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Sebastian Vettel who started the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from the pit lane and finished the race in 3rd place after a great drive. He was also benefited from timing of the Safety Cars. We' analyse his strategy and his race in detail.
Qualifying - The penalty and how Red Bull used it in its favour
After qualifying in 3rd place, Vettel stopped on track mysteriously on his in-lap. Red Bull said that Renault had instructed them to do so. FIA investigated the issue for over 4 hours and accepted this 'Force Majeur' . However, his RB8 had only 850ml of fuel while every car must have at least a litre of fuel at the end of qualifying. Being low on fuel can give an unfair advantage to a driver and on this basis he was excluded from qualifying. Moreover this 1 litre of fuel has to be tested by FIA for various reasons.
Red Bull decided to work on the car till late at night and thus started from the pitlane. They altered their car according to the race and he had much better straight line speed.
The initial strategy
Vettel's strategy was to start the race on the prime tyres and have a long first stint. In this stint, he would have hoped to overtake the backmarkers as well as the mid fielders. In the second stint he would have switced to faster soft tyres and overtake the big guns. However, his front wing's endplate was damaged in a brush up with Daniel Ricciardo and that forced him to make an early stop. The alternate strategy he came up with which was subsequently helped by the two Safety Cars greatly helped him to take the final spot on the podium
Overtaking backmarkers wasn't a tough job for Vettel as he moved up into P11 in first 12 laps. However in this process he had damaged his front wing and had to pit for a new one. He made his stop on lap 12 and switched to option tyres and came out on 21st place. But Safety Car was running at this time as marshals removed debris from Rosberg's and Karthikeyan's crash and Vettel was running behind the HRT's before Safety Car went in the pits on lap 15. Had there been no Safety Car, he would have had to himself decrease the gap by setting some quick lap times. Vettel was indeed lucky because of the Safety Car but regaining those places was no luck.
At this stage, Red Bull would have hoped not to make another stop. But 42 laps on a single set of soft tyres would have been a tough job for Vettel and Red Bull decided not to take the gamble.
Also, Grosjean had hoped not to stop again following his early stop on lap 9. He held off the field behind in 5th place.
Vettel meanwhile moved up into 2nd place behind Kimi Raikkonen. He then stopped on lap 37 for another set of soft tyre. Just then the second Safety Car came and decreased a mammoth 30 second deficit to leader to just 3.5 seconds. Without the second Safety Car, the German would have finished in 4th place behind Jenson Button.
So, when the Safety Car entered the pits, Vettel was right behind Button and trying hard to overtake the Brit. However, the latter closed gates for Vettel and it was only on lap 51 that he lost the 3rd place. In the meantime, Raikkonen and Alonso moved ahead of the two world champions and Vettel had no chance of fighting with them.