Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Not Bad for a #2 Driver

Like it or not, the Formula One World Drivers’ Champion is the driver who scores the most points over the course of the season. Sure, older championship formulae saw some low results eliminated so only the best finishes counted but that’s not the system we have now. You have to be consistently fast to be the WDC today.

While Lewis Hamilton may be the fastest driver in F1, he wasn’t always at or near the front of the field. Love him or hate him, that’s why he isn’t the champion for the third-straight year. The consistency, speed and luck of Nico Rosberg won him a well-earned first Formula One World Drivers’ Championship.

The race started with the two Mercedes on the front row. Lewis was ahead as a win was his best chance of a championship victory. However, raw pace meant that Nico was half-a-second faster than the next closest car. All things being equal, the Silver Arrows were untouchable in the desert.

The race started surprisingly cleanly if you weren’t Max Verstappen. With both Red Bulls starting on super-softs rather than ultra-softs, they were in prime position to use strategy to stay in touch with Mercedes. However, Verstappen’s challenge nearly ended at the start when he spun off the side of Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India. Max complained he didn’t have enough room but the young driver showed his age by effectively asking The Hulk to take the first corner through Qatar in order to give him adequate space.

So while Lewis and Nico carried on outfront with their dull lapping, Verstappen was quickly moved to an alternate strategy. Red Bull moved him to a one-stop strategy where he would swap to the softs and take it home from there. Most other drivers were going ultra-soft-soft to run the race, including the two Mercedes.

It was the alternate strategies and Hamilton’s deliberate race-pace that made life interesting in this race. After their pitstops (both of which were slow to avoid unsafe releases), Verstappen split the two Mercedes and impeded Rosberg’s progress. This was likely a direct result of Hamilton’s race-long effort to keep the pack within touch of Rosberg. He held station just over one-second ahead of Rosberg all race to try to help the chasing back have a go at Nico.

Fortunately for Hamilton, he was gifted a second chance to relieve Nico of the championship lead. With Sebastian Vettel being switched to a long middle-stint followed by a short final stint on super-softs, he saw an opportunity to help get one place from his teammate’s grasp. With Vettel extracting from his Ferrari everything it had, he was able to close on Verstappen for 3rd and quickly make up the gap to Rosberg with Hamilton’s help backing up his teammate.

Hamilton would speed away in the first two sectors but parked the bus in the final sector where you can’t pass. By the final lap, Hamilton was running nine seconds slower than his pole lap. While Verstappen might have been less considerate of the championship battle, Vettel noted that he was being careful not to hit Rosberg and disrupt the championship that way. That was the last thing Lewis needed.

Hamilton won the race for his 10th win of the season. However, Rosberg’s 2nd meant that Lewis is the first driver to win ten races in a season without winning the Championship. The Championship honours went to Rosberg by five points in an unexpectedly thrilling championship conclusion. Vettel rounded out the podium.

Max Verstappen finished in fourth but only 1.7 seconds off the lead. Daniel Ricciardo was only five seconds behind in 5th. Kimi Raikkonen came across the line in 6th. Nico Hulkenberg was 7th in his final Force India race. Sergio Perez was next in 8th. In his final race, Felipe Massa scored points in 9th. Fernando Alonso closed out the top ten.

While we can fawn over Lewis’ driving in the latter stages of the Grand Prix, it doesn’t sound like Mercedes is going to do the same. He was ordered to pick up the pace in late in the race to prevent him from falling into the clutches of Vettel while trying to force Nico back into him.

British newspapers the Daily Mirror and Daily Mail (so take this with a massive grain of salt) say that Mercedes is considering terminating Lewis’ contract over defying team orders. The Guardian and Daily Telegraph say that a suspension or other disciplinary measures could come Hamilton’s way.

Of course, given the calibre of driver that Hamilton is, it’s unlikely that we’ll see him fired at this point. Granted, it’s not like he has a landing spot for 2017 but I’m sure a team would be willing to make space for him, consequences be damned.

This news comes on the heels of Lewis’ non-denial denial of his threat to quit Mercedes following the crash in Barcelona back in May. In an interview with Martin Brundle, when asked if he did threaten to quit Mercedes mid-season which led to a hastily arranged test for Pascal Wehrlein, Lewis only said, “That is all private stuff that is in the past.”

Lewis’ relationship with Mercedes has been very hot and cold over the last few years. He’s made thinly veiled allusions to the fact that he believes that the team is either sabotaging him or favouring Nico. There is the destruction of his driver room in the Mercedes hospitality unit during the Baku race weekend. He might be trouble but even I’m willing to say he’s not more trouble than he’s worth.

There is also the concern that Lewis can have his attention diverted from the track quite easily. While he can have hobbies and vacations, he’s trying his best to be James Hunt. Between tabloid romances, flirting with Penelope Cruz on the grid and reportedly working on an album with Drake, perhaps his focus isn’t as dedicated to racing as other drivers on the grid. Perhaps he’s so bored with his day job that he wouldn’t mind Mercedes swapping in Wehrlein so he can focus on other endeavours and coming back with Ferrari to capture more championships.

The silly season update for 2017 is pretty short.

Marcus Ericcson was confirmed to return to Sauber for next season in a move that shocks absolutely no one. He is likely to be joined by a new driver, though. Felipe Nasr’s ability to fund a seat in F1 took a serious hit with the announcement that Banco do Brasil would not be renewing its sponsorship with Sauber. As such, it’s likely that Sauber will hire a pay driver who can bring more money.

The current rumour is that Pascal Wehrlein would make the jump from Manor to Sauber. The problem is that Wehrlein is a Mercedes junior driver going to a Ferrari team that is rumoured to be switching to Honda power in 2018. This could result in Manor losing their Mercedes power unit discount but one wonders if this will mark the end of the line for Wehrlein in the Mercedes junior program. That doesn’t even factor in the handicap of running the 2016 Ferrari engine in a car with much higher drag. I don’t rate Sauber’s chances in 2017 highly but at least Manor will finish in the money again.

We do have a 2018 update already, though.

It’s now widely believed that Porsche have already signed Fernando Alonso to a pre-contract for his services in LMP1 starting in 2018. In a video for Mark Webber’s retirement, Alonso said “I will ask you many things when I join your adventure.” Many are taking that to mean that Alonso plans to or absolutely will be a driver for Porsche soon.

He has to get through the 2017 F1 season first as it’s believed that he may have an escape clause if he isn’t happy with the McLaren-Honda’s performance after the first pre-season test. Presumably, Jenson Button’s retirement would only last two months and change before returning to the hot seat.

There are also changes coming to the 2017 calendar. The provisional calendar included the German Grand Prix from Hockenheim for the second-consecutive year but Hockenheim won’t be hosting the race because of financial concerns. Hockenheim and the Nurburgring are in an agreement to alternate hosting of the race in order to manage the costs of hosting F1 but the Nurburgring missed the 2015 and now the 2017 race. For both years, Hockenheim didn’t step in to keep a German GP on the calendar.

The removal of Hockenheim pushes Hungary one week later to keep a four-week summer break for the teams. We will also see Malaysia and Singapore revert to their current places on the calendar rather than Malaysia coming before Singapore.

It’s also possible that the San Marino Grand Prix could make a return in order to keep a 21-race calendar with the same number of races in Europe. The Imola Circuit was lined up as a potential replacement to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix and even had a deal in place pending an agreement not being reached for Monza. Now, it looks to be first in line to replace Hockenheim. The problem is that only five weeks would separate the races in Imola and Monza. If Imola makes the schedule, some serious reshuffling would be in order.

Also, it looks like Imola might have a spot on the calendar with Asian flyaway races ready to drop like flies. We previously discussed the Malaysian Grand Prix being likely to not renew its contract because of repeated losses. It’s contract expires after the 2018 race.

Singapore will not renew after its 2017 race to end its F1 contract. Singapore joined the F1 calendar in order to boost tourism in the city-state and with the goal fulfilled, it seems that the country’s tourism agency is willing to leave Formula One. Unlike many people in the sport who see racing as a calling, the folks in Singapore see it as more of a business investment to boost revenues in the country through tourism. We may see some more new venues added to F1 sooner rather than later. How’s that Las Vegas night race look?

I hope you enjoy standing starts because we’re going to see a lot of them next season.

We already knew that safety car starts for wet weather races would give way to standing starts when the track is ready for green flag racing. Now, Bernie has gotten the teams to agree to standing starts after each safety car period, including in the dry. Granted, the proposal was made by Force India. Bernie’s proposal was the old stock car / late model racing format of running half the race (called “racing for 40 minutes” by the AMuS report) followed by a 20-minute halftime break before the concluding 40-minute second half and was rejected quite quickly. How do you get people to agree to something? Propose something else that you know they won’t go for and they’ll tend to take the alternative.

While the team bosses agreed to the change, the Strategy Group, F1 Commission and World Motor Sport Council must all agree to the change in rules as well.

Of course, the benefit of repeated standing starts is that enough of them will burn out the clutches of the cars as they’re dumped with anger. The idea is to close up the field and open up the opportunity for mistakes to shake up the field. However, mechanical failures could play a role in that as well if a clutch isn’t capable of handling repeated starts.

And so concludes another Formula One World Championship. Action will resume next year with the winter tests of the new aero formula cars and the season kicks off proper in Australia.

We’ll be back with various news updates as critical ones happen. Until then, don’t get stuck behind Lewis Hamilton.


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