In previous years, having secured the title, Lewis Hamilton has tended to go into ‘party mode’ a lot sooner than his team wished.
This time however, it’s different.
Despite wrapping up the title in Mexico, though in all reality it was already a foregone conclusion, the Briton has shown no sign of easing off.
Indeed, pole position and a (somewhat fortuitous) win in Brazil suggested the Briton was keen to make a point, in qualifying yesterday he rammed that point home.
Surely, as he closes on Michael Schumacher’s record of seven titles, it is no coincidence that Hamilton displays the same ruthless, remorseless need to crush his opponents into dust as the German.
During FP3, Q2 and again in Q3, it wasn’t the pace of anyone else that he enquired about, only title rival Sebastian Vettel, the Stevenage Rocket clearly out to prove a point.
Whatever one might think of some of his antics outside the car – not least the excruciating ‘Oscar-like’ speech after every pole and win – of which there are many – fact is, Lewis is a fantastic racer.
While the romantic in us all – that part so delighted to see Robert Kubica back on the grid next season – would surely like to see Valtteri Bottas take victory today, it is unlikely that it will happen, even though the Yas Marina shares many characteristics with Sochi where he was effectively robbed of his first win of the season.
Hamilton is on fire, and much like the sport’s other greats, he has every right to take the opportunity this afternoon to destroy the pretenders to his throne.
Then again, talking of romantics, how about a final Ferrari win for Kimi, or indeed Daniel, a podium for Fernando, or Esteban, a decent handful of points for Sergey, Marcus, Brendon or Stoffel.
Then again, with the way Chase and the gang are mapping out the future of the sport, perhaps we should keep quite lest the stage management go that one bit further.
Maybe it’s us, but we cannot help but feel that the German has lost his appetite, and though he may well prove us wrong and remain in the sport next season, should the pressure from the other side of the garage prove as stiff as expected, Seb might well opt to call it a day then. Yesterday’s performance from Charles Leclerc was clearly a warning.
Whoever wins however, much of today is going to be about Fernando Alonso, who heads off to pastures new, including a return to Indianapolis, but who admits; to paraphrase Arnie… “I could be back…”
How ironic that he bids farewell to F1 here in Abu Dhabi, the circuit where he effectively lost a(nother) title by failing to pass Vitaly Petrov.
Though it would be lost on him, among many F1 fans Alonso is like Marmite, you either like him or you don’t. However, political chicanery aside, nobody can doubt his ability to drive a racing car, hard, something evident back in his early days with Minardi.
A warrior, a Samurai, a fighter, and one of the sport’s true characters. Two titles doesn’t do him justice… then again, there’s Sir Stirling.
As for the race itself – finally, you cry – of the leaders, only Max Verstappen starts on the hypers, having failed to post a decent Q2 time on ultras. At the same time, Vettel has managed to keep a brand new set of the pink-banded rubber for the final part of the race.
Both Mercedes drivers want to win, while Vettel would surely like to close the gap to his nemesis. Ahead of what Red Bull clearly hopes will be a lean spell at Renault, Ricciardo would surely like to sign off in style, especially as this is his 100th outing for the Austrian team.
And then there’s Max.
Still smarting from Brazil, not to mention fearing what he faces in terms of that community service – the Dutchman starts behind his teammate – and the Mercedes and Ferraris – on the softest rubber and just a couple of places ahead of a certain Mr Ocon. The possibilities are endless, as Lou wrote.
As ever it will be about surviving the first lap… yes, we mean you, Romain, Esteban, Sergio, Kevin, Marcus… And let’s not forget a certain Mr Alonso starting from 15th.
According to Pirelli the fastest strategy is a one-stopper, with a stint on ultrasofts for 18 to 22 laps, then supersofts to the flag. Second-fastest strategy is another one-stopper, featuring a stint on hypersofts for 8 to 12 laps, then supersofts to the flag. However, a two-stopper is also possible. This would involve a stint on hypersofts for 5 to 8 laps, then two stints on ultrasofts of 22 to 25 laps each. A bit slower is to start on ultrasofts for 27 to 30 laps, then hypersofts to the flag. Last year, only one driver opted for a two-stop strategy… it was Lance Stroll, and he finished last.
The pitlane opens, and one by one the drivers head out.
“My seat’s broken,” reports Stroll. “The right lip of the seat on my hips,” he adds.
Meanwhile, “My drink tube is a bit too forward so I need a longer one,” says Verstappen.
As the cars head off on the warm-up lap, the air temperature is 32.9 degrees C, while the track temperature is 35.5 degrees.
Believe it or not, Vandoorne is told there is a 40% chance of some rain at some point in the race. “You are very optimistic,” the youngster replies. However, race control subsequently confirms the warning.
“Thank you,” says Ricciardo to his team, “let’s ******* have it… ha ha,” he adds.
Ultras for Hamilton, Bottas, Vettel, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Sainz, Perez, Alonso and Hartley. Ericsson, Magnussen, Gasly, Vandoorne Sirotkin and Stroll start on supers, while Verstappen, Grosjean, Leclerc, Ocon and Hulkenberg are on hypers.
They’re away. Good starts by Hamilton and Bottas, while Perez is making up lots of ground further back. Into T1, the Mercedes are ahead of the Ferraris, while Grosjean and Alonso run wide, both kicking up a cloud of dust.
Grosjean and Alonso both loses places in the process, the Frenchman now under attack from Ocon and Hulkenberg, with Verstappen, who got off the line well but then began to lose ground, is behind.
Leclerc is all over Ricciardo, while Ocon and Hulkenberg look to be going either side off a struggling Grosjean at the hairpin (T7). Just behind, Sainz runs wide as he battles Perez.
Leclerc and Ricciardo are wheel to wheel, the Red Bull sending the customary shower of sparks into the air. As they battle for position, just behind there is a massive accident as Hulkenberg barrel rolls towards the barriers. It finally comes to rest, upside down against the barriers.
The safety car is deployed as the stunned faces in the Renault garage tell you all you need to know.
“Are you OK Nico,” the German is asked. “****,” he replies. “I’m hanging here like a cow, and there is fire, there is fire,” he adds. “It’s alright, they’re coming,” he is told.
“Is he OK,” Asks a worried Grosjean.
After an agonising wait, the car is righted and Hulkenberg emerges.
Replay reveals that Hulkenberg clipped the front-left wheel on Grosjean’s car with his own right-rear as they battled for seventh.
At the end of the opening lap, it’s: Hamilton, Bottas, Vettel, Raikkonen, Leclerc, Ricciardo, Grosjean, Ocon, Verstappen and Perez. Hartley pits.
Needless to say, the incident is being investigated. However, moments later the stewards say that no further action is needed.
The safety car is withdrawn at the end of lap 4, as the stewards note that Sainz and Ericsson left the track and gained an advantage on the opening lap.