As far as thrillers go the Abu Dhabi grand prix isn’t quite going to make the list of most memorable races. Though visually spectacular the Yas Marina circuit has brought the 2015 season to a close in fairly mundane manner but still provided several talking points.
In only the second time in its seven year history the Abu Dhabi grand prix was won from pole position. First place on the starting grid belonged to Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg which he easily translated into the race lead as the sun began to set over the Yas Marina circuit. On the track it didn’t turn out to be a wheel-to-wheel battle between Rosberg and teammate Hamilton but rather a tactical fight through pit stop strategy.
In the first round of pitstops Hamilton followed his race leading teammate into the pitlane only a lap later, effectively mirroring his strategy. However, with the constructor’s and driver’s title in the bag the Mercedes team allowed its drivers some leeway in strategy calls and racing up to the chequered flag. Lewis Hamilton took advantage of the rare freedom to extend his second stint on the yellow side-walled soft tyres. At one point Hamilton even considered running a one stop strategy and going to the end on his tyres. This strategy was quickly dismissed as impossible by his race engineer and Hamilton pitted to fit a set of the soft Pirelli tyres.
This strategy left Hamilton nearly twelve seconds behind race leader Rosberg. Although the three time champion was able to run with the fresher tyres in the closing stint of the race, he was only able to halve the pace to the leading car. The race concluded with Rosberg leading Hamilton home with a comfortable gap of just over eight seconds. This latest one-two finish Rosberg and Hamilton makes it the twelfth of the year for Mercedes.
Not too far behind the Mercedes pair Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen delivered a strong drive to finish third. The Finn turned a good pace but never enough to challenge for victory. While some will make a note that he finished the season in fourth place on the driver’s standings Raikkonen couldn’t care less of his ultimate position in the championship unless it’s position number one. Never one to sugar-coat reality Raikkonen, by his own admission, has labelled his season as distinctly “average.”
After a strategic error in qualifying Sebastian Vettel was forced to start in fifteenth. The German was able to recover to take fourth place for Ferrari. Sergio Perez, who started on the second row of the grid in fourth, brought his Force India home in fifth ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo. Nico Hulkenberg was seventh in the other Force India while Felipe Massa struggled to an eighth place finish for the Williams team. In his final race with Lotus before heading off the American Haas team was Romain Grosjean who made the best of his supersoft tyres in the closing stages. Daniil Kvyat secured tenth and the final point on offer for the Red Bull Racing team.
It wasn’t a race blighted by too many incidents however Fernando Alonso incurred a drive-through penalty for hitting the Lotus of Pastor Maldonado into turn one as the race got underway. In the pitlane Valtteri Bottas clipped the back of Jenson Button’s McLaren after an unsafe release by the Williams pitcrew. It resulted in a damaged front-wing for Bottas and five second penalty. The Finn eventually finished a lap down in thirteenth.
Dutchman and rookie driver Max Verstappen showed up to the race as his ever-aggressive self and set about overtaking as many drivers as possible. However, his spirited overtaking proved a bit too much as race stewards penalised him with gaining an advantage after going off the circuit in a pass on Jenson Button. As the penalty was imposed after the race it dropped the teenage sensation to sixteenth place.
In Brazil Hamilton was the quicker of the two Mercedes in the race but couldn’t find a way to overtake Rosberg. But here in Abu Dhabi Hamilton has been shaded, in terms of pace, for the entire weekend. For Nico Rosberg the season couldn’t have ended any better. Six pole positions and a hat trick of victories is an incredible run of form. It begs the question as to where this prodigious form has been the entire season. Is it as a result of a release of pressure or has Rosberg at long last found something that Hamilton has no answer for?
(Images courtesy of Mercedes AMG F1 Team & Pirelli Motorsport).