Abu Dhabi 2011: Qualifying Predictions

Abu Dhabi 2011: Qualifying Predictions

I’ve got a feeling we’re in for a great qualifying session in about an hour and a half’s time as its going to be very close. Here are my predictions and the reasoning behind them.

McLaren

The McLaren has really looked mighty at Yas Marina, topping all the practice sessions’ time sheets. More than what’s obviously on the paper, is watching the car’s behaviour through a lap itself. I watched FP3′s final few minutes, which were a qualifying simulation for the top teams, with the sound muted so I could concentrate on the actual visual behaviour of the cars.

It’s immediately conspicuous that the McLaren is mighty in the final sector, which is filled with off camber kerbs in 90 degree second gear corners. The car balance itself seems to be great and Lewis is able to ride the kerbs with a lot more certainty that most others.

History is another thing to note. Whilst on paper Vettel has won every single grand prix held here (last two), it’s worth remembering that in 2009 Lewis took pole and was set for victory.

KERS is also crucial on this track, where slow hairpins follow long straights so a boost at the acceleration out of the corner pays big dividends along the straight. The Mercedes engine also has a horsepower advantage on the others, increasing that dominance.

Red Bull

The last track with 90 degree slow turns was Singapore and Red Bull really stole a march there with a big advantage in qualifying. Whilst the third sector resembles Singapore, the long straights at Yas Marina skew the advantage to top speed heavy setups, which Red Bull deliberately lack. That’s not to question their speed, remember that Vettel look pole in Monza, the fastest track, with the slowest car on the speed track!

Ferrari

Alonso admitted that things for Ferrari yesterday seemed better than they expected. Truth be told, that Ferrari car now probably has more of aero components designed for the 2012 car than the actual, this years car. Since next years car is “on a completely different design principle”, that explains the terrible handing they had on Friday.

They’ve admitted their struggles are centred around exploiting the blown diffuser. Red Bull and Renault pioneered the “cold blowing” concept and McLaren and Mercedes have fine tuned the “hot blowing” concept. Ferrari can’t seem to get their engine to work on either. This would explain Sauber’s decline in the midfield as Force India and Sauber develop their diffusers.

Yas Marina has a lot of corners where you turn under braking at low speed. This is where rear end stability is crucial and the blown diffuser is externally vital to provide that.

Force India and Torro Rosso

This will be a great battle to watch. I believe Force India holds a slight advantage here because of their Mercedes engine and the fact they had their blown diffuser set up perfectly for Singapore, where they scored their best result this season.

Sauber and Renault will struggle, because of their lack of a well tuned blown diffuser.

So are my predictions:

Pole – Lewis Hamilton

P2 – Sebastian Vettel

P3 – Jenson Button

P4 – Mark Webber

P5 – Fernando Alonso

P6 – Felipe Massa

Whilst I’m fairly sure about pole, P2 and P6, the battle for P3,4 and 5 really depends on who can pull out the best lap under pressure in Q3.