Abu Dhabi was a fitting end to the roller coaster that was the 2010 Formula One season. Going into Sunday’s race, it looked like Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso had the championship in the bag. After all, Red Bull Renault’s Sebastian Vettel was running on a high mileage engine, and a duel between Vettel and McLaren Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton for the first corner was all but certain. After Saturday’s qualifying session, I’d have bet the bank on Alonso as the 2010 world champion.
Imagine my surprise when Vettel drove perhaps the most mature race of his life, never endangering the car or other drivers. Vettel led from the start, without a serious challenge from second place cars driven by Hamilton and McLaren Mercedes’ Jenson Button. In fact, Vettel could even be accused of pushing his Red Bull Renault too hard in the closing laps; with the championship on the line, I’d certainly have driven a more conservative race.
Alonso needed a fourth place or better finish to take this year’s title, but the Spaniard could only manage a seventh place finish. Alonso lost a position to Red Bull Renault driver Mark Webber at the start, and a poor pit strategy left him trailing Renault’s Vitaly Petrov and Robert Kubica. It wasn’t for lack of effort, but Alonso simply couldn’t get his Ferrari past the Renaults, which were noticeably quicker on the Yas Marina circuit’s long straights.
The race’s most sobering moment came on lap one, when the Mercedes driven by Michael Schumacher spun on cold tires. Caught out in the middle of the track with oncoming traffic all around him, Schumacher could only watch as the Force India car of Vitantonio Liuzzi hit his Mercedes and rode up the side pod. Had Liuzzi hit another few inches to the left, the accident would not likely have been survivable for Schumacher. Miracles aside, it was a disappointing end to a disappointing season for the seven time world champion, who was finally starting to show some of his legendary talent in the closing races of the season.
Sebastian Vettel becomes the youngest world champion, beating former record holder Lewis Hamilton by 134 days. The real winners of the 2010 season were the Formula One fans, since rule changes and driver rivalries once again made Formula One exciting to watch. I’ll be counting the days until the 2011 season starts in Bahrain on March 13.