Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 26° Track 29° Humidity 63% Wind 3.1 m/s
To the surprise of no one, it’s not raining in the desert. Slim, hope, but along with recounts it’s all that’s left to potentially throw the championship into doubt. That and reliability, of course as Lewis suffered an unexpected derate this AM during FP3 and has had his brakes replaced whilst Rosberg complained about the car pulling under braking. Vettel, too, had a mechanical issue, with a failed gearbox in FP2, but as it wasn’t his race gearbox, no penalty, though apparently the stewards considered one “just for old times’ sake”.
Toro Rosso, on the other hand, have clearly offended some minor deity and as a result they are well behind, having spent the weekend figuring out why their rear suspension is randomly chomping on the tyres and causing punctures.
Zak Brown made his debut in the paddock as incoming head of McHonda and has made the search for a title sponsor his main mission, not surprising given his extraordinary skill in the commercial side of the business. And not that I’m hinting at anything, but worth considering Bouillier and Ojjeh are both French. Though Ojjeh had motive a plenty to ditch Ron, and it was clearly a boardroom battle, hard to miss the fact that Bouillier will walk out of this having consolidated his position in Macca rather considerably, given Brown is not strong on the engineering side.
Ferrari ran Kimi on Supers (as did Bottas for Williams) meaning they might be looking for an easy way to ruin Raikkonen’s race, given a straight up 1 stop was the choice last year, and Ultra Soft to Soft looks to be the consensus call.
Hamilton had the a tenth or two in long runs during FP2, similar to Brasil but Rosberg will be very much wanting this pole position, as being as far as possible from the charging pack as possible will be tres important for the Championship leader and pole gives him best chance of that. Hamilton leading the pair all weekend
Kvyat Grosjean Magnussen, Sainz got the session underway, Toro Rosso with their newly sorted rear suspension hopefully preventing the punctures and general disasters that have littered their weekend. It’s a long lap and as the clock approached 15 minutes to go and Kvyat kicked off his hot lap, the big boys sat waiting in the garage.
14 minutes and out went the Merc duo, Hamilton leading Rosberg as the early runners sorted out with Magnussen, Gutierrez, Sainz, Ocon and Nasr being the leaders of the midfield. Grosjean complains of the same problem as yesterday through T9-T10 sounding rather lost.
12 minutes and Button temporarily takes P1 with an utter lack of whinging, remarkable except that he is of course done after this race.
Lewis was busy purpling the track as Button showed off in his swan song, owning the first 2 sectors, and then making it the trifecta, going 1:39.487 with Nico a full second back. Raikkonen following behind took S1 away from Lewis but got scrappy late and opened the door for Perez to have a redemptive P3, 0.2s up on Hulkenberg.
Rosberg owned up to 2 mistakes on his lap, and that opened the door for Vettel to go P2, still 0.872s off Lewis’ time however. Verstappen also took advantage of Rosberg’s poor effort to go P4 whilst Raikkonen decided to have a 2nd go with just under 5 minutes left to go in the session. Ricciardo only banged out P9 as Kimi flashed across the line, displacing Vettel from P2.
Williams had decided to run a set of SuperSofts to have some extra Ultras left for the later sessions, with Bottas going P9 and being right around the predicted cut off (low 1:41’s) but not entirely surprisingly, Massa looking like he’d need tha faster tyres.
At the back and with it all to play for, Wehrlein, Palmer, Kvyat, Sainz, Ericsson, and Ocon had it all to do, with Magnussen sitting on the hot seat. A cooling track was bringing faster times and with 2 minutes left the track was getting rather busy as lots of drivers scrambled to protect their position.
Button was on it early, promoting himself from P14 to P9 as the checquers fell. Ericsson could do nothing as Ocon managed a jump to P20, Magnussen up to P18 and Kyat P17. Wehrlein, with an obvious chip on his shoulder put himself P16 and gave Manor a breath of retaking P10 in the WCC and Palmer did the best of the lot, going P15 as he continued to dial in his Renault.
Heading out to watch the camel races were Kvyat, Magnussen, Nasr, Ocon, Sainz and Ericsson.
Lots of talk about Rosberg, and worth recounting that getting the Ultras up to temperature was a tricky thing at Monaco and with the sun going down it was a task being made no easier with temperatures dropping.
Hamilton was first out for Q2, wasting no time, followed by Rosberg and Raikkonen.
Around T21 and off they went, with Raikkonen required to back off a bit to allow for Rosberg setting up for his lap behind Lewis. Slower S1 for Lewis, as Raikkonen won that round, Rosberg took S2 and it was Lewis for S3 and again P1 for Hamilton, this time just a tenth up on Rosberg, who had a much better time of it but still lost 0.3s in the last sector.
Red Bull again went contra, running the practically orphaned SuperSoft tyres, Verstappen going P4 and Ricciardo going P6, once Vettel completed his seemingly lacklustre effort for P5. Verdict in the paddock was that the Supers weren’t as fast, and not much more durable so unclear what RB are playing at but that shall be revealed tomorrow one supposes.
Hulkenberg pulled a reverse on Perez, going P7 to Sergio’s P8 and it was Alons, Gutierrez, Grosjean, Palmer, Wehrlein and Button staring relegation in the face, and Bottas in the hot seat.
3 minutes to go and Williams were back out and along with Red Bull, with both drivers on the Ultra Soft, covering off the possibility of getting dinged after the checquers fall. Much arguing on telly about what they’re up to as the outlaps were completed. 45 seconds left and Massa broke timing and scoring, potentially his last go. Palmer trailed him as Verstappen stole S2 with the fastest time thus far.
Bottas P10 for a breath then Alonso knocked him out. Massa banged home a P9 confirming William’s pace, Gutierrez outdid Grosjean, and Button could only manage P12, as only Bottas turned out to be vulnerable.
So Bottas, Button, Gutierrez, Grosjean, Palmer and Wehrlein all headed for the sparkling non-alcoholic beverages as the rest reset for the year’s final tilt for glory.
Hamilton, Hulkenberg and Rosberg led the way as the track opened for Q3.
Bang and they’re off with just under 10 minutes left. S1 to Rosberg, surprise, surprise, with Raikkonen again surpassing them both. Hamilton then crushed Verstappen’s S2 and owned Rosberg as they turned towards S3 and Lewis purpled the track on his way to 1:39.013 to Rosberg’s 1:39.359, 0.346s up on his rival. Raikkonen took P3 followed by Ricciardo and Verstappen as a late to the party Vettel tossed his car around the track, with a lockup dooming him to an ignominious P6.
As the cars were turned around for the final go, the only real question appeared to be whether Hamilton could break into the 1:38’s, as Raikkonen was far enough off Rosberg that he appeared fairly solid in P2. Sky thus made much of Hamilton’s relatively slow outlap, making him faster through the last 2 sectors, the lost grip in S1 being worth many more tenths as the fresher tyres in S2 and S3 were far more important.
Boom 2 minutes and out went Hamilton, again with Hulkenberg glued to his gearbox. Slightly quicker S1 for Hamilton but still Rosberg won the first round. Purple S2 for Lewis though as the pendulum swung the other way, and then ZOMG he crushed S3 into the 39’s going 1:38.755 to which Rosberg had no answer, managing a 1:39.058 which didn’t even top Hamilton’s banker lap. Raikkonen again seized P3 but only for a moment as Ricciardo decided to pay attention and put in a massive lap to displace Kimi. Verstappen had an off at T11 for his final effort, bringing out the yellows and dooming himself to P6 whilst Vettel had no answer for the Iceman, going P5 and no doubt looking forward to getting out of Dodge as quickly as possible.
Interesting to have Ricciardo starting 3rd on the Supers and not on the Ultras, but Ferrari and Raikkonen in particular have been quick in S1 all weekend and the long DRS runs will be difficult for RB to defend.
For Hamilton fans grasping at straws, cool temperatures at the start and Rosberg having a lap similar to his Q1 effort is about all that’s left and that’s a mighty thin reed indeed.
Vettel has now officially been outqualified over the season by Raikkonen, which, to say the least, takes a bit of the shine off his reputation as a fierce qualifier. And in the story of his life, in his last race before retirement, Massa managed to lose out to Alonso one more time.
Hulkenberg confirmed his quali form on the way out the door, besting Perez and the midfield looks to be the hotspot of the race tomorrow with times very close.
Red Bull on the Supers make it worth tuning in for, but again, it’s a bit of a longshot. Fact is, Abu Dhabi tends to be unsatisfying as a finale as the track is too predictable, and this season has been one of suffocating dominance by Mercedes, even as the other teams drew closer. Unfortunately, we won’t get to see the end of the story, as the changing aero regs will upset the catch and pass.
Other important oddities will be watching the tyre tests which start this Tuesday, as Pirelli have already been making bad noises about how the teams have failed to generate anticipated levels of downforce and of course, the extremely important Barcelona test had rain, which has also set them back.
Simplified rules and the incoming Liberty takeover likely means plenty to discuss during the off-season. Finally, on a personal note, with the lights and glamour (haha) of the stage beckoning (but most importantly paycheck), this will be my last official report of the year as I have a concert tomorrow that conflicts with the race. If I have time I might add a little prelude, but no promises there.
It has been a real pleasure covering the season and thanks to all the regulars who continue to show up and comment.
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