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Insight: An irony of history as Sebastian Vettel avoids getting involved in F1 title mash up in Abu Dhabi

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Insight: An irony of history as Sebastian Vettel avoids getting involved in F1 title mash up in Abu Dhabi
Nov 28, 2016, 11:37 AM

One of the intriguing cameos in Sunday's title deciding Abu Dhabi GP was Sebastian Vettel's attack in the closing stages which fell short of passin...

One of the intriguing cameos in Sunday's title deciding Abu Dhabi GP was Sebastian Vettel's attack in the closing stages which fell short of passing Nico Rosberg on track.

There is a strong irony in this situation with historic overtones and after the race I reminded Vettel of the final laps of the 2008 season in Interlagos, Brazil.

There Vettel was driving for Toro Rosso and he came up behind Lewis Hamilton, who needed to finish 5th in order to win his first world championship. Vettel didn't think twice and passed him.

Brazil GP 2008

When Felipe Massa crossed the line soon after to win the race and claim maximum points, Hamilton was all set to lose the title.

Then the rain fell harder and Timo Glock, who had gambled on staying out on slick tyres, lost temperature and grip as conditions worsened in the final lap and Vettel and Hamilton both passed him, taking Hamilton back into that fifth place he needed to be champion.

On Sunday, Vettel found himself being presented with a gift-wrapped opportunity again to pass a driver who was seeking his first world title. As Hamilton dropped his pace at the front, backing Rosberg into the pack behind, Vettel was coming through quickly on new supersoft tyres.

He was on Rosberg's tail from Lap 51 onwards, with Max Verstappen behind him. He had four laps to make a move. Had Vettel made his move, Rosberg would have needed to hold Verstappen behind him to remain on course for the title, but then Hamilton would have backed the pack up even more to give Verstappen the temptation to try it.

It would have been difficult, as Verstappen's tyres were eight laps older than Rosberg's, but as Hamilton had dropped the pace to 1m 47s, when a normal pace at that stage would have been a 1m 44s to 1m 45s, the tyre age would have been somewhat academic.

Vettel, Rosberg

Vettel could see all of this, knew Hamilton's tactics and the likely consequences of making a move on Rosberg. He had a couple of looks, but Rosberg defended well and it resolved itself that Vettel's supersofts had 'perhaps lost their edge' by the last lap or two. Who knows?

Vettel argued that once he came up behind two cars together the wash from them both made his car slide more. Hamilton's problem was that as Rosberg was so close behind him, that gave him DRS on the two straights. So he had to go quickly there, to avoid Rosberg trying a move on him. A collision in that situation would have favoured Rosberg and would have been a hideous way to end the championship battle anyway.

"My interest as soon as I passed Max was to win the race – but bearing in mind obviously that they are fighting for the Championship and… I mean we could all feel and see what was going on. Lewis was trying to back Nico up into the rest of the pack…" said Vettel.

"I was behind Nico and I was faster, but I think also due to the fact that Lewis was slowing down," he added. "At that point, you follow two cars, you slide, the tyres start to go too hot. I was struggling with my fronts at that point so it was difficult to stay close.

"I tried everything but they were very, very quick down the straights. Nico had DRS. The second straight was the spot I was having a look, but Nico defended well and closed the inside so I couldn’t really go anywhere. I couldn’t try something really stupid because Lewis was just ahead, so if I really dived down the inside or down the outside then I have a risk of hitting Lewis at that point."

Nico Rosberg

Vettel's true feelings were perhaps then shown by the heartfelt tribute he made to his fellow German, the third to win the world title for his country,

"You don’t win the Championship by luck. Nico won the Championship today. He’s a deserved champion. You collect a lot of points throughout the season, sometimes you might have, yeah, fortunate situations, unfortunate situations with your car but I think there’s been other situations in the past with other drivers, that’s the way it goes.

"Sometimes you have better years in this regard, sometimes worse years but I think today is Nico’s day and it’s a sign of respect and greatness to give him that. I think we owe it to him, he’s a deserved champion."

So there it is. You read between the lines with Vettel.

Did Vettel think through the consequences of a move on his fellow countryman in the final stages, a move which would have moved him one place further up the podium, but exposed Rosberg to an assault from Verstappen and who knows what end to the championship?

He's a racing driver, who always wants to do as well as possible. But in making that move he would have been doing Hamilton a big favour. And it would have made Hamilton his equal as a four-time world champion in the field.

The 19 year old Vettel, so very hungry in his early Toro Rosso years, didn't think twice about passing Hamilton in the Interlagos rain.

But the four time world champion took a more measured view and didn't risk it on Sunday.

I mentioned this irony of history to Sebastian after the race, and he contemplated it quietly.

Discussing it with various racing luminaries after the race in the paddock, a couple of ex-drivers observed simply that you build your relationships over the years for days like this and people will either want to help you out - or not help you out - depending on that.

And that is motor racing.

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Series Formula 1