1. Vettel wins Grand Prix and world championship
2. NASCAR: One race for all the marbles
3. IndyCar: Chevy’s back in the fold
Sebastien Vettel is new world champion
The nice thing about Sunday’s world championship-deciding Formula One race in the Middle East is that the man who won the title did it the way it should be done: he won the race.
So often in recent years, the championship has been decided by a variety of scenarios involving finishing positions.
Not this time.
Sebastien Vettel of Germany took the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in his teeth and shook it. He was fastest in first practice Friday, won the pole on Saturday and the race Sunday (full story here), scoring maximum points to vault from third place at lights out to first at the checkers.
His determination and subsequent performance so demoralized his Red Bull-Renault teammate, Mark Webber, that the Australian could only qualify fifth on Saturday and eventually finished eighth in the Grand Prix, 44 seconds behind the winner.
Fernando Alonso, who went into the final race weekend leading in points, could only qualify third although many F1 experts chose him for pole.
Then, because of a very questionable decision by Ferrari to bring him in for tires right behind Webber instead of waiting for the leading driver, Vettel, to stop, he was stuck for the remaining distance of the Grand Prix behind Russian Vitaly Petrov, who held the two-time champion at bay and drove the race of his young life in the process.
Alonso finished seventh and Webber was eighth – shocking results for two drivers who were one-two in the championship when the race started.
Lewis Hamilton finished second in the race and fourth in points. He came within a couple of markers of stealing third place from Webber. His McLaren teammate, Jeson Button, finished third to make up a podium of world champions – the newly crowned Vettel and the last two title-holders.
The new champion – at 23, the youngest in Formula One history – was overcome with emotion when his country’s national anthem started to play and he broke down on the podium. But he quickly recovered and joined with the others in the spraying (if you could call it that) of apple juice (no booze allowed in Arabia).
Red Bull Racing thus swept the world championship of drivers and manufacturers, an amazing feat considering the team only won its first-ever Grand Prix in April of 2009 when – who else? – Vettel captured the Grand Prix of China.
When the race started, four drivers were in contention for the championship – Vettel, Webber, Alonso and Hamilton. It was the first time in the history of F1 that so many drivers could win the title at one showdown.
Vettel finished second behind Button last season and vowed to win the championship this year.
He delivered – and it’s undoubtedly safe to say that the sky’s the limit for this kid.
All of Michael Schmacher’s records – starting with his seven world championships – once looked unbeatable. Not so much now.
His 10 poles and five race victories that led him to the world championship in 2010 show that Sebastien Vettel has the right stuff. Just watch him go.
– Toronto’s connection to Red Bull Racing was front and centre on TV shortly after the podium ceremony. As the cameras showed a very excited Red Bull garage, with everyone on the team shouting and jumping around in celebration, there was Gavin Ward, a young man from the Beach and one of the team’s race engineers, right in the middle of it all.
– You wonder what would have happened at the weekend if Alonso hadn’t won two world championships previously. Yes, I’m sure he wanted to win this year and I’m sure he did what he thought was his best but it really didn’t look like he had his heart in it.
On the gird, while camera shots of the other contenders showed them in intense concentration, Alonso was casually looking about and chatting with his team. Then, at the start, he literally pulled over and let Button pass him going into the first corner, dropping him to fourth from his starting position of third.
Yes, I know, he didn’t want to risk an accident and as long as he stayed in front of Webber. he would likely win the title. But a champion has to fight and he didn’t fight at that moment, which was an omen of things to come.
Then, after Ferrari had him pit two laps after Webber, which meant both drivers were caught up in mid-pack traffic when they rejoined, he found himself behind Petrov. And twice from that point until the end of the race, he tried to pass the Russian, only to go wide and have to scramble to stay in front of Webber.
But two attempts to pass Petrov in – what – 40-plus laps?
As I watched Webber tootling around behind Alonso, and Alonso tootling around behind Petrov, I kept thinking of Jacques Villeneuve’s pass of Michael Schumacher at Jerez in 1997, his world championship year.
Yes, I kept waiting for either Webber or Alonso to pull a JV. Didn’t happen.
If Alonso had never won a championship, I think we would have seen fireworks Sunday and not the firecrackers we got
– I’m surprised the stewards didn’t take a look at the brake test Vettel gave Lewis Hamilton as he brought the field around for the restart at the end of the safety car period following the Luizzi-Schumacher accident.
Hamilton had to go off the circuit to avoid hitting Vettel and by the time he recovered, Vettel was long gone on the restart.
– Mark Webber lost the world championship when he spun and hit the wall on the second lap of the Korean Grand Prix. For a guy in a position to win the world championship, zero points was a huge hit.
Whether it was trying too hard or else he got careless like he did in Korea, but Webber hit the wall with his right rear wheel fairly early in the contest Sunday and who knows what that might have done to upset the balance or the handling of his Red Bull?
Nobody said anything, much less Webber, but you can’t whack a wall at over 100 miles an hour and have absolutely no consequences. Even if he was lucky, and there was either no damage or minimal damage, you can bet he was racing on eggshells after that and it undoubtedly had an effect on his drive.
– As mentioned in the intro, Petrov drove the race of his life keeping Alonso behind him but he was also in a Renault and Red Bull is powered by Renault. So, although they are allegedly competitors, Renault and Red Bull are in business together, which helps to explain the lengths Petrov went to to stymie Alonso as well as the presence at the Red Bull post-race victory party of Renault team members.
– Good for TSN. Somebody was paying attention Sunday morning and when it looked like there would be a lengthy caution period following the huge crash between Antonio Luizzi and Michael Schumacher, they ran about four minutes of commercials. Then, when racing resumed, there were no commercial interruptions for more than an hour. Great stuff!
– The Yas Marina Circuit really is the new Monaco, isn’t it? Yachts, beautiful women, incredible architecture: Abu Dhabi has it all. (Okay, there’s no champagne but is that really all that important?)
– Vettel went into the race with 231 points and scored 25 for the win, giving him 256. Alonso had 246 going in and scored six, giving him 252. Webber had 238 and scored four for 242. Hamilton had 222 and tallied 18 for a final score of 240.
– I cringed – as I’m sure you all did – when Luizzi creamed the stationary Schumacher after Schumi spun out on the first lap. That was really scary and Schumacher is a really lucky guy that he wasn’t badly hurt.
TV commentator Martin Brundle did his best to blame Nico Rosberg for Schumacher’s spin, saying initially that Rosberg had run into his Mercedes teammate and then, after the replay showed no contact, still insisted there had been a "kiss" to start the incident.
Schumacher, himself, straightened out the record afterward.
"I went off the line, spun, and because of the dirt there, the back of the car just came around. It's a shame, obviously, as I would have liked to finish the season with a more positive ending."
– According to the Autosport website, there are 118 days until the first Grand Prix of 2011 at Bahrain. Meantime, Merry Christmas, everybody.
NASCAR championship down to the wire
Denny Hamlin went into the second-last NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Phoenix on Sunday in first place and proceeded to dominate the Kobalt Tools 500, leading 190 of the 312-lap event.
But he had to pit for fuel late in the running and dropped to 12th place at the finish. The race was won by Carl Edwards, with Ryan Newman second and Joey Logano third (full story here) but the guys who finished fifth and sixth were the real story.
When the dust settled, four-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson (fifth) had pulled to within 15 points of Hamlin with Kevin Harvick (sixth) 46 behind.
Next Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway will be pretty much a winner-take-all contest between Hamlin, Johnson and Harvick.
It should be a thriller.
Sunday’s race was a nail-biter, not so much because of the racing but whether or not the leaders would all run out of fuel before the finish. One, Juan Pablo Montoya, did – and that was a surprise because the announcers kept saying he had more juice on board than many of the others running up front. In the end, he finished 15th.
Edwards, in addition to performing his signature back flip off the top of his race car – he had some practice on Saturday when he won the Nationwide race, too – grabbed the checkered flag and walked right into the crowd on the main straight at Phoenix.
That took guts, because just about everybody at that place – a full house, incidentally – wanted a piece of him
Chevrolet to join IndyCar in 2012
They had another big announcement the other day in Indianapolis, this time for Chevrolet’s return to the Indy car series, which will happen in 2012.
I just have one question. They keep talking about 2012 – new cars and new engines. But what about 2011?
What am I supposed to get excited about then?