be qualifying at the front.
With Sebastian and RBR capable of being on pole every time, Fernando will have to rely on a bit of luck to get ahead of his championship rival. The final laps of the race after the second safety car period were very interesting though. The Ferrari man initially looked to be struggling for pace, but in the final eight laps he stopped worrying about tyre wear and came out with a string of laps that were quicker than anyone else. After 18 races of not ever having the fastest car on the grid, they still lie just 10 points off the lead - now would be a good time to try and unlock some more speed!
For all the bad luck that Sebastian and the team had on Saturday, fortune seemed to smile on them a bit more on Sunday where two safety car periods allowed him to come into podium contention, although he did manage to waste the first opportunity by clouting the DRS sign and breaking his front wing. Aside from that damage and the over-optimistic move on Bruno Senna which also damaged the front wing, the championship leader drove a great race. The car was clearly working well and the enforced switch to a two-stop strategy meant that he had good tyres to attack Jenson Button at the end. With the faster car and a small points margin going into two circuits where high downforce will be beneficial, Sebastian is the firm favourite for the championship. But Saturday showed that just anything can and does happen in F1 2012!
The circus moves to America for the first US Grand Prix in Austin next week. The new circuit looks like a very interesting layout with the three sectors being very different to each other. The first part of the lap is a series of high speed changes of direction, much like we find in Silverstone, while sector two has primarily got long straights and slow corners and sector three is somewhere in the middle of those two. It's good for F1 to go back to America, and while the 2005 debacle at Indianapolis hurt the sport's reputation in America, Texas provides a whole new audience in what is a hugely diverse country. I know from Sebring and Montreal that racing in North America is actually a lot of fun - the people are very enthusiastic, the atmosphere is a bit more relaxed and they love putting on a big show! Hopefully they'll embrace F1 enough to make it a success in America once again.