Red Bull charges on

Senior reporter

The F1 championship is now down to the wire with four drivers competing for the crown in Abu Dhabi on Sunday. This morning, Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel posted the fastest lap in his RB6 during opening practice- a sign, perhaps, of things to come? 

Adrian Newey’s RB6 has dominated this year’s F1 season. An incredible piece of engineering, it has been untouchable in qualifying and dangerously quick in races. So far it has won 14 pole positions, 19 podiums and eight races, claiming Red Bull the 2010 constructors’ championship.

With the exception of Monza, there has been a Red Bull at the front of every race this year. But success hasn’t come easy. The season got off to a difficult start when Fernando Alonso dominated the opening in Bahrain with Ferrari. Vettel finished fourth following spark plug difficulties, while Mark Webber came eighth on the table.

In Australia, a fast qualifying session saw both drivers on the front row. Vettel’s bad luck, however continued after he failed to complete the race owing to a wheel issue, while Webber came a disappointing ninth place. Results improved in Malaysia with a one-two finish, but a poor tyre strategy meant that both drivers failed to produce a podium finish in the Chinese Grand Prix.

The team’s fortunes took a turn when they arrived in Europe in the summer, but by then the damage had already been done. Vettel returned with 45 points- half of what he could have achieved if gained three pole positions and a podium finish. Teammate, Webber returned to Barcelona with 28 points and went on to win pole position, repeating the result again in Monaco.

Over the season, the RB6 experimented with different brake ducts. At Singapore, the horizontal caliper had a dedicated duct. It was replaced by a single larger duct and in Japan and later featured two new aerodynamic fins. Red Bull also faced controversy over its front wing, which on video footage seemed to almost touch the track on surface speed. However, it passed stringent checks and was later declared legal.

The RB6 continued to be exceptionally fast and had it not been for the car’s early reliability issues we would have been facing a much duller end to the season. As it turns out, we’re set for a thrilling race on Sunday in Abu Dhabi with four drivers racing for the championship title.

Fernando Alonso has an eight-point for Ferrari against Vettel’s 231 and Webber’s 238. If Vettel wins the race, Alonso has to come fourth, and if Webber is to win, Alonso has to come second. This opens up the possibility that Vettel may concede the lead to Webber if Alonso is in third place.

Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz said that he would not employ team orders preferring his drivers to finish second and compete in a sporting manner. But the drivers’ championship is still wide open, and the challenge for the title on Sunday could be one of the most climatic finishes in F1 history.