Red Bull driver keen to continue his unrelenting winning streak.
Newly-crowned quadruple world champion Sebastian Vettel should be forgiven this weekend if he appears reluctant to grab pole position at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The relentless 26-year-old German, who won last Sunday’s Indian Grand Prix to secure his fourth drivers’ crown in succession and confirm his Red Bull team’s fourth constructors’ title, will not have over-celebrated.
As a keen, but shrewd, student of his sport’s history, he will know not only that he has joined an exclusive hall of fame – as one of only four men to have taken four titles – but also that the prime starting spot at the Yas Marina Circuit is something of a poisoned chalice.
In the four previous Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the pole sitter has experienced serious problems three times and failed to finish the race – hardly an auspicious sign that it is essential to success in the season’s only ‘twilight’ race.
The only driver to have taken pole and not only finished, but won in Abu Dhabi, however, was Vettel on the evening when he secured his maiden title in November, 2010, an achievement that initiated some wild scenes of celebration.
In 2009’s inaugural race, defending champion Briton Lewis Hamilton retired with a brake problem. In 2012, also with McLaren, he lost fuel pressure. In 2011, Vettel took pole, but suffered a first corner puncture.
If this suggests that the winner can come from anywhere, it would be untrue since only one victor – Finn Kimi Raikkonen for Lotus last year – started from behind the front row, a fact that makes second on the grid such a promising position.
Vettel, who won from second in 2009 and from pole in 2010, will thus be seeking a third Abu Dhabi success to extend his remarkable run of six straight wins to a magnificent seven.
Hamilton, who won from second in 2011, will seek his second win at one of his favourite circuits not only to end Red Bull and Vettel’s supremacy, but also to book-end it with two wins of his own.
“What he has done, his achievement, is incredible, especially for such a young individual,” said Hamilton, following Vettel’s latest triumph. “He is in a class of his own, and he is on his way to becoming the greatest driver in F1, if he is not already.
“Big congratulations, I’m really happy for him….”
That praise delivered, however, the 28-year-old Briton warned that he will remain as committed to winning as ever despite Red Bull’s double success.
“The race in Abu Dhabi is always fun and one which I enjoy. The circuit and the Yas Marina complex are so impressive and racing from the sunshine into the twilight is special.
“With three races left, we are still pushing and there is a lot that our team can achieve. It’s all about consistency now and making sure that both Nico (Rosberg) and I score good points so we can keep the other teams behind us. – and we are up for that challenge.”
For Hamilton and Mercedes, that means staying ahead of Ferrari and Lotus in the teams’ title race while strugglers Marussia and Caterham battle to avoid finishing outside the top ten.
Tyre wear is less likely to be a major factor than it was in India, but the swiftly falling temperatures in the latter stages of Sunday’s race – by around 15 degrees Celsius – can play havoc with some teams’ expectations.