The Yas Marina circuit holds a special place in Ferrari’s recent history. On the one hand, there’s pride in being able to race alongside the first theme park dedicated exclusively to the Maranello mark: whoever arrives on the artificial island gets the impression of being close to the world of Ferrari. The park, which opened in 2010, pays homage to the passion, excellence, style, racing spirit and technical innovation, which are all part of Ferrari’s DNA. Covering an area of around 200,000 square metres and under a roof boasting the biggest Scuderia emblem ever seen, it is home to over twenty attractions, including the biggest roller coaster in the world and allows adults and kids to try a complete multi-senses experience of the world of the Prancing Horse.
On the other hand, the outcome of the races has never smiled on the Scuderia. Out of the eight available there have only been two podium finishes in the four races held to date, second place for Fernando Alonso in 2011 and 2012. Both of them carry a hint of bitterness with them. In 2011, that was because a year earlier that result would have been good enough to give Fernando the title, but this time, it did nothing, given that Vettel had already been crowned in Suzuka. And the 2012 one for two reasons: victory probably escaped the Oviedo driver by a few kilometres – one more lap would have brought him up behind Raikkonen and into the DRS zone, which would have given him an excellent chance of overtaking – and then there were only three points made up on Vettel, who had to start from the back of the grid, because of a penalty in qualifying, the same gap that separated the two men at the chequered flag in Sao Paolo a few weeks later.
The biggest disappointment came in 2010 and it still pulls on the heartstrings of many guys in the red team kit and so many fans. That year Fernando arrived in Abu Dhabi leading the Championship and he seemed the clear favourite, having qualified third ahead of main rival Webber. However, the race played out an incredible script, which bears repeating, even if it opens up old wounds. With Fernando on the aforementioned third place and Felipe sixth on the grid, the Spaniard was passed at the start by Button, but still had the edge over his closest rival in the title fight, Webber, while Felipe maintained position. It was on the opening lap that a key incident occurred as Schumacher lost control of his car at Turn 6 ad spun, to be hit broadsides by Liuzzi. That brought out the Safety Car until lap 5: some drivers took the opportunity to put to switch from soft to hard tyres.
At the restart, there were no significant changes, so the race began to get into a pattern, with Vettel leading, from Hamilton, then Button Alonso, Webber and Massa. The Australian was beginning to struggle on the soft tyres and came in early on la 11, rejoining behind Alguersuari, who had already pitted The Toro Rosso driver’s “resistence” lasted little over a lap, before he let the Red Bull by. In the meantime the Ferrari pit wall decided to bring Felipe in on lap 13, to try and get ahead of Webber, but the gamble didn’t work and the Brazilian found himself behind Alguersuari. Two laps later, Alonso stopped when he was fourth, 6.5 down on Vettel. It did get him out before Webber, thus covering the Australian, but he found himself behind two cars that had stopped in the Safety Car period, Petrov’s Renault and Rosberg’s Mercedes. Fernando’s race to the title was therefore an uphill struggle and it got even more complicated when the driver and team realised it would take a miracle or a mistake to get ahead of Petrov, despite the performance difference between the two cars. From then, nothing much changed for the two Ferraris, who made a few places only thanks to planned pit stops from others. The lead trio, on tyres that were degrading much less than expected, were split on lap 23 when Hamilton pitted, followed next time round by Vettel.
Button now led, staying out until lap 39. In the middle of the trio, Kubica was fighting hard, before dropping to fifth when he changed tyres. After Sutil’s stop on lap 47, Fernando found himself seventh, but could do no better: at this point he would have had to pass three cars to get the fourth place needed to keep his lead over Vettel, who was comfortably in the lead. Fernando tried his utmost to the very end, taking risks, but there was no way past the Russian, driving in obstinate yet precise fashion that had not been seen from him all year. The race thus ended with a win for the German Red Bull driver, ahead of Hamilton, Button, Rosberg, Kubica, Petrov, Fernando, Webber, Alguersuari and Felipe. The drivers’ title went to Vettel who had a four point lead over the Ferrari man. It was a very bitter end, to what had nevertheless been a great season, especially the second part. It’s not worth going back over the whys and wherefores of a strategy that seemed right at the time – as Webber was the main rival to mark – but did not with hindsight, as it did not take into account the tyre degradation effect and the real potential of the car in overtaking, even if back then the simulation tools for predicting these variables were not available. It’s also not worth thinking how the last four years might have turned out if things had gone differently that day. Once in a while it comes to mind and sparks regret, but in sport one needs to be able to look ahead, learning lessons and improving day after day.
Having dealt with 2010, one can look at 2009, the inaugural edition of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Kimi Raikkonen’s twelfth place, as he bid farewell to his first chapter in red and a sixteenth for Giancarlo Fisichella is why there is little to say about that weekend and we are sure that you readers share that view.
And finally, a consideration: two podium finishes and six points finishes are a poor result for a race run alongside the Prancing Horse theme park. The hope is that this weekend, we can finally witness a Grand Prix that will give the Ferrari fans who pack the grandstands, maybe even celebrating afterwards at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi!