I’ve worked it out: I’ve been away for five weeks in the last six: Austin, Mexico City, home, Brazil, Bahrain for World Endurance finale and now here in Abu Dhabi. No chance of harbour rot there, then, as sailors say when they’ve been in port too long. Hotel rot, maybe. I keep thinking I should be reviewing hotels; I used to work for Britain’s best-known catering and hotel trade magazine. But then these things are done by amateurs these days. And who’s accounting for taste?
The one thing I have realised is that I must still love this sport of ours after such an overdose. Last weekend’s programme in Bahrain was crazy. As well as the practice, qualifying and six hour race that goes with the World Endurance championship, there were two races for GP2 and GP3, plus two for the local Porsches and the Indian-based MRF championship, a sort of 2.0 Formula Renault using Dallara chassis with an interesting variety of drivers. That meant eight sprint races – the longest being GP2 at around an hour – plus the six hour race.
OK, I was sharing the microphone with one of the Arab world’s great motor sport commentators, Firas Nimri. You may think that no such thing exists, a great motor sport commentator from the Arab states but don’t you believe it, there are quite a few and Firas is up there with the best. And he talks for Jordan, which is where he’s from. I often have to ask if there are any commas or full stops in Arabic because the flow is incessant. We form quite a powerhouse between the two of us. He easily outperforms a lot of the commentators I work with during the year.
He disappeared at the end of the World Endurance race in Bahrain but he’ll pop up here today or tomorrow and off we’ll go again for our joint finale of the year before meeting in Bahrain again at the start of next year.
These Arab races – indeed, any new venue – are often denigrated as having no place in the modern Formula One World Championship. Old stagers of my vintage think they should take their place at the bottom rung of the motor sport ladder and earn their heritage, earn the right to hold a Grand Prix or any other form of motor sport, simply because they don’t have any history in the sport. But where Spa or Monza or Silverstone are struggling – not to mention the totally inability of that great motor sporting country Germany – to meet Bernie’s financial demands the championship is supported by countries that can afford to pay those demands.
If you don’t like that situation, don’t just denigrate it without coming up with a total solution to solve the World Championship and when you do that, you can pick up your Nobel prize on the way out!
And so to Abu Dhabi where it’s sunny today. Yesterday, I simultaneously watched Sky try to set up a Jenson Button interview on the beach in the rain and practice for what I guess is an inshore class one power race which will be happening off the Corniche this weekend. Formula One and powerboats? Is that enough horsepower for you, let alone what’s driving along the Corniche? I took to a taxi from the Corniche to my Grand Prix hotel, initially wondering if it was wise taking a taxi in the rain where wet roads are almost unknown. I made it here for roughly the price of two beers, that’s £6 each. Be cheaper to drink petrol.
And so to round 19 of the World Championship. The magic number so far has been 18, says the FIA: 18 rounds, 18 countries, 18,822 laps in half that magic number of months. There are a number of scores to settle, of course, although the first three in the championship has now been decided: Lewis Hamilton ahead of Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel. However, there’s a Finn-ale where Valtteri Bottas is just a point ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and on recent form, that should be a good one. (Cue reappearance of lone Finnish journalist who has missed the last three races – he’s says it’s because of his deadline!) In theory they could both be overtaken by Bottas’s teammate Felipe Massa and don’t discount this; both Williamses were on the podium here last year. Come to that, Daniil Kvyat could even overtake Massa for sixth. There is plenty of potential juggling further back. There are also potential changes in the constructors series, but the only realistic change might be Toro Rosso taking Lotus for sixth in the championship; there are nine points between them.
So who looks good here? Lewis Hamilton has had two poles and three wins here, not to mention another two second places on the grid in his six races here. His number, 44, is displayed all over Abu Dhabi as it’s the 44th year of independence and of course, if he wins here it will be his 44th win, which is why he too will be displaying the number 44 on various parts of his equipment including his helmet and gloves.
Teammate Nico Rosberg has to be in with a big shout, having won the last two races and the last five pole positions but he was also on pole position here a year ago but suffered a mechanical problem which saw him steadily slip back tp 14th. Kimi Raikkonen won here in 2012 from fourth on the grid; it will be his 230th Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel, meanwhile, has the best record with two pole positions, winning from there in 2010, plus two more wins. And that’s the roll call of pole winners and race winners.
If you looking for real championship excitement, then GP3 is where it is to be found. Italy’s Luca Ghiotto traded the lead with France’s Esteban Ocon in Bahrain last weekend, but comes here with a two point lead while third place is also close with a two point gap between Britain’s Emil Berntstorff and Germany’s Marvin Kirchhofer. As usual, there are two races for the GP3…
So there’s a lot to look out for and a lot going on. They make a big effort to promote the race – bigger than in some more established countries – and as usual, there will be a big ex-pat turn-out with lots of action both in the grandstands and the paddock club. You may feel that motor racing in the UAE is in an Arab desert, but there’s lot of interest and passion for motoring and motor sport here and that will be reflected here in Abu Dhabi at the 2015 F1 finale.
By Bob Constanduros