Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Winners and Losers

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Winners and Losers

28 November 2017 – Valtteri Bottas capped the 2017 Formula 1 campaign with a long overdue win during a less-than-thrilling finale. GPUpdate.net presents its winners and losers from the floodlit Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Winners

Valtteri Bottas displayed encouraging pace upon joining Mercedes and was firmly in the thick of the hunt mid-season, but a dire lack of one-lap speed in qualifying often left him on the backfoot, as he struggled with the feel of his W08. Missing out on victory in Brazil, ostensibly due to his timid approach to Turn 1, hurt, but in Abu Dhabi he rebounded with aplomb. Having trailed Lewis Hamilton on Friday, he gradually edged closer to his team-mate and in qualifying the pair diced for position, until Bottas' Q3 opener lowered the benchmark to an unreachable level. Unlike a fortnight ago, Bottas was able to retain the lead during a tame start and kept cool under mid-race pressure from Hamilton, laconically explaining afterwards that he was merely managing the pace. This was by far the most comfortable of Bottas' three wins and came at an opportune time – he was the better of the Mercedes drivers on a dominant weekend for the squad and duly reaped the rewards.

Renault set its sights on fifth in the standings upon the second year of its full-time return, but reliability setbacks, and Jolyon Palmer's travails, compromised its prospects, leaving the manufacturer to grapple with Toro Rosso and Haas for sixth. In Abu Dhabi, Renault emerged on top, as Nico Hülkenberg collected the points required to leap its departing customer. Hülkenberg qualified seventh and reclaimed his position through Turn 1 having initially bogged down and dropped behind the Force India duo. Stewards were correct to sanction Hülkenberg for his chicane-cutting antics later in the opening lap, but his pace was such that he negated the impact of a five-second penalty, even accounting for a slower-than-ideal stop. Daniel Ricciardo's exit benefited Renault further, with Hülkenberg promoted to sixth, and the reward in prize money far outweighed the five-grand fine for unsafely releasing Carlos Sainz Jr.

Through process of elimination, and the stipulation that this column has three winners, means Fernando Alonso gets the accolade, as he at least concluded the McLaren-Honda collaboration on a positive note of sorts – ninth being perceived as a competent result highlights why they are splitting. In a processional race, Alonso was the only driver who made gains not influenced by Ricciardo to move into the top 10, having overhauled the retiring Felipe Massa shortly after the pit stop phase. Alonso's huge gap to Stoffel Vandoorne was predominantly explained by the Belgian's MCL32 being damaged – the cause unknown – but this was nonetheless a fine reward for Alonso. Massa, equally, deserves credit for capping his career with a point, having completely outclassed his team-mate...

Losers

...and it was a dismal weekend all round for Lance Stroll, as he brought a rookie campaign with high highs and low lows to a thoroughly miserable conclusion. Even accounting for the engine deficit, a hangover of his Brazil problems, Stroll struggled all weekend, and only just scraped through to Q2, with Massa having made Q3. Stroll lost out early on against Romain Grosjean and struggled desperately with his tyres, a sequence of lock-ups prompting the Canadian to require a three-stop strategy, whereas his opponents were serviced just once. When Stroll finds the correct window, he can thrive, but if he falls out of it, he is embarrassingly adrift of the action. Massa, effectively deemed surplus to requirements for 2018, comprehensively outclassed Stroll all weekend, and the Brazilian is hardly a Tier 1 driver at this moment in time. Stroll's speed has been visible in encouraging flashes, but Abu Dhabi showed how he can get completely and utterly lost, and that is a worry.
 

Toro Rosso ideally needed Renault to hit trouble, for it suffered a lacklustre weekend, new recruits Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley off the pace and making crucial errors. Toro Rosso merely lacked pure speed at Yas Marina, its prospects accentuated by Renault's parts shortage, leaving Gasly and Hartley as backmarkers as opposed to midfielders. Gasly at least beat the Saubers in qualifying, though a mistake from Hartley left him at the rear of the field, albeit he would have started last anyway due to his engine sanction – his fourth in as many events. In the race, Gasly spun through Turn 20, costing himself positions, and later went wide through Turn 17, though even accounting for the errors a points finish was not within his reach. Toro Rosso ultimately paid the price for losing Carlos Sainz Jr. and its late-season reliability issues, but at least Gasly and Hartley have added experience for 2018.

For all the money in the world, it is baffling that the circuit designers completed Yas Marina and applauded themselves on a job well done. Aside from tense title showdowns in 2010 and 2016, and the barmy 2012 race, the venue has offered much in aesthetics but little in race quality in Formula 1. Sunday's Grand Prix was one of the most processional in years, with the top nine all maintaining position, picking up a spot only courtesy of Ricciardo's exit. Lewis Hamilton eruditely summarised the situation. "It's such a beautiful place in Abu Dhabi, everyone has such an amazing time," said the World Champion. "If there's any way we can improve this track to enable us to have these battles… you've got these long straights where you can't even get close enough to utilise them. If there's some way where we can enable us to be able to remain closer in that third sector, I think this will go up in the rankings of a great circuit. I don't know if they can do it but I know there's money to do it but I just hope… I have hope for Abu Dhabi to get better."

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