F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Double the Points, Double the Fun

f1-2014-abu-dhabi-hamilton-world-championDouble points, regular points and no points. It doesn’t matter what the points on offer would have been in the final race of the 2014 Formula One World Championship because the result would have been the same. With an ERS failure crippling his car for the final half of the race, reliability was finally on Lewis Hamilton’s side as he scored the win and clinched the World Drivers’ Championship.

While it was Hamilton leading the points heading into the race, it was Rosberg leading the race from the lights. The way the season had done this season, Rosberg’s three-tenth-plus qualifying margin was exactly the speed he needed. A win and some luck was his best route to the championship.

f1-2014-abu-dhabi-startHowever, Nico didn’t get to the first turn in the lead. He bogged down a bit and then spun his tyres off the lights while Hamilton had a picture perfect start. That put the Brit on point for the race’s first stint which he did lead by a few seconds as the pair were able to keep the other in sight but not pull away or catch.

After the first round of pit stops, that would change. On Lap 23, Rosberg started to slow dramatically. His car’s ERS unit had failed at the least opportune time as he was within three seconds of Hamilton and planning to run a short final stint to exploit fresher tyres for more speed. Instead, there was no speed left in his car.

The race wasn’t over for Hamilton yet. With the Mercedes team worried about reliability, they told him to take care of the car. With nothing to lose, Felipe Massa turned up the power and made a half-race-long charge to Hamilton. Deciding to go with super softs in the final stint, Massa was able to eat away the gap between the front two but traffic and a late increase in available power from Hamilton’s Mercedes power halted Massa’s charge for Williams’ first win of the year.

f1-2014-abu-dhabi-podiumFor Hamilton, the win was his 11th of the season but more importantly, it clinched his second World Drivers’ Championship, his previous one coming in 2008. Massa finished in 2nd for the first time this season. Valtteri Bottas had a poor start but recovered for a 3rd place finish, his 6th podium, and it was good enough to clinch him 4th in the points. The double podium also earned Williams 3rd in the Constructors’ Championship.

Daniel Ricciardo started from the pit lane after being excluded from qualifying (see below) but managed to pull out a 4th. Jenson Button finished in 5th in what might be his final Formula One race. Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez used their usual tyre strategy tricks to get them to 6th and 7th, respectively. Sebastian Vettel tried to late pit stop and change trick that he used in Austin but only netted 8th. The two Ferrari boys rounded out the points with Alonso leading Raikkonen in 9th and 10th, respectively.

It wouldn’t be Formula One if there wasn’t a little bit of controversy in the final race. Okay, the controversy wasn’t in the race proper but in Saturday’s qualifying session.

Both Red Bull cars were excluded from the final qualifying session of the season after the front wings on both cars failed the so-called deflection tests which see if the front wing, or parts of it, flex under load.

While in previous years, it was Red Bull’s front wing mainplane that was under question for seeming to twist and flex closer to the ground under load, in this instance, it’s the angled elements toward the outside of the wing that provides the downforce that were under question here. The FIA’s deflection test indicated that those elements were flexing under load. That would result in lower downforce and drag at high speeds which would help straight line speed.

The interesting thing is that there are a couple of rumours as to why the wing flexed. Usually, it’s a case of parts being a bit light or less rigid or old which allows them to flex a little bit more. However, reporter Joe Saward said that an FIA source told him that the Red Bull front wing elements had a small leaf spring in a shroud that allowed the wing to flex under load. That would be a completely blatant violation of the rules and would have been worth exclusion for the weekend rather than just from qualifying.

I’d imagine that the full story and penalty will come out sometime after I’m done writing this article but I’d imagine that Vettel is happy to be getting out right about now if they can’t even win when cheating.

As we reach the end of the season, we have one more silly season update before the offseason scramble to fill the remaining seats.

Ferrari officially confirmed that Sebastian Vettel would take over the lead seat at the Scuderia next year. That’s something we’ve known for a while now so it doesn’t really come as news.

The interesting part of Ferrari’s news comes from McLaren’s side where they still aren’t willing to confirm their drivers for 2015. Alonso is a certainty there. Rumour had it that Hamilton had a relatively easy contract termination or buyout clause should he have lost the WDC which is where McLaren and Honda would have pounced. Instead, we’re still waiting on them to confirm either driver or at least for a hint at the team’s second driver.

Speaking of Ferrari, they’re already working on their 2016 second driver to pilot alongside Vettel. Reports out of Italy indicate that it’s a three-man shortlist for the seat. Lewis Hamilton is the preferred option but it’s entirely possible that they don’t have a prayer of signing him. Valtteri Bottas would be the second choice and some believe that he’s signed a pre-contract for 2016 that only has an out for Ferrari should they sign Hamilton. Kimi Raikkonen staying on for another season is the last option in case Ferrari can’t get anyone else.

This is the first time that we’ve heard about Ferrari’s plans to replace Raikkonen when his contract expires after next season. However, we all know the reason why. Before his accident in Japan, it was a near certainty that Jules Bianchi would take over the seat in 2016. Since that fateful day in October, plans have been forced to change in Maranello.

Both Lotus and Force India confirmed that they are returning in 2015 with the same driver lineups as this year. Pastor Maldonado and Nico Hulkenberg were confirmed for next year heading into this weekend. In the break since Brazil, Lotus confirmed the return of Romain Grosjean who deserves better than this but there’s a lack of top seats that he deserves. And during the weekend, Sergio Perez was confirmed to return to Force India for a second season.

f1-2014-abu-dhabi-van-der-gardeAnd while Sauber says that they’ve confirmed their driver lineup of 2015 of Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr, that doesn’t mean that the story is over. Giedo van der Garde, the team’s reserve driver, was reported to have a contract for a race seat in 2015. Instead, not only his he not going to be employed next year, the team sent him packing early. GVDG was supposed to run FP1 for the team this weekend but the team pulled his accreditation and fielded a substitute instead.

Last time out, I mentioned that I wouldn’t be surprised to see Adrian Sutil engage in some legal action over a contract violation. Not only are Sutil’s people sorting out their legal options but van der Garde’s team has already gotten to work. It’s a good thing that Sauber is getting those pay drivers in 2015 because they’ll need that money for legal fees.

It’s not quite silly season new proper but Ross Brawn’s name keeps coming up in talks.

The former technical director at both Benetton and Ferrari in their Schumacher championship years and team principal of Brawn GP in its championship year, Brawn has been out of the sport since the end of last year when he was forced out in a power struggle at the Mercedes AMG team. Clearly, though, his influence is one they needed since he laid the groundwork for this year’s dominant campaign.

Over the last week, rumours have heated up that Brawn was on the short list to return to Ferrari to take up the post of Team Principal, the position held by Jean Todt in Ferrari’s 2000s renaissance. According to Martin Brundle, Brawn personally texted him to deny that rumour but he’s the only one reporting that.

The one true prophet of Formula One, Eddie Jordan, also says Brawn’s not going to Ferrari. Eddie says that Brawn will be heading up the VW/Audi operation when it arrives in 2017. For the last ten years, VW has been rumoured to be making the move to F1 but with Porsche now running in WEC/Le Mans, manufacturers interested in the hybrid power of current F1 and Audi already having experience with hybrid systems from Le Mans, this might be the best time for VW/Audi to make that jump and who better to do that with than Brawn?

Nobody else is reporting Brawn’s link to Volkswagen but at the same time, how often is Eddie wrong?

A quick news update on Jules Bianchi.

Earlier this week, his parents released a statement with the first bit of good news we’ve gotten in nearly two months. Bianchi has been taken out of his artificial coma and is breathing on his own though he remains unconscious. The statement also noted that he has been transported back to France which indicates that he’s stable enough for transport even if he hasn’t regained consciousness.

Between Schumacher and Bianchi’s accidents, it’s not been an easy year to be an F1 fan. It’s nice to have a little bit of good news now though.

And so ends another Formula One World Championship season. Even if the current season was lacking variety at the head of the field, at least it was fairly interesting for most of it.

We’ll be back with coverage of this week’s post-season test in Abu Dhabi and then sporadic off-season news between now and the pre-season tests.

Until next time, don’t get stuck in one of those new fangled Trulli eTrains.


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