The 2015 Formula 1 World Championship season comes to an end with this weekend Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. While the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship battles have been won and done, there’s still the matter of the minor placings and plenty of off-track politics to contend with…
|2015 Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix|
|Date||27-29 November 2015||Lap Length||5.554km|
|Free Practice Session 1||Fri 13:00-14:30||Free Practice Session 2||Fri 17:00-18:30|
|Free Practice Session 3||Sat 14:00-15:00||Qualifying||Sat 17:00-18:00|
|Race (55 laps)||Sun 17:00-19:00||2014 Winner||Lewis Hamilton|
Session times quoted in Gulf Standard Time (GMT +4:00)
One of a brace of new venues to hit the Formula 1 calendar in recent years, the Yas Marina circuit looked – on paper at least – to take Grand Prix racing to a glitzier and more glamorous level.
And much of that is true. It has amazing facilities and architecture – its multicoloured Yas Hotel is truly something – a novel underground pit exit, and a twilight setting to make the backdrop all the more stunning.
But in terms of wheel-to-wheel action, the Hermann Tilke designed circuit has been an abject failure. Two crucial areas have come under fire since it made its debut on the calendar in 2009: it poses no challenge to drivers, and it offers next to no overtaking opportunities.
Of the six races held here to-date, the majority have been absolute snooze-fests, and the addition two DRS zones have done little to improve the show.
Rewind to 2014
Lewis Hamilton may have been beaten to pole position on Saturday at the Yas Marina Circuit by Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, but points are handed out on Sunday’s race and the Englishman duly crushed his sole championship rival to become Britain’s first two-time Formula 1 World Champion since Jackie Stewart achieved the feat in 1971.
The Englishman burst off the line at the start and was never headed, leaving Rosberg to rely on talent, better strategy or a dose of bad luck to strike the championship leader. In the end, fortune played its cruelest card, with Rosberg striking an ERS failure that saw his championship hopes evaporate as those behind him steadily caught up and overtook him.
Rosberg ignored the calls of his team to pit in the closing laps and save himself the indignity of being lapped by the champion-elect, but he would have none of it: if he was going to lose, he would do it on track. He eventually crossed the line in fourteenth, and was among the first to congratulate Hamilton before the podium celebrations occurred.
It was the honorable way to lose and Rosberg knew it: it was the mark of a great future champion who will hopefully have his moment own in the sun. Both men drove outstandingly all season in what was clearly the best car by a country mile.
Rosberg’s troubles – which ultimately extended to a loss of hybrid power, lagging turbo and sticking brakes – gave Williams’ Felipe Massa the opportunity to stage a late charge for victory. The Brazilian veteran ran on an alternative strategy and led for much of the middle of the race before making a final pit stop to switch to the Super Soft Pirelli rubber.
The Williams driver quickly set about trying to close down Hamilton’s lead, but the Mercedes driver had enough in hand – and enough tyre life in his older rubber – to thwart Massa’s ambitions. Half a minute adrift, Massa’s teammate Valtteri Bottas completed the podium to deliver Williams its first double podium finish since 2005, putting in a sterling recovery drive after an appalling start dropped him from third to eighth at the end of the first lap.
Speaking of recovery drives, undoubtedly the drive of the day would have to go to Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo. After he and Sebastian Vettel were consigned to pit lane starts for falling foul of post-race scrutineering (their front wing flaps flexed too much and constituted illegal ‘moveable aerodynamic devices’), the Australian charged through the field to finish fourth. In typical style, the Perth driver put in some impressive overtaking moves while also trying to preserve his tyre life on heavy fuel to allow him to run a mammoth opening stint.
The Form Guide
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix has a history of producing predictable and processional races, and there’s little reason to expect that the Mercedes’ shouldn’t cakewalk this weekend.
Having wrapped up back-to-back Drivers’ and Constructors’ championship titles, there’s still the fierce battle waging between Lewis Hamilton and teammate Nico Rosberg to contend with. The latter has had the ascendancy in recent races, with five consecutive pole positions and back-to-back wins in Mexico and Brazil.
This weekend will be all about a battle of pride between the two, as neither will want to head into the off-season being beaten by the other at the last race of the year. Both drivers will of course downplay the significance, but the statistics show that this is a circuit that has tended to favour Hamilton over Rosberg.
The Silver Arrows’ sole rival this season has been Ferrari. While the red cars have rarely had the match of their German rivals, the SF15-T has occasionally proven itself to be a Mercedes beater when the conditions – particular track temperatures – fell their way.
Hotter conditions have tended help Ferrari and hinder Mercedes, and the combination of Gulf conditions and Pirelli’s decision to bring its Soft and Super Soft compounds could play into the hands of Sebastian Vettel and teammate Kimi Räikkönen.
Given the similar conditions to the Bahrain and Singapore Grands Prix earlier this season – where Räikkönen and Vettel respectively thrived – we might be in for a closer scrap at the front of the field than has recently been the case.
Räikkönen will also be eager to sew up fourth place in the Drivers’ Championship standings. The veteran sits one point behind his Finnish compatriot, Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, in what has been a season-long battle between the two that has occasionally ended in tears.
Another interesting championship battle will be between Red Bull Racing teammates Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo, who sit 10 points apart in favour of the Russian youngster. Luck has rarely gone Ricciardo’s way this season and the Australian will be hoping for a trouble-free weekend – most importantly free of engine change grid penalties – in order to get one over his younger stablemate.
The season-long saga over what engine will power Red Bull Racing in 2016 could also be resolved this weekend. Having publicly trashed the engine partner with whom it won four success Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship titles at almost every opportunity, Red Bull Racing announced its split with the French engine-maker before it had signed a new supply contract. Overtures to Mercedes, Ferrari and even Honda fell on deaf ears, and so it has had to go crawling back to Renault to reignite a seemingly irreparable marriage.
The expectation is that it will run unbranded Renault power units next season, the development of which the team will fund while it looks to secure a partnership with a new engine manufacturer. That announcement should, in theory, free up is sister outfit Scuderia Toro Rosso to confirm it will run one-year-old Ferrari power units next year.
Slightly further down the field, there’s another tense scrap for the final positions in the top-ten of the Drivers’ Championship standings. Force India’s Nico Hülkenberg, Lotus’ Romain Grosjean and Toro Rosso rookie Max Verstappen are separated by three points heading into the final race of the season. Lotus and Toro Rosso are also split by just nine points in their battle for sixth place in the Constructors’ Championship standings. There’s a lot to play for in the midfield and that battle will be fascinating to watch.
Speaking of Lotus, this weekend will mark what is certain to be the last Grand Prix where the Lotus name will grace the grid ahead of its buyout by Renault. Also coming to an end will be the Enstone team’s partnership with Romain Grosjean, who will notch up his 83rd race with the team. While the partnership never yielded a race win (although such an outcome would have been richly deserved), the story has been a fascinating turnaround of an enfant terrible into one of the most promising, yet underrated, drivers in the paddock.
The Frenchman will head Stateside to the all-new Haas F1 Team in 2016, paving the way for last year’s GP2 Series title-winner, Jolyon Palmer, to make a well-deserved and long-overdue Grand Prix debut.
Images via Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team, Red Bull Racing and XPB Images