Monday, 24 November 2014

Abu Dhabi: post-race analysis

The bet came off, huzzah! Even if Rosberg hadn’t suffered ERS woe, it would’ve, so a rare case of just being completely right. That said, shortish odds, but still a good way to end the season. I’ll do a proper season review in a little while.

In title terms, I would’ve been better off if Rosberg had won the title, but I’d hedged on Hamilton so I was still green.

The race was entertaining, though as a title decider it left a lot to be desired.

Off the line, Bottas yet again left the handbrake on (he needs to sort that out) and Rosberg had a slow start, losing first immediately and almost getting passed by Massa. Magnussen also had a very poor first lap.

Hamilton quickly accelerated away and got outside DRS range. From there it looked like it might be a strategic game, but fate intervened. Rosberg lost ERS, which is worth about 160bhp. He also had some other issues, it seems, and fell all the way from second to a final result of 14th. It’s worth noting that when something similar happened in Canada (where he achieved an amazing 2nd) he was partly able to drive around the problem because the long straight is preceded by a twisty bit and, excepting the Red Bull of Ricciardo, he was able to pull a gap during the downforce (rather than power) section. In Abu Dhabi, there are too many straights to do that, hence why he just fell through the order.

For Hamilton, it was a stroll to victory.

After Bottas lost half a dozen places or so on the line he set about making amends, overtaking left right and centre, aided by the immense power of the Mercedes engine. He ended up on the podium, but behind Massa, who had another strong race. At the end of the season, the Brazilian was looking the better driver, partly due to Bottas’ atrocious starts. A fantastic day for Williams, who sealed their third place in the Constructors’.

Exiting the pits at the start, having altered the demoted cars to enable easier overtaking, Ricciardo was right ahead of Vettel. But at the end the Aussie was 4th and his team mate 8th. Both passed several backmarkers with relative ease, but some way into the race there was Magnussen. Ricciardo got past him and Vettel didn’t, and that ultimately made the difference. Ricciardo got clearer air after pit stops and could exploit the pace of his car, whereas Vettel was in traffic.

Button was a bit anonymous, in that he just kept his head down and got on with the job. Whereas his team mate failed to score (11th), the Briton managed a very solid 5th. It was the difference between McLaren staying ahead of Force India or being passed in the Constructors’. If Button had failed to score, the Force Indias would’ve accrued sufficient points to claim fifth. Will he be there next year? I’d guess not, alas.

The Force Indias, after another weak qualifying, had another good race, ending up 6th and 7th (good for Hulkenberg being ahead after he got a 5s stop-and-go penalty).

Alonso and Raikkonen were 9th and 10th, which somewhat sums up Ferrari’s season, and why the Spaniard is leaving the prancing horse. There’s also a rumour that Marco Mattiacci, the team principal with whom Alonso does not seem to have got along, will also be leaving. It’s near certain Alonso will return to McLaren.

There was a fair amount of passing in the race, largely from Bottas and Ricciardo, but the absence of drama at the sharp end meant that the title always looked like Hamilton’s.

In the end, double points made no real difference.

After the race, Williams celebrated third in the Constructors’. They were ninth last year, with 5 points. This year they had 320. That is the biggest turn around since Brawn bought his own team and delivered both titles in 2009. Claire Williams suggested that the aim in 2015 was to win races (possible) and the title (not impossible but altogether trickier). Glad to see Williams doing so well again.

For Ferrari, they’ve lost perhaps the best driver on the grid and haven’t made a good car since 2012 (when it was only a perfect season from Alonso which put him in contention for the title) or 2010. They need to sort themselves out.

McLaren is in a similar situation. Magnussen has more years ahead of him, but over the course of the season Button has clearly been the better driver. It’ll be interesting to see who they go for to team up with Alonso. How the Honda engine performs will be critical.

Force India must be thinking of what might have been. Their form slumped around mid-season due to going down an aerodynamic cul-de-sac, effectively losing them time whilst their rivals developed working upgrades. Fifth was there for the taking but development errors cost them. However, they’ve got two good drivers in Hulkenberg and Perez, and retaining their driver pairing for the first time in several years should help them hit the ground running next year. They also retain the formidable Mercedes engine.

Toro Rosso did alright. Kvyat’s good but it’s worth remembering Vergne scored more points (22 against 8).

Lotus must improve. It’s been an awful season after last year (the opposite of Williams). Grosjean’s a very fast driver, but the car matters more than the driver.

Sauber had their worst season in history, failing to secure a single point. The car is an absolute dog, and I hope they can recover for next year. It’s not so long ago that Perez and Kobayashi got four podiums in a season for the team.

And who knows what will happen at the end of the grid? We might lose both Marussia and Caterham, just one, or neither. I hope they can come back.

Red Bull are in an interesting situation. Ricciardo’s fantastic, and next year will be the final Adrian Newey designed car in F1. The Aussie may have a title chance in 2015. I’m not sure I would’ve promoted Kvyat quite so rapidly, to be honest.

Mercedes will, I feel, remain the best team next year. Their drivers are great and will not lack motivation, their car is the best overall by a mile, and they aren’t short of cash. However, their one weakness might be that they’ve established fair racing between their drivers. If Red Bull, McLaren or Williams line up behind one driver (unlikely at Williams, could happen de facto at McLaren, and entirely possible at Red Bull) that could pose a threat. Mercedes also needs to sort its reliability out. The car was so dominant this year it didn’t matter, but that won’t always be the case.

Nice to end the season with a winning tip. I’ll do a season review in the coming days.

Morris Dancer

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