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26 Nov 2017

Ambient 24° 
Track 31°
Humidity 47% 
Wind 1.2 m/s


The winds of change howled through Yas Marina as night descended slowly over the desert. Social media was full of the last goodbyes (or perhaps au revoirs) as the NBC crew prepared for their last broadcast, future uncertain. Yet there was at the same time, a hint of fresh beginnings, as even last night Sean Bratches (he of the commercial side and ESPN facilitator) confirmed that there would be not one but TWO Over-The –Top digital offerings in place next year for digitally thirsty F1 fans. Details, as such were vague and not yet confirmed, but the thirst for fans to be able to consume races directly online, without intermediary of a provider, has been building to a howl that would rival the Ferrari V12’s  revved to insane RPM’s  that always seem to be dead center in every “glory days” recollection that dot the internet.

Also staggering in its immensity, is the not-confirmation confirmation (OK, to be fair, Dieter Rencken’s surmise) that Alonso might be running the better part of a full WEC season alongside his McRenault season for 2018. And the fact that there is exactly one grid penalty this weekend, the luckless Brendan Hartley of Toro Rosso being the recipient, also makes quite the change from the last few weekends. With P6 and over $6 million in prize money on the line, and only 4 points separating Renault from Toro Rosso, the progress of Hulkenberg and Sainz will be key,  as a P8 will be the minimum for Renault to seize the cash dangling in front of their face.

News that Liberty specifically want street races in Copenhagen, London and New York hit the papers big time in Denmark, with reports of a private investor only meeting this week for those interested in the Danish race. Although the rumours have been in circulation for a while, confirmation came in the form of a strategy document obtained by the press, giving some extra substance to Liberty’s plans.

As the anthem rang throughout the circuit, and the stunning fly by from Etihad painted the sky with brilliant colours, the race at the front looked to be Mercedes v Mercedes, with Ricciardo v Raikkonen as possibly the most interesting tilt, the race in the midfield beckoned. With the Force India’s free to race, Renault desperate to pick up a P8 and Alonso ready to play spoiler, the midfield was the place to be for true race fans as lights out approached…


Lights Out!!!! It was a banging start from  Bottas and a lock up from Vettel opened the door for Ricciardo. Sainz twitchy and Magnussen off, with Alonso the only mover, getting in front of Massa. Raikkonen all over Ricciardo but the Aussie held his ground as the first lap rocked into the books.

Lap 2 saw Massa back around Alonso and into the last points paying position. Stroll managed a good start and was up to P13, making up the most places, along with Vandoorne and Grosjean.

Hulkenberg came under investigation for leaving the track and gaining an advantage, a fact that Perez immediately took to team radio to complain about.  It took the stewards little time to ding Nico for the violation and it was a 5 second time penalty as lap 4 rolled by.
At the sharp end, the cars very quickly settled into 1-2 second gaps typical of the long game being played.  Vandoorne reported a lack of rear grip, a fact which was observed in the telemetry but lacking an easy solution.

Lap 6 saw an actual overtake, Grosjean on Stroll, beggars choosers and all that and Stroll easily swapped back as he hit the second DRS zone. Sainz on Alonso was the only other battle at the moment, the Renault loitering half a second or so astern of the McLaren.  At the front, a pattern began to appear with Hamilton being quicker through the first 2 sectors, then Bottas making up the difference in sector 3. With lap 10 done, the main action on track was still the battle between Grosjean and Stroll, thankfully enough for the telly, but the promise of action to come crackled over team radio as Ferrari released Raikkonen to have a go at Ricciardo ahead of the first round of stops.

Lap 12 Grosjean was by again with Stroll waiting for the 2nd DRS but this time Grosjean was very late on the brakes and though the Williams was briefly able to fight back, Romain eventually hung it round the outside through the chicane and seized P13 for HAAS, as Stroll headed for the pits. Out on a set of Supers, he was going to be a useful data point for the rest of the teams as he rejoined the scrum.

Stroll wasn’t the only Williams struggling with tyres, as Massa was now well within the wheelhouse of Alonso, who was setting a personal best on lap 14 as he carved away chunks of time on the turns, and Massa stole as much back on the straights as he could. This left Alonso roughly 0.5s behind with no clear way by the wily Brazilian.

Verstappen was the first of the front runners in,  his impatience at being behind Raikkonen making him the perfect guinea pig for Red Bull. Vandoorne, too, was in and out for a new set of Supers, the long run tyre of choice as the dominos began to fall.  Raikkonen answered the following lap, and easily was out ahead of Verstappen, who somehow managed to wind up behind Ocon as he came back onto the track.
In the meantime, Hulkenberg had edged out a nearly 9 second gap, making his 5 second penalty meaningless. Perez was boxed as a result and Hulkenberg answered on lap 18.  He STILL was out 2 seconds or so ahead of Sergio, despite a balky wheel change and as the race progressed, it looked that Renault had the pace on Force India.  Gasly had a spin that provided a bit for the highlight reel, but was only a brief yellow

Lap 20 and Ricciardo was in an Grosjean was told to make life difficult for Hulkenberg, and he seized the job with elan, making a rather remarkable pass into T1 to retake P11. Ricciardo was on the radio immediately after his stop to say something felt weird and lap 21 was the end of  his race, with hydraulic issues. Bottas took advantage of the Double Waved Yellows to run to the pits, out on a set of Supers as Hamilton stayed on track. Ricciardo, meanwhile, having left his stricken ride, wandered back over to help the marshals out, before hopping a scooter back to the garage.

On team radio, Lewis was told that another 4 or 5 laps at his current pace might give him the exceedingly rare overcut. Alonso, meanwhile, had finally worried his way around Massa, McLaren having kicked things off with the undercut and Williams responding.  It did the job and Lap 24 Alonso was by, with Massa now chasing his longtime nemesis.

During that drama, Lewis was in and out, Mercedes having decided with backmarkers looming discretion was the better part of valor, and it was Hamilton out and immediately taking chunks of time out of the 2 second gap that he started with. Lap 26 and he was into DRS on his teammate and Bottas was warned “you should be aware, Hamilton is pushing. Bottas responded and it was by thousandths that he staved off DRS, but the gloves were clearly off.

The following go round and again it was Bottas putting in the work, gaining roughly 0.2 seconds for his safety margin. With night full on, track temps below 30°C and the wind picking up, the changing conditions perhaps were playing their part.

Or not, as Lewis lit it up and bang!!  under DRS time again he went as backmarkers  ahead of Bottas offered up an irresistible opportunity. DRS on the way to T11 as Bottas  emptied the battery to stay ahead. And just like that Hamilton ran wide and the gap was reset to 1.5 seconds.   

Stroll was in for another set of tyres during the drama, back to the ultras with 25 laps to go. Sainz, who had gone ultra long, was told to push and had managed to evict both Alonso and Ocon from his pit window. Ocon answered and then DISASTER!!! One of the wheels didn’t make it all the way on and it was day over. $6.5 million dollar mistake?? Not exactly as P6 was still enough to give Renault the championship position and Sainz’ retirement promoted his teammate.
On replay it was the front left that was the troublemaker, with the car released before the wheelman even got the gun onto the wheelnut.
Stroll was having issues, and the fact that Ericsson wandered by him was indicative of something having gone terribly wrong with his race. Lap time’s 5 seconds off the rest of the field also confirmed this observation.

18 laps to go and Hamilton was on the march, rocking up with purple sectors  and winnowing the gap ever closer to the DRS mark. Stroll pitted for the 3rd time as Verstappen began to put pressure on Raikkonen, inside of 2 seconds.  Sector 3 continued to be the only ray of hope for Bottas, as he was consistently several tenths quicker than his teammate there. Magnussen, seeking redemption for his early spin, rocked by Wehrlein and set sail in pursuit of Vandoorne and P12.

Lap 41 and Magnussen was caught napping, with Wehrlein getting round him into the chicane. Incensed, the Dane fought back with a vicious move across the bow as the Sauber suddenly appeared rather racy in the German’s hands. Meanwhile, Hamilton appeared to be caught in a thermal trap, on the radio saying that the hot air coming off Bottas’ car was making it impossible for him to get close enough to overtake.

Still, not enough to convince Lewis to give up and after letting the gap out to 1.7 seconds, he reeled it back in to 1.3 seconds with 10 laps left in the race and the slow burn to the end of the race commenced.  Ericsson v Gasly and Wehrlein v Magnussen were the only battles in DRS as it seemed that the rest of the field save Mercedes were just walking it in.

The delivery of muffins having been the most exciting development for laps, Hamilton had been waiting and on lap 49 he pounced. A lock up into T5 ended the momentary drama, which had, predictably been brought on by a previous error from Bottas.

Momentarily Vettel was the fastest thing on track, and then lap 52 Bottas dropped it into the 40’s for the first time in the race, apparently having been given permission to turn up the engine and have a go. And that was pretty much that. Hamilton dropped back  and the rest of the field settled down to wait for the checquers. Bottas, Hamilton and lonely, lonely Vettel accounted for the podium spots, with Raikkonen and Verstappen rounding out the top 5 as they awaited the denouement of the race. Hulkenberg and Renault were gifted P6 with the loss of Ricciardo, which was cold comfort to Toro Rosso, who had officially lost their P6 in the championship and if you thought Mexico had poisoned the atmosphere, no doubt that was a passing fit in comparison to what was being said behind closed doors in Faenza at the end of the race.  It was a donut fest by Bottas as the fireworks lit up the sky, and even Massa got in on the act, parking up on the straight alongside the race winners as they smoked up the night.  Boring as the race may have been, the season itself has been the most competitive we have seen for some time, hopefully a harbinger for things to come. ..

Thanks, as always, for stopping by.


And remember to play nice in the comments!!

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Matt Ragsdale

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