Formula 1 visited Abu Dhabi last weekend for the final chapter of the intriguing book that has been the 2017 Formula 1 World Championship. With the bright lights and hypnotic sunsets of the desert providing the setting, the finest racing drivers on the planet set themselves to the task of playing their usual high-speed chess game around the Yas Marina Circuit. The 2017 season’s finale was a tense, rather than exciting, race, but there were still several things to note as the sport takes a well-deserved break…
Bottas corrects his Brazilian blunder
After a lacklustre third quarter of the season saw his title hopes rapidly fade, Valtteri Bottas produced some strong form as the 2017 season entered its final stretch. In Brazil, the Finn claimed a well-earned pole position, but was bullied off the start line by Sebastian Vettel, who went on to win. In Abu Dhabi, the Mercedes man bounced back from that disappointment in admirable fashion. First, he stormed to pole once again, before producing a gritty and tenacious drive on Sunday to claim the win. Lewis Hamilton kept the Finn honest throughout proceedings, but despite all the pressure, Bottas didn’t flinch and coolly steered his Silver Arrow to the third victory of his career. Bottas, as most Finns, is not overly emotional on the outside, but on the podium, he admitted that this was a particularly important victory for him. It gives him a good springboard for his 2018 campaign, when he will once again have to cross swords with Hamilton, as well as the Ferrari and Red Bull drivers.
Mercedes send a message
Despite claiming both titles for the fourth season in a row, the 2017 season was definitely the toughest of Mercedes’ reign as Formula 1’s premier outfit. In Abu Dhabi, however, the German outfit rolled back the races and utterly dominated proceedings, locking out the front row on Saturday, before storming to a one-two finish on Sunday. Not only did the Silver Arrows win, but the extent of their dominance was reminiscent of previous seasons, as Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari was 20 seconds behind at the flag despite finishing P3. The German never seemed to be in contention for the race win, or even for pole position, and the two Mercedes drivers only had each other for company as the laps wore on. The result makes clear that while Mercedes may have faced their stiffest challenge yet in 2017, they remain a world class racing outfit, bristling with talent across every aspect of their organisation. They will not give up their position at the head of the pack easily, and will be working tirelessly to produce another spectacular season in 2018. It is up to the chasing pack to respond.
Hülkenberg brings the heroics for Renault
Since making their return to F1 as a full works team last year, Renault have shown considerable ambition in their quest to once again fight at the front of the pack. As part of their progress, they spent 2017 engaged in a nail-biting battle for P6 in the Constructor’s Championship, along with Toro Rosso and Haas. Heading into last weekend’s race, the three teams were separated by only six points, with Renault in P7, four points adrift of Toro Rosso. Enter Nico Hülkenberg. The German has been leading the French outfit’s charge all season long, but in Abu Dhabi, he delivered when it mattered most. A P7 grid spot counted for little after a poor start, but Hülkenberg fought back and crossed the line in P6, earning Renault 8 points in the process. With their rivals failing to score, the team from Enstone successfully claimed P6, as well as the extra scoop of prize money that comes with it. The road to the front of the grid remains long, but for Renault and Hülkenberg, it’s mission accomplished for 2017.
Last chance saloon for Sauber hopefuls
With the 2017 season now done and dusted, attention has already turned to the start of the new campaign. Of course, this includes the small focus of who will be driving which car come Australia 2018. There are only three seats still available, namely the two Sauber seats, as well as a spot at Williams. Robert Kubica and Paul di Resta appear to be the two key names linked to the latter seat, but the situation at Sauber is a little more complex. Pascal Wehrlein out-performed teammate Marcus Ericsson in Abu Dhabi, as he has done for most of 2017. The problem for Wehrlein (a German) is that Sauber’s owners, Longbow Finance, are of Swedish origin, just like Ericsson. Furthermore, Ferrari are pushing hard for a spot for junior driver and F2 champion Charles Leclerc, who is an exciting prospect. Antonio Giovinazzi, who did duty for Sauber during Wehrlein’s absence due to a back injury at the start of the year, is also in the frame. The final decision is yet to be taken, but for the two incumbents, the final chance to stake their claims has now passed, with Wehrlein producing the better performance. The harsh reality is that either Wehrlein, or Ericsson, or both, are likely to find themselves without a seat for next year.
Alonso ends the McLaren-Honda partnership on a high
After three turbulent years, the McLaren-Honda partnership finally came to an end in Abu Dhabi, with the British outfit making use of Renault engines in 2018, while the Japanese manufacturer will partner with Toro Rosso for next season. There is little use in trying to sugar coat the partnership’s results, which have generally been abysmal. In Abu Dhabi, however, Fernando Alonso made sure that the doomed partnership bowed out on a high note. The fiery Spaniard performed his usual job of flogging the daylights out of an unwilling package with especial aplomb. Just like in Brazil, he found himself stuck behind the Williams of Felipe Massa, but this time, the two-time world champion found a way past and crossed the line in P9. Alonso has never really been happy with the performance level of his McLaren’s Honda power unit, and he has frequently made his feelings clear in public. Some of his remarks weren’t particularly well received by the Japanese half of the partnership, but frankly, they should only be too grateful that they have had the supreme talents of the Spaniard to mask their performance deficit. The partnership of McLaren and Honda failed on many occasions over the past three years, but Alonso has always been a beacon of strength during the storm, and so it proved yet again in Abu Dhabi.
A year of growth for Haas
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix marked the end of the second season in Formula 1 for Haas, the sport’s latest addition to the grid. The US outfit were locked in a season-long battle with Renault and Toro Rosso for P6 in the Constructor’s Championship, but they ultimately had to settle for P8. Haas will be a little disappointed with that outcome, but their growth as a team over the 2017 season should not be discarded. In their 2016 debut season, the team amassed a respectable total of 28 points, but in 2017, they easily eclipsed that mark, accumulating a total of 47 points. Furthermore, the team enjoyed a milestone in Monaco, with both cars finishing in the top ten for the first time in Haas’ short F1 history, a feat they repeated in Japan. Haas have gone about their F1 project with no intention of just making up the numbers, and frankly, have achieved more in two short years than any of the “new” teams that entered the sport in 2010 ever did. They are far from being frontrunners, but for the fledgling US outfit, 2017 was a season of growth and further maturity.