Sebastian Vettel the world championship leader, has been excluded from the results of the Abu Dhabi qualifying session for having insufficient fuel in his car at the end of qualifying for the FIA to perform the usual checks.
He will start tomorrow’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from the pit lane, on a track where overtaking is not straight forward. Red Bull took this option so that they could set up the car specifically for overtaking, optimising the DRS opportunities and changing the gearbox and gear ratios to improve straight line speed.
THe fuel irregularity is a similar offence to the one Lewis Hamilton and McLaren committed in Spain this year where he was given the same penalty. Red Bull boss Christian Horner said that the margin on fuel in the tank was “too tight” on this occasion and accepted the penalty. He explained that it is Renault that decides how much fuel to put into the car.
Vettel stopped on the circuit at the end of qualifying, under instruction from his Red Bull team. A delegation from the team, led by team manager Jonathan Wheatley together will representatives of engine partner Renault went to see the stewards after the session and the decision took four hours to arrive at.
The stewards accepted the team’s explanation of why the car stopped on circuit, which related to a drop in fuel pressure which Renault believed could damage the engine. However when the fuel was pumped out for FIA checks, only 850ml came out, rather than the 1000ml which rules require.
Title rival Fernando Alonso, who trails Vettel by 13 points, starts 6th on the grid now. Both men will be aiming to progress up the field, but for Alonso to make major inroads into Vettel’s points lead he needs a strong podium finish, with Lewis Hamilton looking likely to win the race and take the maximum 25 points, Alonso will be targeting the 18 points for second place or 15 points for third.
Although overtaking is hard at Yas Marina, there are two DRS zones and Vettel is likely to finish in the top ten, given how fast his car is, so he will be aiming to be at least 7th or 8th from where he starts.
However, the field spread is quite large at Yas Marina, meaning that he will already be many seconds behind the leading half dozen cars by the end of the first 10 laps.
It looks like one stop will be possible tomorrow for many runners, so Vettel and Red Bull have to see if they can put him on a super aggressive strategy to get him through the field. But the Red Bull does not have great straight line speed, it’s not set up for that. It’s set up for leading from the front.