Monday, November 14, 2011

Alonso completes silverware collection

Second place in the Abu Dhabi GP not only transcended Ferrari expectations, but made a welcome addition to Fernando Alonso's personal haul

Fernando Alonso entered the third Abu Dhabi Grand Prix wanting a podium finish almost as much as win in order to complete an envious record of having finished in the top three at every circuit on the F1 schedule. In the end, he could have had both....

The Spaniard made another storming start to the 55-lap race, driving around the outside of Mark Webber to pick up one place immediately, before then out-fumbling Jenson Button before the end of the lap. With pole sitter Sebastian Vettel spinning out with a sudden puncture, Alonso's blitz left him in second place and chasing Lewis Hamilton for the lead.

"The opening lap was exciting," he admitted, "At the start, I squeezed round the outside of Webber at the first corner because I knew there was more grip there. Then, once I saw Vettel was off, I got into Button's slipstream, taking a bit of a risk but, in the end, I managed to pass him too. After that, I expected to struggle more, but today was one of those where the car went much better than expected and you are kept busier fighting with those ahead of you than in looking in your mirrors."

At no point through the weekend had Ferrari looked to have the pace to threaten either Red Bull or McLaren, but Alonso kept Hamilton in sight, even if the gap at the front gradually extended. By lap eight, Hamilton was 2.7secs in front, and there was no change to the order as the leading pair pitted together on lap 16, the Briton taking advantage of a slightly quicker turnaround to pull out another second on his rival as the race approached half-distance.

As the sun began to set over Yas Marina, the two men continued to battle it out, with both falling foul of recalcitrant backmarkers from time to time, allowing Alonso to narrow the gap slightly. Hamilton was the first to pit second time around, giving the Spaniard a couple of laps to bridge the margin and hopefully emerge in front after his final switch to the harder Pirelli tyres.

With Hamilton also running to the finish, but almost 20 seconds down after his stop, Alonso needed everything to go in his favour but, right from the moment he headed for pit-lane, it was clear that it was to be the Briton's day. First, the Ferrari trailed one of the HRTs into the pits, then the Scuderia executed a slower than usual stop, all of which meant that Alonso emerged in second spot, 4.4secs behind his former team-mate.

With victory out of the question barring a problem for Hamilton, Alonso had to switch his attention to Webber who, having yet to change to the harder rubber, was making a third set of the soft Pirellis work in his favour by closing in on the Spaniard. The fastest man on track, the Australian was reducing the gap in big chunks, but there wasn't enough time for him to reverse the positions and make a third stop to comply with the rules. By pitting at the end of the penultimate lap, the pressure on Alonso was lifted and the Ferrari cruised to second place.

"Today we were fighting for the win all the way to the end," the Spaniard confirmed, "We got a good start and could match Hamilton's pace and the first pit-stop went well, but I lost a couple of seconds at the second one, what with traffic on my in-lap and a problem changing the front left wheel. However, I don't think that's where we lost the race, because I am convinced that, in the end, it's the quickest car that wins and so it was.

Before the weekend, Alonso had revealed how he had a podium trophy from each of the races on the calendar with the exception of Abu Dhabi, but his performance in attack ensured that he at least fulfilled a personal goal.

“I am pleased with this result - finally my podium trophy collection is complete!" the Spaniard enthused, "I have 73 top three finishes and have managed to stand on the podium of all the circuits that have been on the F1 calendar over the past ten years. Next year, we go to Austin, and the year after to Russia, so there will always be new challenges to tackle and objectives to reach - even if, obviously, the main one is always to win the title."

Team principal Stefano Domenicali was full of praise for his lead driver, and delighted to have gone some way to addressing the disappointment of last year, when a pit-wall error cost the Spaniard a possible third world title.

“We knew a podium was possible and that was confirmed this evening when, thanks to yet another extraordinary drive from Fernando, we were in the fight for the win right up until the final part of the race," Domenicali noted, "The first lap was exceptional, as was his race pace after that.

"Finally getting a driver onto the podium in this race is indeed cause for satisfaction, but there's one race to go, in two weeks time in Brazil, and second place in the drivers' championship is still up for grabs. That will be hard to achieve, but it is definitely not impossible and we will do all we can to give Fernando the tools to achieve this."


No comments: