2018 Abu Dhabi GP Preview – By Bob Constanduros
And so, after 20 races roaming the world, we come to the finale here in Abu Dhabi. It has seemed like a long season – any more and it definitely would be – but now the hard work begins for some as they work towards 2019, Formula One takes stock of itself, reviews its deals, pats itself on the back with awards ceremonies while some hunker down and switch on a bullshit limiter and do things like book flights and hotels for 2019. Everyone has their own off-season agenda and it’s very varied. I think I’m in the latter group, with a peep over my shoulder to make sure I’m still involved!
Formula One is still in a state of evolution. I think we should be very happy with this. I’m not criticising the last regime, just saying that the aims and methods of the current one are very different. And I’m not looking at the bottom line of financial reward either. That doesn’t involve me. What I see is that there is more interest in Formula One than there was before, and that’s fine by me.
There are people out there who see all the drawbacks of the current regime and that the share price is poor. I’m not actually that bothered. I’m not an investor, I just want to see it succeeding and pulling in more people. I do want to see technical changes that will improve the racing but I can see that that is being reviewed and action is being taken. I appreciate the problems that Formula One have while keeping everyone happy; it is a massive operation to take into account the various parties’ differing interests.
Sadly, the prospect of a more open championship seems remote. Hopefully it will be a slightly more level playing field, with Red Bull and Honda more involved than ever and able to give Ferrari and Mercedes a proper run for their money. But these things are complicated. Walking in to the circuit this morning with veteran race engineer Jock Clear, we were talking about the individual influence that one man can have on a race programme and how it can be vastly over-rated. Is Red Bull’s success down to Adrian Newey, Ferrari’s flop to the death of Sergio Marchionne, McLaren’s plummet to its new management (it has actually improved three places since last year), Williams’s problems to Claire or previous Mercedes wunderkind Paddy Lowe? Each case has to be judged individually, of course, but can it really be laid at the door of one man?
As we leave this season with some questions unanswered, there are still some that can be settled this weekend. Third, fourth and fifth places in the World Championship are still up for grabs. Raikkonen is currently third and 14 points ahead of compatriot Valtteri Bottas. Knowing Kimi, he’d quite happily pass up a weekend in St Petersburg, venue for the FIA’s prize-giving, if he got pipped for third. And Abu Dhabi was the scene of Valtteri Bottas’s last win – from pole, incidentally. Mercedes would love him to win.
But breathing down his neck – just three points behind – is Max Verstappen, once again being labelled the hooligan of F1 after his Interlagos antics with Esteban Ocon. He won’t care, of course, but that won’t make it any better. Basically Bottas has to come here and win and put all the rest of it to bed. Otherwise we could be signing off 2018 with a nasty taste in our mouths.
Daniel Ricciardo – with Kimi and others – is one of those who is moving on, looking for a change of team. In his case, it’s Renault who he is hoping will provide more reliable engines than the ones he’s had at Red Bull and a team that will hopefully not be affected by the scandals surrounding Carlos Ghosn, who was a strong supporter of Renault’s Formula One programme. Daniel is untouchable in sixth place in the championship, not that he wants to finish there, of course, but that’s where he is. There are eight instances of him not being classified in races this year – more than anyone else and as many times as his future teammate and the man he’s replacing put together.
Further down the order, there are potential changes which will mean little to the drivers involved. Hulkenberg is 11 points ahead of Perez but that will require a fourth place to reverse that. Perez is three points ahead of Magnussen who is five points ahead of the departing Alonso, who is one point ahead of Ocon. So changes are possible.
But going on last year’s evidence, this isn’t a race which upsets the form book. In spite of the two long straights here – 41% of the track – and two DRS zones, there were only seven DRS overtaking manoeuvres last year and no normal passes. There hasn’t been a safety car since 2012 and last year was a one-stop winning strategy – actually the top 13 – and that doesn’t looking like changing, although we do have a softer tyre range. Of course, the temperature can go as high as 40 degrees, but cools by 15 degrees as the sun sets. It’s all very pretty, but doesn’t necessarily promote great racing.
There’s much hype regarding the departure of Fernando Alonso, including a special livery. As my colleague Ben Hunt of the Sun remarks, he’s looking forward to seeing Stoffel Vandoorne’s special livery too. Drivers come and go and sure, Fernando’s been an exciting one to watch with much success, but he’s not leaving as a pauper and he’s happy to face up to new challenges. I view his departure rather as people may view mine; that I’ve been around long enough and I’m just getting in the way of future talent!
So we head into round 21 with a race to be won, and I hope it is Valtteri’s again this year. I don’t usually hope for one driver over another, and I shall just be glad to escape with as little bullshit as possible! Now it’s time for a little party at Force India…