Red Bull Racing's Sebastian Vettel, who goes for his unprecedented fifth Formula One win in a row Sunday at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina circuit, is at the forefront of the McLaren team's plans and strategies. With good reason: The championship leader has won two out of the three races in the circuit's young history.
“If our race pace can be as quick as the Red Bulls', then that's probably even more important for Sunday's race than qualifying in front of them on Saturday will be," said Jenson Button after Friday's practice.
“We'll work as hard as we can tonight, as always, and, if we can get ahead of the Red Bulls in qualifying tomorrow, it'll be a huge bonus for us," added Lewis Hamilton.
Heading into the final three races of the season (Abu Dhabi is followed by the United States Grand Prix and the Brazilian Grand Prix), Vettel leads Ferrari's Fernando Alonso by 13 points in the drivers' championship.
One crucial element in Vettel's rise to the top of the standings has been Ferrari's poor performance in qualifying. Alonso has not qualified higher than fourth since the German Grand Prix seven races ago.
"Obviously our race pace is quite reasonable, as last weekend [the Indian Grand Prix] showed," said Ferrari technical director Pat Fry. "We need to work on our qualifying, so we will keep on trying, keep on pushing."
They have a ways to go. Not that practice sessions are too revealing, buy Vettel topped the timesheets again Friday with a 1:41.751, ahead of the two McLaren drivers. Hamilton was second at 1:41.919 and then Button at 1:42.412. Red Bull Racing's Mark Webber was fourth (1:42.412).
“I think we can be happy with today," said Vettel. "Overall we got a good lap on the soft tires, but in general pace the McLaren's were quick and seem competitive, so they’re the ones we need to look out for and beat. We need to improve the car overnight to qualify as high as we can tomorrow.”
Webber said he experienced some issues with KERS, which needed attention. “It never helps to miss some running on the track during practice, but it’s not a big deal," he said. "The track will move around a little bit from where it is now, but not a huge amount; it’s in pretty good shape straightaway. We’ll get it fixed tonight and come back tomorrow."
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is a rare twilight F1 race held on a high-tech circuit along the marina. There are 21 turns over a very Hermann Tilke 3.4 miles. The F1 race will see the cars cover 55 laps for a total of around 190 miles.
With an average speed of around 124 mph, Yas Marina isn't the fastest circuit. What it does have is a little bit of everything. "For the track itself, you need good traction -- there are slow and twisty corners -- as well as a good top speed," says Webber.
It's a tough combination to master. With two pole positions and two wins at Yas Marina in three years, it seems as if Vettel has come as close as possible to achieving it.
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