Abu Dhabi GP 2017: The red team had no chance to challenge Mercedes!

Last weekend it was time for the season finale under the setting sun of Abu Dhabi. There was actually no true excitement in the air, as Hamilton had secured the world championship already in Mexico. Under the artificial lights of the glorious Yas Marina Circuit, it was Valtteri Bottas’ turn to shine. The Finn was in the limelight in the qualifying where he was in a class of his own. This time he beat his teammate purely by driving, without any due to Hamilton’s misfortune or mistakes. There was a clear 0.172s gap between the Mercedes teammates in Bottas’ favour. Unfortunately, Ferrari proved unable to challenge the Silver Arrows for a front row grid slot. Sebastian, who qualified third, was already half a second down on pole-setter Bottas. Kimi showed promising performance in the qualifying as well. In the closing stages, however, Red Bull’s Ricciardo got the upper hand on the Iceman, taking P4 and leaving the Finn in P5. Teammate Verstappen completed the third row for Red Bull. However, the Dutchman was already a second off Bottas’ pace. Once again, the pink-liveried Force Indias proved their reliability and excellent performance by qualifying 7th and 8th, Perez having the upper hand on teammate Ocon. 

As lights went out for the very last time this season, I was surprised at how great a start all top six drivers took. Bottas on pole kept his head cool as ice and held on firmly to his lead. Mercedes were having a double lead, with Sebastian, Ricciardo, Kimi and Verstappen following close behind. Kimi seemed hungry to get past Ricciardo, but overtaking proved extremely difficult in the darkening night of Abu Dhabi. World champion Hamilton was close to his teammate as well, but making it within DRS distance was no easy task. Soon it was obvious, that the Silver Arrows were out of Sebastian’s reach, as the German was unable to match Mercedes’ lap times.

Ferrari had planned a well-working pit stop strategy for Kimi. As Verstappen pitted as the first top driver on lap 15, Ferrari called Kimi in on the following lap. They both opted for a fresh set of supersoft Pirellis. After a smooth pit stop the Iceman re-joined the track ahead of Verstappen. In spite of a slightly delayed pit stop Ricciardo managed to re-join the track ahead of Kimi, but the Australian’s joy was very premature. Once again Red Bull’s reliability issues played a crucial role, as Ricciardo had to retire soon after his pit stop due to a hydraulic issue.

Hamilton was the last top driver to pit on lap 25. In spite of a flawless pit stop, the Briton didn’t benefit from the overcut, but the ice cool Finn managed to keep his lead. There were now two seconds separating the Mercedes teammates. Hamilton seemed determined to attack his teammate. This time the Briton managed to make it within DRS distance from his teammate, but Bottas made sure that Hamilton had no chance to try a move on him. On the contrary, Bottas responded by improving his pace. Sebastian, on the other hand, was driving quite a lonely race in P3. He was already 15 seconds down on the race-leading Finn, and teammate Kimi was 10 seconds behind Sebastian.

Towards the end of the race, the battle for the victory really intensified. Hamilton was putting serious pressure on his Finnish teammate, who was absolutely determined to take the third win of the season. Apart from a small lock-up, Bottas did no mistakes in the closing laps. The Finn drove to the chequered flag as the race winner. In addition to taking pole and race win, the cool-headed Finn also set the fastest lap time of the race, which made his weekend absolutely perfect. Hamilton had to settle for being the runner-up. There’s an interesting statistical detail related to Hamilton’s championship-winning seasons: after securing the championship, Hamilton has never won a race afterwards during that season! This time, too, the newly crowned world champion seemed to have lost his sharpest edge. Sebastian kept his third place till the end (and secured his 2nd place in the championship standings), and Kimi made it a very decent result for the red team by finishing 4th. Kimi’s P4 and Ricciardo’s retirement meant that Kimi jumped 4th in the championship standings, leaving the Australian 5th. Verstappen finished 5th for Red Bull and Hulkenberg 6th for Renault.

Since the Yas Marina Circuit doesn’t offer many chances for overtaking, the season finale turned out to be quite a boring race. So now the 2017 season is officially over, and there will be heart-ripping 17 weeks without Formula 1 racing! I can’t wait to see what the 2018 season will bring! But the new season aside, I hope Sebastian and Kimi and the whole Ferrari team have a wonderful Christmas time and relaxing off-season! Forza Ferrari always! 

With passion for racing red, 
Iina Huhmarniemi

Dec 05, 2017