Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix - The Season Finale

I have been a bad bad blogger. Completely failed to blog about the Russian, US and Brazilian races. Actually I did write a blog for the Russian Grand Prix then never got round to posting it. How rubbish is that? I never got to see the US GP as we were on holiday livin’ la vida loca in Center Parcs and I can only presume some other child-related stuff was going on during the Brazilian GP. The stuff of life has an annoying habit of getting in the way of grand prix watching.

Still better late than never. I’m getting my act together just in time for the last race of the season. How to describe this season? Tense (just ask Toto Wolff), controversial (run-off gate in Monaco, the Hamilton/Rosberg crash in Spa), devastating (Schumacher’s and Bianchi’s horrific accidents) and unpredictable. Yet another title race comes right down to the wire.

This race marks the end of an era in so many ways with one of the biggest driver reshuffles in years coming up in 2015. The giants of F1 are on the move. Vettel leaving Red Bull for Ferrari, Alonso definitely leaving Ferrari for somewhere else (probably McLaren). Jenson Button possibly leaving F1 for good. How must he be feeling today knowing this might be his last race ever in F1. It would be hard to imagine F1 without Jenson. Its not time for him to go yet.

Without further ado for the final time this season (sob sob sob) drumroll please…its #MartinsGridWalk.

Paul Hembery of Pirelli (he used to be Public Enemy No.1 but this season has been feeling a whole lot more love) says it will be a two stop race, all pretty straightforward etc. It’s a slamdunk then.

There are a literally gazillion people on the grid. The combined wealth of them all is probably more than several countries’ GDP combined. Prince Harry is in attendance but we all know he doesn’t give interviews. Probably because he doesn’t know much about F1. I look forward in a supremely cringe-face way of seeing Harry and the soon-to-be-Mrs Christian Horner discussing the finer points of the impact of tyre degradation on Vettel’s race strategy during the race. Remember way back when I used to mention Geri Halliwell as the ultimate unworthy random celeb who would always pop up at Monaco. Well just to totally spite me, she will now ALWAYS be at races. That grid-stalking definitely paid off. Well played Ginger Spice. And actually she probably knows more about F1 than Prince ‘when will we see someone throw an oval-shaped ball’ Harry.

Ah lovely Tanja from German TV is interviewing Martin. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, in my slightly dotty mind this is one of the greatest love stories of our times. Dawn and Tim from The Office have nothing on them.

Valterri Bottas (the husband’s new favourite driver crush) is pretty happy to be starting 3rd. He said he has had a ‘cool’ season. If there is an opportunity he will have a go at the Mercedes’ cars (presumably until they disappear off into the glorious Abu Dhabi sunset). Anyone else think Bottas will end up at Ferrari as a replacement for Kimi (the season after next). Not that I want to see him leave Williams but Ferrari will be desperate to rebuild. Actually just put the full stop after desperate.

The two Mercedes drivers don’t want to talk to anybody. And honestly who can blame them. My own nerves are close to being shredded with it all. And it is time. The world awaits the crowning of a new champion after four years of Sebastian Vettel sweeping all before him.

Lights out and its Go Go Go at the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

In a textbook ‘that’s how to win a world championship’ Lewis Hamilton has jumped Nico Rosberg immediately at the start. I don’t think I have EVER seen Lewis make such an electric start. Given the stakes, that is phenomenally cool from Lewis. Famous last words but it could be game over…

How on earth is Massa already in 3rd and Button in 4th. In a lot of ways the race behind the front two, though far less significant, is the race that will probably entertain more – Massa, Button, Kimi and Alonso scrapping and fighting each other for position. All power to Mercedes for designing and constructing such an outstanding car (the snappily named W05 Hybrid – how the winter nights must fly by in Brackley). It is definitely one of the best F1 cars ever (*lightbulb ‘idea for a blog’ moment*) but their relentless dominance does slightly sap some of the life out of the races.

Alonso has executed a beautiful move on Kimi on lap 6 (and Kvyat cashes in to pass Kimi for good measure) and promptly asks to pits knowing he has first call as the leading Ferrari. I just freaking LOVE Fernando Alonso – he is the wiliest of foxes. I am not sure that signing Vettel is the massive step up for Ferrari that everyone thinks. There is a whole lot of other stuff at Ferrari that needs fixing before they can be a title contender again. Well done to the Abu Dhabu (Bernie controlled?) TV bods for showing all the action lower down in the field. Such as Alonso jostling with the Caterham of…er…Will Stevens. Cue radio message from Alonso “who is this guy?”. Way to get noticed, Will Stevens. But actually who is he? Apparently a racing driver from Rochford in Essex who has competed in such series as Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0, Toyota Racing Series and the British Formula Renault Championship. Wikipedia is a marvellous thing. Whatever else happens in Will’s life he will dine out on the moment he vexed Fernando Alonso for a very long time!

At the front, it is as you were – Hamilton now has a modest 2.4 seconds lead. And he comes into the pits on lap 11 with the departing instruction from his team of ‘turn up your engine and push hard’. Well obviously not too hard guys – he only needs second place.

Rosberg pits just one lap later and comes back out in second. The two Mercedes cars are now trading fastest laps just to underline how utterly awesome their car is. But even if Rosberg gets past Hamilton (which would be a Herculean achievement in itself) he is then relying on Massa for overtake Hamilton. With the greatest of respect to Massa, he isn’t exactly from the uncompromising-and-fight-to-the-bitter-end Nigel Mansell Stable of drivers. They might as well start etching Hamilton’s name onto the drivers’ title trophy now. Can anyone apart from Nico get past Hamilton in a Mercedes? Probably not. Its looking highly likely now that Rosberg’s only hope is reliability issues hitting Hamilton’s car. And no one wants the world championship to be decided that way.

Magnussen, Vettel, Button and Alonso are having a feisty battle for 7th place. What does three potential McLaren drivers into two driver seats give you? That’s one for Ron Dennis to ponder while preparing potions of hemlock.

Is it just me or would not Interlagos be a more exciting and majestic stage for the finale of the F1 season. I don’t mind Abu Dhabi as Tilke-bot tracks go but it just doesn’t cut the mustard for the final race. Someone needs to have a word with the powers that be. 

And all of a sudden there has been a plethora of Significant Developments. Rosberg’s car has suffered the failure of its energy recovery system which in turn has impacted on his brakes. This time it really is game over barring the most cataclysmic accident. After the next round of pitstops, Nico has just asked his engineer “how am I looking for fifth”. The answer:  “not good at the moment, Nico”. Look away now, Nico fans.

In the midst of the dramatic denouement to one of the fiercest title battles we’ve seen in years, we were treated to a magnificent drag race between Alonso and Button (all four of us – even the 4 year old who is a fan of Button’s pink helmet - were on our feet shouting). High five to the old timers for proving they’ve still got it!

Williams are having a stunning race. This makes me very happy. Massa is currently leading the race (do not readjust your set) and Bottas has rejoined in 4th. What a renaissance for Williams – looking good for 3rd in the Constructors Championship (AHEAD OF FERRARI) after finishing 9th last season. Hopefully that’s the perfect tonic for the legend that is Sir Frank Williams who has been in hospital for the last few weeks. Get well soon Frank.

So a quick recap of the leaderboard: 1. Massa 2. Hamilton 3. Ricciardo 4. Bottas 5. Perez 6. Vettel. There’s a whole bunch of names in there that I didn’t expect to see. Rosberg is 7th which won’t be good enough even in the unlikely event that Hamilton’s race disastrously capsizes. Hamilton has told his team he isn’t interested in racing Massa – all he needs and wants to do is just keep on keeping on until the end of the race.

Its clear that Rosberg is really struggling now – veering off the track and suffering lack of pace. He has just been passed by Jenson Button to drop back to 8th place. His brake pedals are pretty much shot to pieces and he is going to be lucky to see this race out.

Lewis is telling his team in no uncertain terms not to put any more pressure in his car’s system. Massa is now out on his new supersoft tyres and has 11 laps to try and catch Lewis before the end of the race. Basically Lewis doesn’t give a tinker’s cuss about winning the race but Mercedes would like to seal the deal in style. But if it comes to it, surely the team can’t mind too much if Lewis doesn’t put up a fight. After all Massa is prone to the odd moment of madness as we all know. Why risk anything?

Rosberg who needs to finish 5th (as we have now being reminded around a trillion times)  has now been passed by Hulkenberg. His car has failed him when it mattered most though arguably a failure in Brazil would have been pretty critical for his title chances but hey we are where we are.

Five laps to go and the gap is 5.5 seconds between Lewis and Massa. Almost certainly Lewis has won the title so wouldn’t it be amazing if Felipe Massa was to take Williams’ first win since Maldonado in Spain over two years ago. Its not too much to ask is it?

Oh and Nico Rosberg with 4 laps remaining is about to retire from the race. He has slowed down drastically and is now in 13th place and (OUCH) might even get lapped by Hamilton. Poor old Massa, he is now having to battle the new F1 Champion-Elect. Nothing like that ‘discovering you have just won the title’ feeling to make your car go faster hey. Mercedes have just told Nico to box but he wants to finish the race. Classy to the end. That's the true spirit of a F1 racer right there.

And Lewis Hamilton wins the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and more importantly he is the new F1 WORLD CHAMPION. The first British double champion since Jackie Stewart. Blimey. And the first Mercedes-Benz F1 world champion since Juan Manuel Fangio in 1955. Double blimey.

In Mansell-esque scenes, Lewis is sailing round the track with a giant Union Jack trailing behind him. The boy gone good. It really is a proud day for British motorsport (and I suppose some credit must go to the German car that gave him the title!). Where there is a winner, there is a loser and we see a clearly tearful Nico Rosberg driving round the track after the race. The agony and esctasy of sport.

Amidst all the jubilation, shock and school’s out madness, I nearly forgot to bring the results of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix:

1. Lewis Hamilton – wins the title in style
2.  Felipe Massa – a superb end to the season after his podium in Interlagos
3. Valtteri Bottas – that makes it six podiums this season
4. Daniel Ricciardo – fittingly finishes ahead of his team-mate 
5. Jenson Button – a fine result in what may be his valedictory race
6. Nico Hulkenberg – the highest placed German (not many would have predicted that!)

And the final standings are:

Lewis Hamilton
Without question the right person and the better driver won the title. Some doubted (including me) whether as prodigiously talented as he is, could he hold his nerve. A resounding yes.  The second world championship has been a long time coming (largely due to the unbreakable hegemony of Red Bull) but richly deserved.
Nico Rosberg
Without Nico we wouldn’t have had this thrilling and topsy-turvy championship battle. He pushed Lewis far closer than many thought he would. And it will be fascinating to see if he comes back stronger next year. His dignity and class in how he handled the devastating disappointment in Abu Dhabi was  remarkable.
Daniel Ricciardo
The best of the rest (and some of the rest aren’t too shabby). To say Daniel Ricciardo surprised me this season is a huge understatement. Who would have thought he’d wipe the floor with Vettel. But what do I know?
Valtterri Bottas
This guy really arrived this season. Everyone take note – he is a future world champion in the making.
Sebastian Vettel
Remember him? Not a bad season but not a particularly good one either. First and foremost you always measure yourself against your team-mate. Seb definitely needs a new challenge and he will certainly get that at Ferrari.
Fernando Alonso
To end up only 6 points behind Vettel is pretty incredible given the absolute heap of junk that was the Ferrari this season. If further evidence was needed, his team-mate (Kimi) only mustered 55 points. A driver as brilliant as Fernando deserved one title at Ferrari but it just wasn’t to be.

And I guess that’s a wrap. End of season awards will be coming up so stay tuned and to all my lovely F1 Twitter friends thanks for your brilliant company in all the races this season. 

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