Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Winners and Losers

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Winners and Losers

30 November 2015 – Nico Rosberg rounded out the 2015 season with a lights-to-flag victory at the Yas Marina Circuit, completing a hat-trick of wins. GPUpdate.net presents its winners and losers from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Winners

Nico Rosberg amassed only 52 points across a six-race spell from Hungary to Russia yet ended the season with 75 from three events courtesy of three controlled victories. Was it that he no longer had the pressure of a championship situation? Did the Mercedes W06 Hybrid handle more to his liking across the latter stages of the year? Or did Lewis Hamilton ease off marginally, but sufficient enough to hand Rosberg the advantage? However the 2016 campaign begins is likely to lead to some revisionism of the final races of 2015, though Hamilton is understandably relaxed. "I think being World Champion sounds a lot better than winning the race, so that's good," he said in the post-race press conference. Nonetheless, irrespective of circumstances, Rosberg has been the better driver across the final three races and his performance in Abu Dhabi was commanding, forcing Hamilton to gamble unsuccessfully on a different approach.

The transformation of Sergio Pérez from erratic youngster to established midfield driver has been one of the surprises of the campaign as he firmly laid the ghosts of his McLaren stint to rest in 2015. Pérez's performance in Abu Dhabi was immaculate and it typified his improved form with Force India since it introduced its B-spec car mid-season. Pérez, often maligned for contact, only clashed once in 2015 (with Pastor Maldonado in Hungary) and finished 20 points clear of well-regarded team-mate Nico Hülkenberg. Pérez displayed superb one-lap pace at the Yas Marina Circuit – not a typical feat for the Mexican – and blended speed with tyre preservation in the race to complete a mature drive to fifth, holding off Daniel Ricciardo. Pérez's 2015 form demonstrates how a driver can thrive given time and the correct environment. 

Kimi Räikkönen has had far from the vintage season but the removal of Sebastian Vettel from contention courtesy of Ferrari's Q1 misjudgement paved the way for the Finn to secure a podium position. In a year characterised by mechanical glitches and driver errors Räikkönen was able to capitalise on a smooth weekend and ensure he finished on the podium in all three night races (peculiarly, a feat he failed to achieve once in daylight this year). Räikkönen eased away from third on the grid and maintained the position throughout the race, a lonely encounter but one which ensured he finished the year on a high. It also meant he claimed fourth in the final championship standings, though few could seriously expect the position to be high on his agenda.

Losers

Williams had already secured third place in the Constructors' Championship but the squad was never in contention in Abu Dhabi, a stark contrast to its stellar 2014 event when Felipe Massa only narrowly missed out on victory as Valtteri Bottas completed the podium. Williams accepted that repeating that result was optimistic but it expected to be in the mix, a situation which never materialised as it was cut adrift of Red Bull and Force India, with Ferrari comfortably ahead. Bottas dropped to the foot of the top 10 at the start and his recovery was skewered by a hapless error at the pit-stop, when he was released into the path of Jenson Button. That error wrecked his afternoon, while Massa was rarely a factor and only held off Romain Grosjean by half a second as the chequered flag fell. 

Max Verstappen lit up Formula 1 in 2015 courtesy of his audacious race craft and precocious approach but this was an uncharacteristically poor showing from the young Dutchman. Verstappen was edged out by Carlos Sainz Jr. in qualifying and, while the Spaniard made an electric start, sweeping around the outside of rivals, Verstappen could only maintain position. He scuppered his strategy by locking up heavily into Turn 8 and subsequently exceeded track limits in passing Button, prior to ignoring blue flags. Those sanctions not only dropped him to 16th at the flag but increased his penalty points tally to eight, meaning he has little breathing room until Monaco 2016, when two will be wiped from his license. 

This was not a strong weekend for Fernando Alonso, both on-track and off it. As McLaren attempted to put its dreadful season to bed, CEO Ron Dennis suggested that Alonso could take a sabbatical in 2016, a statement strongly rebuked by his star driver, though in language which still left the door open to analysis. The reason behind Dennis throwing a grenade into what had been a calm situation is unknown, but it unnecessarily caused a negative distraction. Alonso's weekend looked promising but a puncture while on course for a Q2 slot left him mired towards the back of the grid and he clattered into Sauber's Felipe Nasr before terminally wounding Pastor Maldonado's car at the start. It was a dreadful conclusion to what has been a wasted year for Alonso in hopelessly under-powered machinery.

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