2017 Abu Dhabi GP Preview – By Bob Constanduros
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, final round of this year’s World Championship, should, of course, have been the scene of the championship finale, a great battle between the two leaders in the series but sadly that’s not going to happen; it’s just another Grand Prix with little to gain for anyone. Yes, there are some tussles further down the order but as any racing driver will tell you, only winning really matters.
And the drivers who have won most at Yas Marina are Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel with three wins each, so the battle – while not for the title – is still a crucial one. Hamilton’s, of course, came not only with Mercedes but McLaren as well, while Vettel’s all came for Red Bull Racing, so again slightly skewed.
You could say it’s a super safe predictable race track – unlike Brazil, for instance. The track is smooth so Pirelli have brought their softest range although the first three last year still had to make two stops – and fourth placed Verstappen made only one. There’s bags of run-off here but those tight turns into the hairpin and the chicane at the end of the first straight do tempt drivers into risky manoeuvres which sometimes end in tears. Still, we haven’t seen the safety car here for a while.
Having said that, the pole-sitter isn’t always a shoe-in for victory. Sure, the winner has started from pole three times but equally he’s DNF-ed three times as well. That’s not counting Nico Rosberg’s 14th from pole when he had a DRS failure. And Kimi Raikkonen’s win came from fourth on the grid.
There are pretty safe assumptions to be made here as well. It’s probably not going to rain, for instance, and FP1 and FP2 are likely to be less representative than FP3 which starts at the same time as qualifying and the race, at 5pm, half an hour before sunset. Track temperature is always vital but I’m writing this having been on a long trip which started going from Heathrow to Brazil, back to Heathrow for four hours – deep joy – and then off to Bahrain for the World Endurance finale. And then the quick hop here, so I can’t check my records for last year’s race but the track temperature last weekend in Bahrain was never particularly high, and I shall be interested to see if that’s the case this weekend in those two earlier sessions, or whether they are all roughly similar.
There are, of course, still some places to be decided. Second placed Sebastian Vettel could be caught by Valtteri Bottas although the difference is 22pts. Fourth place could change too, where Daniel Ricciardo is seven points ahead of Kimi Raikkonen. The biggest battle is midfield for the Constuctors’ where Toro Rosso is sixth on 53pts, four ahead of seventh placed Renault on 49pts who in turn are two ahead of eighth placed Haas on 47pts.
It is quite a testing track in spite of its modern appearance and therefore safety zones. Its three sectors are quite different, with a fast, swooping first sector before a second sector of straights and tight corners and then a third one of tight-ish but technical corners back to the start finish line.
You might think there’s a few rookies here but only Lance Stroll hasn’t raced here before. Incidentally, he’s only two points away from his retiring teammate so there’s a little inter-team battle there. Similarly, Stoffel Vandoorne is only a couple away from Fernando Alonso, but the Belgian’s had a couple of wins here in GP2, just as Pierre Gasly has a win from last year. Brendon Hartley has also competed here in GP2, although a good seven years ago.
But as we head into the winter off-season, Formula One is far from calm. I have to say I’m fed up with being asked on Twitter who I think should drive for Williams. What bloody difference will my opinion make? What’s the point? More certain is that Jean Todt will still be FIA president at the end of the winter, for better or for worse. We might have some more information and ideas from Liberty Media on the future of the sport – or at least, some discussion points and starting points. I think there’s a lot more talking to be done between teams, but as Max Mosley discovered when he took over the FIA presidency from Jean-Marie Balestre in the early nineties, you can’t run Formula One as a democracy because nothing will ever be decided. You have to put your foot down sometime – which is what he later did. Liberty are going to have to do the same thing and it’s good that they have guidance from a number of real experts in F1, led by Ross Brawn, of course.
There are lots of changes in the pipeline and I hope that the new president of the FIA – who is the same as the old president – can provide leadership and direction. He won’t like his control potentially being usurped by his former technical director when they both at Ferrari, but if he doesn’t like it, he must come up with an alternative and that’s where this whole thing might stall, I fear. But that’s still to come; first, the Abu Dhabi GP. Enjoy.