ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Red Bull’s championship leader Sebastian Vettel was down but not out after his hopes of winning Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix disappeared as fast as a Formula One car roaring into the distance.
The double world champion, 13 points ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso with three races remaining, will start from the pit lane after being sent from third place to the back of the grid for a fuel irregularity.
“One of the best ski jumpers (Finland’s former Olympic champion Matti Nykanen) of all times once said ‘Every chance is an opportunity’ and as far as we are concerned there are still plenty of chances tomorrow,” declared the German in a team statement.
Vettel has led every lap of the last three races and would have been chasing a fifth win in succession under the floodlights of the glittering Yas Marina circuit.
Instead it will be a case of damage limitation at a circuit where most drivers are likely to do one pitstop and where overtaking has never been easy.
Red Bull principal Christian Horner, who had hoped to see his team clinch the constructors’ title on Sunday for the third year in a row, told reporters that the stewards’ decision was ”frustrating, annoying and one of those things.
“If he manages to get into the points tomorrow that would be a great achievement,” he added.
Vettel had been told to stop immediately on track, to protect the engine, after qualifying as he returned to the pits.
Post-qualifying checks found there was an insufficient quantity of fuel left in the car to take a sample - only 850 milliliters instead of the mandatory one liter.
Horner said engine partners Renault were convinced the rest of the fuel was still in the tank but the team had taken the car out of ‘parc ferme’, where the cars cannot be worked on, to carry out further checks, meaning Vettel would start in the pit lane and not at the back of the grid.
”Sebastian was remarkably calm. He dealt with it and said ‘Out of a negative comes a positive,“ said Horner. ”He’ll be maximum attack tomorrow.
The Briton refused to criticize the governing FIA and said he felt it was a fair decision.
”The rules dictate that a liter has to be able to be provided without removal of bodywork... we believe that the fuel is in the cell, according to what Renault have told us, but you can’t dismantle the cell to give the sample.
”There’s a long race ahead of us tomorrow and there’s an opportunity,“ added the principal. ”We’ll attack the race and I‘m sure Sebastian will demonstrate to everybody why he’s a great racer.
“He’s come from the back and produced great races before and I’ve got no doubt that he can do it again tomorrow.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Josh Reich