Saturday was one of those days when things refused to come right for Sebastian Vettel at the Yas Marina circuit. He showed an excellent turn of pace on the soft tyre the day before and looked set to extend his run of pole positions. But from the word go on Saturday things started to go awry.
When Vettel took to the track in the final practice session he discovered his brakes didn’t feel right. This began a lengthy replacement job which his mechanics impressively turned around quickly enough for him to set a time at the end of the session. A single flying lap was enough to vault him up to third place behind the McLarens. But he never seemed to recover from the loss of track time.
An early run in qualifying almost ended in disaster as he took a little bit too much of the turn 19 kerb (which has been raised this year), skidded wide and made slight contact with the barrier. He was able to keep going but his crucial lap in the top ten shoot-out seemed to lack his usual edge and he ended up behind team mate Mark Webber.
That was something of a surprise, as Webber tends to underperform at Yas Marina, a track he dismissively (though not inaccurately) referred to as a “car park” on Friday.
Matters took a worrying turn for Vettel moments after the chequered flag fell. Race engineer Guillaume Rocquelin came on the radio and instructed him to stop his car immediately. Thoughts immediately turned to what happened to Lewis Hamilton in Spain: Hamilton took pole position for McLaren but stopped on his way back to the pits. The stewards deemed it a technical infringement and sent him to the back of the grid.
Sure enough, exactly the same happened to Vettel. He will now start the race from the pit lane, and merely making it into the points will be a challenge from there.
Alonso’s championship lifeline
Vettel’s drama was a gift for Fernando Alonso, who had suffered a disappointing qualifying session. Ferrari’s latest package of upgrades for his car failed to bear fruit. The red team have thrown everything at this weekend, bringing a raft of new parts for the F2012. The mechanics twice broke the curfew limiting how much time they can spend working (teams may do this no more than four times per year). But they received a poor reward for their labours: Alonso could only manage seventh on the grid.
That became sixth following Vettel’s penalty and Alonso now has a chance to slash his 13-point championship deficit. It could blow the championship race wide open. Alonso’s odds on winning the title have slipped to 3.0 and suddenly look rather more appealing.
Hamilton on top at Yas Marina
While Vettel sweated in the Abu Dhabi heat, Lewis Hamilton look positive serene. Last year he headed every session on Saturday until the critical pole position shoot-out, when he was outdone by Vettel. There was no such disappointment this time and Hamilton took his sixth pole position of the season.
He is favourite to win in Abu Dhabi at odds of 1.4. But Alonso has to be worth a look on 12.0. He has excellent straight-line speed for overtaking and very good race pace, and will be fired up to make the most out of Vettel’s setback.
And how about Pastor Maldonado? The Williams driver who won the Spanish Grand Prix has inherited Vettel’s third on the grid and is priced at 40.0 to record victory again here.
Keith Collantine is the editor of Formula One blog F1 Fanatic.