2011 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Qualifying: Vettel And Hamilton Lock Out Front Row

The dilemma I faced before writing this blog post was to choose the headline. The other option was ‘Vettel Equals Mansell’s Qualifying Record Of 14 Poles In A Season’. Then I thought, this possibly is going to be everyone’s headlines, so let me try and be different.

Interestingly, in the three Formula1 races held at Abu Dhabi, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton have managed to lock out the front row for themselves. Their battle going into the first corner should be terribly interesting.

The lead up to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Qualifying was exciting after Mclaren were fastest across all the practice sessions on Friday and Saturday and seemed best poised to challenge Red Bull for pole. Also, Vettel’s possibility of matching Nigel Mansell’s record of 14 poles in a single season was widely discussed in the paddock. One of them had to happen and we all know who it finally was!

Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso suffered from retirements due to separate accidents in Friday’s Practice Session 2. This was Vettel’s 4th shunt in FP2 this season, however, on each of the previous 4 occasions, Vettel managed to grab pole on Saturday followed by victory on Sunday. Will he do it in Abu Dhabi too?

Pre-qualifying, the FIA issued a clarification to the drivers for under-cutting various corners of the Yas Marina circuit to gain a laptime advantage. For qualifying, turns 6, 9 and 12 were listed as ‘do not cut’ corners (should you do, that particular lap’s time would be taken away) and for Race Day, turn 9 was the key corner. Should you under-cut it, your DRS wouldn’t be activated on the following straight.

Here are my observations from the 2011 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Qualifying:


–          Rubens Barrichello suffered from an engine oil leak issue during Saturday practice and wasn’t fixed in time for qualifying. This meant that the veteran Brazilian was unable to do a single lap in Q1. Rumours of Kimi Raikkonen returning to Formula1 with WilliamsF1 could also mean that the next race in Brazil, could well be Barrichello’s last race in Formula1.

–          Barrichello’s team-mate Pastor Maldonado, while made it through to Q2, could only manage a P17. However, his 10 place grid penalty due to usage of a 9th engine will mean that both WilliamsF1 cars will start on the last row of the grid. Probably the worst starting position in the history of WilliamsF1.

–          HRT’s Daniel Ricciardo (Read post: Daniel Ricciardo Replaces Narain Karthikeyan) showed some lightening quick pace in the early part of Q1 when he clocked a laptime slower only than Team Lotus’ Heikki Kovalainen. Ricciardo eventually qualified P21, ahead of Virgin’s Jerome d’Ambrosio and his team-mate Tonio Liuzzi. It was reveal post-race that Liuzzi suffered from a broken suspension bracket that hampered his Q1 pace.

–          The other big name that struggled in Q1 was Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher and ended P17, 1.5 seconds slower than his team-mate Nico Rosberg.


–          There was Red Flag in Q2 after a track marker was knocked down by one of the drivers and later on nudged onto the circuit by Massa.

–          The Sahara Force India cars, that clocked competitive laptimes in the practice sessions, were expected to be the ‘best of the rest’ and managed to out-qualify their mid-field rivals Renault, Sauber and Toro Rosso. The Sahara Force India drivers managed to out-qualify Schumacher in Q2.

–          Sauber’s Sergio Perez, who missed Q3 of qualifying by 3 tenths, was 4 tenths ahead of his team-mate Kobayashi, who is said to be struggling with his Pirelli tyres. The Japanese driver has struggled for form in the second half of the season.

–          P11 to P16 was separated by only 4 tenths of a second, showing how competitive the mid-field teams have been this season.


–          The Sahara Force India cars and Michael Schumacher were expected to not take to the track and save an extra set of soft tyres. A smart move, since the extra set does come handy on Race Day. However, this is not the best for Formula1 fans, who expect to see every car compete in qualifying and set a laptime. (Read Post: A Tweak In Qualifying Rules Expected)

–          However, Adrian Sutil and Michael Schumacher took to the track to set a competitive laptime, whereas Paul di Resta chose to stay in his pit garage and save a set of tyres, indicating that Sahara Force India have yet again split their race strategies between their two drivers, who start P9 and P10.

–          Once the front runners were out, it was business as usual for all the drivers. Red Bull and Mclaren knew that they would be fighting for the first two rows. Similarly, Ferrari knew that the third row was theirs to clinch and with Mercedes, it was the fourth.

–          First it was Jenson Button who clinched provisional pole, narrowly bettered by Lewis Hamilton by 0.009 of a second to bump him to second. Both Mclarens throwing the fight to the Red Bull Racing camp.

–          Sebastian Vettel in his usual cool style was the last driver to cross the finishing line and clinched the pole away from Hamilton. It was Vettel’s 14th pole of the 2011 Formula1 season.

–          The circuit conditions changed between Q2 and Q3 and that led to a slight loss of pace for Hamilton whose Q2 time was quicker than Q3 and had his second pole of the season in sight.

–          Vettel’s pole position is attached with a few qualifying records that will be the discussion point for years to come. As for his team-mate Webber, 4th was the best that he could manage after being 4 tenths down on Vettel.

–          The Ferraris, that split their new front wing package, saw Alonso out-qualify Massa to P5, a massive 6 tenths gap. This could probably be due to Alonso’s usage of the 2012 spec front wing and Massa using the 2011 spec.

–          Schumacher, who struggled all session, was nearly a second slower than Rosberg and will start tomorrow’s race in P8, a position down on Rosberg.

Tomorrow’s race should be interesting. While the difference between the two tyres is around 1-1.2 sec per lap, I don’t think we will see someone attempt a radically different strategy. What is key to Yas Marina is that tyre degradation is not as severe as compared to the other circuits. This could lead to a few mid-field drivers actually tying to make one pit stop less.

Mclaren and Red Bull will be fighting for victory and it is extremely close to choose between the two teams. My money will be on Mclaren and Lewis Hamilton, who desperately needs an upswing in his fortunes. As for Ferrari, they have indicated stronger race pace in the past races and Alonso reckons that they could get onto the podium tomorrow. And for Button, well, given the form he is in, he is very much eligible for victory too. Do tune in to the 2011 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix!

Kunal Shah is an FIA-accredited Formula 1 journalist who has been reporting on Formula 1 for nearly two decades. He worked with the Force India Formula 1 Team for 6 seasons in Marketing, Sponsorship and Commercial roles. As a former single-seater racer, he was responsible for Force India's grassroots talent program, One from a Billion Hunt. Presently, he co-writes a regular Formula 1 column for Firstpost, speaks on Inside Line F1 Podcast & Pits to Podium and produces broadcast/OTT content for NENT Group (Viasport & Viaplay).

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