Motorsport

Motorsport Monday: Duncraig Dan in Abu Dhabi

As always, all images & audio belong to Formula One Management/Liberty Media


Yas Marina Circuit


So this was the 12th edition of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and the overwhelming problem with Yas Marina was still the same – The cookie-cutter circuit layout creates utterly boring racing where none of the drivers/cars can have a genuine crack at each other outside of the DRS zones.

It’s the exact same problem with Sochi, which turns into a procession each and every year with little decent action during the race.

They’ve got money hand over fist in the UAE, the circuit’s facilities are some of the best in the world, the hotel is a sight to behold on TV at night, and yet, Herman Tilke managed to produce the Tilkedrome to end all Tilkedromes.

In summation, it’s the kind of circuit that Bart Simpson would call craptacular.


Duncraig Dan 2020, Chapter 17: The 2020 season ends 9 months later than expected


After a wild ride that started with a chaotic visit to Melbourne in mid-March, followed by 3 months in exile, the travelling bubble that was 2020 World Championship came to an end in the familiar location of Abu Dhabi after 17 rounds in 23 weekends, and after a season that threw up shock after shock, it was the last goodbyes for quite a few teams, sponsors and drivers:

The last race for the factory Renault team before they become Alpine, the last race for Racing Point before they become Aston Martin, the last race for Aston Martin with Red Bull, the last race for McLaren with Renault power, the last race for Sebastian Vettel with Ferrari, the last race for Carlos Sainz with McLaren, the last race for Sergio Perez with Racing Point, the last race for Chase Carey as F1’s CEO, the last race for Mercedes’ Dual Axis Steering system, and the last Formula One race for Kevin Magnussen (And Romain Grosjean in spirit), with the futures of Alex Albon and Daniil Kvyat still unknown.

More pertinent to us Australians was that it was Daniel Ricciardo’s last race for Renault before he joins McLaren in 2021, marking the end of an association with the French manufacturer that goes back to his years in Formula Renault 2.0, followed by the Formula Renault 3.5 series, followed by his successful years with Red Bull Racing, with all 7 of his Grand Prix wins coming with Renault power… Although it’ll say TAG Heuer powered at least 4 of them.

As for the milestones, it was the 100th Grand Prix start for Haas, and the 400th start for Renault as a constructor, which is where they’ll stay for the foreseeable future.

In other news, McLaren got a big monetary boost thanks to US group MSP Sports Capital buying a minority stake in McLaren Racing, Nikita Mazepin is already giving Haas headaches with his social media behaviour, and despite still dealing with the effects of Coronavirus and not being 100% fit (As expected), Lewis Hamilton was cleared to return to F1 after 10 days in isolation and presenting multiple negative tests, sending George Russell from the exquisite horse-drawn carriage that is Mercedes, back to the pumpkin that is Williams.

I think that absurdly unlucky ending to the Sakhir race for the Mercs showed that Lewis’ use of #Blessed is worth at least an extra 10-20 million dollars on his next Mercedes contract, just for the sheer good luck it brings.

And, in one last round of grid penalties, Charles LeClerc would take a 3-place drop for causing the Lap 1 collision in Sakhir, Kevin Magnussen would start from last after a Ferrari power unit change on his Haas, and following his historic win in Sakhir last weekend, Sergio Perez would have to pull another big last to first drive in Abu Dhabi after Racing Point also took grid penalties for a new power unit, part of an underlying Mercedes MGU-K (Motor Generator Unit–Kinetic) reliability problem over the last 3 weekends, forcing Mercedes to turn down the output from the MGU-K for all their teams, which definitely showed in the factory team’s performance against Red Bull.

That was an immediate handicap for Racing Point, who were just 10 points ahead of McLaren in the always entertaining fight for 3rd in the Constructors’ Championship 194 points to 184, with Renault in 5th on 172 points needing a huge Sunday and a crapload of good luck with millions of pounds in extra prize money at stake.

Still, it could’ve been worse – They could’ve had Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo.

Even a nickname like The Iceman can’t cool those flames.

The return of the Renault R25

Ahead of his return to F1 next season, and to celebrate the final appearance of Renault as a constructor, Fernando Alonso was reunited with his 2005 Championship-winning Renault R25, the car that book ended the V10 era of Formula One and ended the Schumacher-Ferrari dominance of the sport, and the Alonso demonstrations on both Friday and Saturday had the pit wall absolutely spellbound, giving F1 fans across the world a good strong dose of nostalgia.

That beautiful scream was/is the definitive sound of an F1 car.

From the Renault F1 Twitter

Qualifying


In an upbeat final Saturday of the season, Max Verstappen nailed the last 2 sectors on his final lap of Q3 to take pole position, the only non-Mercedes powered driver to do so in 2020, with his final lap vaulting him over Valtteri Bottas by 2 hundredths of a second, making this the first time Mercedes haven’t claimed pole at Abu Dhabi in the Turbo-Hybrid era of F1, with Lewis Hamilton only 8-hundredths down in 3rd place, although he comfortably ended as the best qualifier of 2020 with 10 pole positions.

Lando Norris was only 0.25s slower than Verstappen in 4th, his best starting position since the season opener in Austria, with Alex Albon in 5th filling the Norris-Sainz McLaren sandwich, with both orange cars crucially ahead of both Racing Points in pursuit of 3rd place in the Constructors Championship, which the Pink Panthers led by 10 points.

AlphaTauri ended their best-ever season with another double Q3 appearance, with Daniil Kvyat in 7th out-qualifying Pierre Gasly again (Despite being on his way out the door), Lance Stroll had the hopes of Racing Point on his shoulders, LeClerc had qualified 9th but would start 12th on the Medium tyre…

Meanwhile, after looking very solid through Practice despite a fuel pressure problem in FP1, Daniel Ricciardo’s qualifying went astray when he had his first lap time in Q2 deleted for exceeding track limits, and his second run at the end of the session was absolutely ordinary and left him down in 12th, out-qualified by Esteban Ocon for only the second time this season, and missing the Top 10 for the first time since Spain some 12 races ago.

Further down, Sebastian Vettel started 13th in his Ferrari farewell after missing Q3 for the 13th consecutive Saturday, Antonio Giovinazzi was 14th a few days shy of turning 27, Perez didn’t set a lap in Q2 with his penalty incoming, and as for the others, Kimi Raikkonen was 16th, Magnussen qualified 17th, Russell returned to the warm confines of 18th, a mere week after starting 2nd, with Pietro Fittipaldi and Nicholas Latifi the slowest drivers.

After the grid penalties to LeClerc, Magnussen and Perez, the grid looked like this:

It was also on Saturday evening that the British Racing Drivers Club announced they were re-naming the Silverstone pit straight to The Hamilton Straight, the first time in the circuit’s 72-year history that part of the famous track has been named after a person.

Next year it’ll be like when Alan Jones drove up the Jones Straight at Adelaide.


Race (55 Laps)


With a fairly lifeless evening of racing in store for the final dance of 2020, the only potential saving grace for Renault would be the free tyre choice and being able to run long after the Soft tyre runners pitted early, which would also require a bit of luck with a VSC or a Safety Car late in the opening stint.

With that in mind, Ricciardo started on the Hard tyre, as did Sebastian Vettel just behind, whereas Ocon went for the Medium tyre from 10th with Renault splitting up the strategies, and outside of the usual Verstappen-Bottas-Hamilton, Carlos Sainz was the only other driver in the Top 10 to start on the yellow-banded tyre.

At the start, Verstappen was untroubled in the lead from Bottas and immediately took the DRS out of play, Ricciardo scrapped with Vettel (Who got past LeClerc) for 11th place, as the Top 8 all held position on an incident-free Lap 1, with Gasly and Ocon exchanging 9th and 10th places until Gasly got back to his starting position on Lap 2.

Perez worked his way up to 16th after a slow getaway, as the Top 3 cleared away on the Medium tyres, and Albon finally made a move on Norris into Turn 8 on Lap 6 to take 4th place.

Not giving up, Norris got DRS and immediately fought back down the 2nd DRS zone, only for the Thai to make the pass stick with some good commitment under braking up the inside.

That move proved crucial, because Albon could stick within a pit stop of Hamilton and ensure Mercedes couldn’t get a cheap tyre change at the end of the race.

Further behind them, Ricciardo and Ocon swapped places that same lap due to their different strategies and Ricciardo showing the pace to attack Gasly, which was something Ferrari didn’t immediately do with Vettel and LeClerc, probably because Seb wasn’t giving a crap in his last race in red.

And to think Charles had a “Danke Seb” message on his helmet.

The loss of DRS hurt Ocon and allowed Vettel to attack the Renault, while Stroll made a pass on Kvyat for 7th place on Lap 8, which cut the live 3rd place fight down to 2 points the way of McLaren.

On Lap 9, Gasly passed teammate Kvyat at Turn 11 to move up to 8th place, but on Lap 9, Perez stopped on the track at Turn 19 and retired from 15th place with some kind of transmission failure, deploying the Virtual Safety Car, in what was a savage blow for Racing Point’s 3rd place hopes, and a cruel end to Sergio’s last drive in pink.

Racing Point were crying after Sergio lost 3rd in Bahrain when his MGU-K failed at the end, they were crying after he won last weekend, and they were crying after he retired on Sunday.

That retirement did give us the sadly hilarious shot of Sergio getting a ride back to the pits on a golf cart that was dressed as Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Ho ho ho.

Everyone of note on Mediums and Softs took the cheap VSC pit stop, pretty much putting the entire field on the same strategy (Hard compound tyres for 40+ laps), as Hamilton asked Pete Bonnington why he wasn’t left out to put pressure on Verstappen, given he was now welded on to 3rd, while Ricciardo and the Ferraris, who were going long anyway, stayed out to take advantage of track position with their set of tyres.

George Russell was probably wondering why Mercedes waited until now to produce a flawless double stack.

Other drivers who didn’t stop included Giovinazzi in 12th ahead of Ocon and Kvyat, who both lost out badly in the yellow flag, Magnussen in 15th, and Latifi.

With how awkwardly the Racing Point was positioned, and a busted transmission leaving the marshals unable to wheel the car into a service road, the full Safety Car was required while a recovery vehicle got on the track.

So with the field bunched up, the order was Verstappen, Bottas, Hamilton, Albon, Ricciardo, Norris, Vettel, LeClerc, Sainz, Stroll in 10th, and Gasly fell to 11th place.

Bernd Maylander’s AMG peeled in at the end of Lap 13, and Max took off after Turn 19 with Valtteri in tow, Sainz wasted no time passing his future teammate LeClerc for 8th place on the restart.

Once again, Mercedes didn’t seem to have an answer to Verstappen, who was back out to a 2.2 second lead by Lap 16, and that gap just kept growing.

Meantime, Sainz was investigated for driving unnecessarily slowly in the pit lane to mitigate a McLaren double stack, which cost Stroll the chance to get out ahead of the Spaniard, which led to Racing Point lodging a complaint, and incidents like that don’t often end well for drivers, and that announcement came right as Sainz passed Vettel for 7th place after a short but enjoyable fight.

Meantime, Ricciardo was still holding off Norris in the fight for 5th place, with Lando not exactly needing to pass his 2021 teammate given Daniel still needed a pit stop, but the clean air was working out very well for the West Aussie while the other points-sitters were losing time behind the Ferraris.

Stroll got back ahead of LeClerc with DRS assistance on Lap 19, leaving Charles vulnerable to Gasly, who passed the Ferrari with relative ease next lap, and apparently not having dealt with enough French drivers, Ocon was giving LeClerc fits from the next lap.

Realising how much time they were losing, Ferrari decided to pit LeClerc on Lap 23, and he joined down in 19th and last, spending the rest of the evening picking up track limits warnings as he worked through the Bottom 6 cars.

It wasn’t until Lap 24 that Bottas was faster than Verstappen, although by then the gap was 4.8 seconds, and in fact, that was probaably the only lap in which the Mercedes was faster, because the gap was out to 5.6 seconds after Lap 26, with Max in nothing less than total control of the race.

As the race approached half-distance, there was some discussion about how far these C3 Hard tyres could go, with some thought about having to stop again with the rate of degradation, especially from Hamilton, who couldn’t stop again or risk losing 3rd to Albon only 6 seconds behind.

It was also announced that Sainz would be investigated after the race due to the telemetry being unavailable, potentially meaning millions of pounds in prize money would be decided in the stewards room, which would be appropriate after the early season protests against Racing Point proved to be a major reason why 3rd place was still up for grabs heading in to Abu Dhabi.

Hunting down Vettel, Stroll locked up and went wide at Turn 11 on Lap 25, and compounding Racing Point’s issues, the Canadian worked his way back to DRS range, but he didn’t see Pierre Gasly creeping up and firing in a bold pass into Turn 11 on Lap 29!

Gasly moved into 8th place with a DRS pass on Vettel into Turn 8-9 on Lap 31, right as the Sky F1 team were lamenting how difficult it is to overtake at Yas Marina, what could be done to make the track more conducive for overtaking, and how it wouldn’t be until the final laps for some action to occur, and when a race proves more challenging for the commentators than it does for the drivers, it might be just a tad boring.

Meantime, still in 5th, Ricciardo was going superbly on his 35-lap old Hards, actually increasing his lead to Norris out beyond 3.5 seconds, and thanks in part to Vettel’s slow-rolling DRS Train, the Aussie was in position to pit and rejoin in 7th ahead of Gasly, with it being a 22 second time loss in the pits under normal conditions.

Vettel reported his tyres were going off on Lap 36, but even still, Stroll couldn’t find a way through due to a loss of traction, a situation that didn’t change until Seb pitted at the end of that lap, and Ferrari gave the German one final dodgy slow tyre change, an appropriate farewell present for 6 seasons of service.

On Lap 40, Renault serviced Ricciardo for the only time, which was right around the point his grip and Norris started eating into the deficit, and despite a slow left rear change, Ricciardo got back ahead of Gasly, barely, and was pretty much welded on to 7th place with a 14 second gap to Sainz, and this might not stun you, but Ricciardo making up 4 spots was the best of any driver.

That stop also gave McLaren an extra 4 points, and barring a DNF to Norris or Sainz, and/or Stroll magically coming good, 3rd place and those extra millions were going to Woking.

On Lap 44, Verstappen led by 9 seconds, but he was concerned about vibrations in his tyres, while Mercedes were still weighing up a pit stop, but the issue was Albon was only 7.3 seconds behind Hamilton and 9 behind Bottas, so it was never a chance of happening.

Heading into the final 10 laps, Verstappen’s lead was out to 11.2 seconds, Hamilton had closed to within 2 seconds of Bottas, LeClerc was finally shown the black and white flag for repeated track limits violations, and down a lap, Haas decided to pit Magnussen and Fittipaldi to have a shot at one last fastest lap with 6 laps to go.

The Haas is powered by Ferrari, so it was never a chance, although credit to Fittipaldi, he got within 8-tenths.

As we just sat around waiting for the end, the only real fights of note were Albon eating into the gap to an exhausted Hamilton, although that was never close enough to arouse interest, while the main fight that hardly got a look in on the world feed was Stroll vs Ocon for 9th and 10th, with Ocon closing to within DRS range, and crucially, both drivers were still on the lead lap.

But out in front, having found out what it’s like to be clinical to the point of boredom, Max Verstappen rounded off 2020 with his 10th career Grand Prix victory, breaking Mercedes’ 6-year winning streak in Abu Dhabi by leading all 55 laps, with Bottas and Hamilton completing the podium on a night where Mercedes were genuinely beaten by Red Bull (Heck, the winning margin was 15.9 seconds), with Albon putting in his most consistent performance of the year to finish just 1.5 seconds down on Hamilton, as the fireworks kicked off for all the lapped cars.

Fair dinkum, if Alex had driven like that all year and kept the Mercs honest more often, there wouldn’t even be a flicker of speculation about his future.

A minute behind, Norris and Sainz finished 5th and 6th and secured 3rd in the Constructors’ for McLaren, and going out with a bang, Ricciardo ended his Renault stint with the fastest lap on the last lap, robbing Verstappen of becoming the youngest driver to record a Grand Chelem – Pole, Fastest Lap, Race Win + Lead Every Lap.

A 1.40.926, 0.032s faster than Verstappen’s best on Lap 14, and funnily enough, he pulled the same last lap Grand Chelem-denying performance on Hamilton at Spa, and had previously wrecked Max’s last chance to become the youngest pole-sitter back in 2018 at Mexico.

While the TV director focused on the Top 8 crossing the line at long intervals, Ocon and Stroll were still going at it, and leaving it to the last moment, Ocon got the run on Stroll through the second DRS zone, and took 9th place!

The last overtake of 2020

Fun fact – That pass moved his compatriot Pierre Gasly back into 10th place in the Drivers’ Championship on a countback thanks to the Monza win.

As they say in France, Ça plane pour moi.


Result


Sainz was investigated and cleared of driving unnecessarily slowly by the stewards, who were of the view that Sainz had followed regular pit lane entry procedure, he hadn’t slowed from 80km/h for long enough to avoid a double stack, Stroll wasn’t materially impacted by the actions of Sainz, with the four-person panel also accepting Sainz’ statement that he was exercising a “degree of caution” due to the number of other teams’ personnel in the pit lane.

So the Spaniard kept 6th position, and at worst, he would’ve copped a 10-second penalty and fallen to 7th, which would still be enough for McLaren to finish 3rd by 5 points, even though Sainz then would’ve lost 6th in the Drivers’ standings to Alex Albon, which he maintained due to having more 2nd place finishes (1 vs 0) than the Red Bull driver.

It was also the first time in 39 races (Mexico 2018) that Mercedes haven’t led a lap of a Grand Prix, ending the record streak that dated back to Brazil 2018.


Post Race


I may as well end the year with some of the drivers’ & teams’ farewell messages and celebrations.

Sebastian Vettel takes the cake, given he went to the trouble of re-writing and performing a Ferrari-related cover of Azzuro by Adriano Celentano, AND STICKING THE LYRICS IN HIS COCKPIT:

Seb also got a European Cup-style ‘Big Ears’ trophy for finishing 14th, and he swapped helmets with Charles LeClerc.

Daniel Ricciardo to Renault after he set the fastest lap:

Carlos Sainz performed one last McLaren rendition of Smooth Operator by Sade:

Hamilton and Bottas performed the traditional pit straight doughnuts:

Esteban Ocon fanged some cheeky doughies when no-one was looking:

And Kevin Bloody Magnussen produced 25 seconds worth of doughnuts when nobody was looking, because he’ll never get another chance:

Marvellous work, gents.


The Final Standings


We already knew Lewis Hamilton was a 7-time World Champion even beofre his COVID absence, while Bottas wrapped up another Mercedes 1-2 Championship finish by 9 points to Verstappen, ironically recording the same number of wins (2), 2nd placings (5), and 3rd placings (3) as each other, with Max’s 5 non-finishes to Valtteri’s 1 proving the main difference.

Thanks to his maiden win and a 12-race scoring streak, Sergio Perez took best of the rest honours with a career-best 4th overall, even after he missed 2 races due to COVID, Daniel Ricciardo hit back from a flat 2019 to head the Renault revival and leave Enstone with a Top 5 finish overall, thanks to his first podium finishes since leaving Red Bull, and scoring in the last 11 races of the season, more than doubling his points from 2019 despite there being 4 fewer races.

Carlos Sainz and Alex Albon were locked on 105 points, with Sainz once again claiming 6th overall thanks to his 2nd place at Monza, with Albon unable to deliver the consistent second driver results that Red Bull have craved since Daniel Ricciardo left, which is why his future remains under a cloud.

Charles LeClerc faded in the last 3 races after carrying Ferrari’s hopes all season and contending for 4th overall with Perez and Ricciardo for so long, Lando Norris was just a point behind in 9th, and rounding out the Top 10 for 2020 was Italian GP winner Pierre Gasly, who took 10th from the regularly unlucky Lance Stroll thanks to that race win.

Sebastian Vettel finished in 13th, his worst finishing position since he debuted in mid-2007, and the worst by a Ferrari driver over a full season since Dider Peroni was also 13th in 1982.

In all, 23 drivers took part, 20 scored points, with 1 scoring his first career points, 13 drivers finished on the podium at least once, with Ocon, Norris and Albon all claiming their maiden F1 podiums, there were 5 different winners, and 2 drivers – Pierre Gasly and Sergio Perez – took their maiden Grand Prix victories.

While Mercedes comfortably won their 7th consecutive Constructors’ title and surpassed Ferrari’s record of 6 between 1999-2004, and Red Bull were a clear 2nd-best, the gap between the midfield reduced considerably, thanks mainly to the struggles of Ferrari, Verstappen’s DNFs, and Valtteri Bottas regularly running over black cats that strayed onto circuits across Europe, which allowed the likes of McLaren, Racing Point and Renault to claim regular Top 5 finishes that would’ve been shitty pipe dreams last year.

In the great season-long war for 3rd in the Constructors, which was one the highlights of 2020, McLaren and that balanced driver line-up of Sainz and Norris won out and finished in the Top 3 for the first time since 2012, as they prepare for the transition to Mercedes power, which won’t be easy.

Racing Point had the 3rd-fastest car in 2020 with that 2019 W10 lookalike, but regular misfortunes and slip-ups saw them finish 4th overall.

There was the massive 15-point penalty from the FIA for running illegal brake ducts, Perez and Stroll missed races due to positive COVID tests, Perez lost at least 2 podiums (Emilia Romagna and Bahrain) with late race misfortunes, Stroll had regular bad luck in the second half of the year and scored just 2 points in the 6 races after his Monza podium, and, in the last 3 races, the team had a Double DNF in Bahrain and scored 1 point in Abu Dhabi, which was sandwiched by that utterly incredible 40 point result for the Perez win and Stroll podium in Sakhir.

Could-woulda-shoulda for Lawrence Stroll and his soon to be Aston Martin team.

For the second year running, Renault finished 5th, which was probably a fair reflection on their hot & cold car performance, but the massive positive was that they almost doubled their points tally from 2019 (181 versus 91), they recorded their first 3 podiums since returning to F1 as a factory team, the car itself was a marked improvement on last season, as the Ricciardo-less future at Enstone changes from yellow & black to the blue of Alpine.

Thanks to that crippled engine that resulted from a settlement with the FIA about their suspect 2019 engine, Ferrari finished 6th overall, their worst season in F1 since the infamous 8th in 1980, making the year in which the sport’s most iconic team brought up 1000 Grand Prix entries a deadset horror show, with the only saving grace being that the Tifosi didn’t have the pleasure of throwing apples at them, especially with that Monza double DNF.

AlphaTauri’s name change from Toro Rosso saw them go even better than the record 85 points they scored in 2019, headlined by that treasured win for Pierre Gasly at Monza thanks to that superbly timed pit stop before the first Safety Car, with Gasly and Daniil Kvyat recording consistent points finishes all season long.

And rounding it off, Alfa Romeo and Haas were the other major victims of the Ferrari engine saga, which absolutely shows in their single-figure points hauls, with Haas desperately needing the funding that Nikita Mazepin will bring in just to keep the US team in F1 post-COVID…

And, in a year that saw Sir Frank and Claire Williams sold the team and marked the end of an era, Williams failed to score a point for the first time since their maiden season in 1977, and the Grove team have now scored just 8 points in the last 3 seasons, with George Russell blowing 2 golden chances to score points before his Mercedes cameo – The botched second restart at Mugello that consigned him to 11th, and spearing into the wall at Imola when the Safety Car came out late in the race.

All we can say to their new owners Dorilton Capital…. May the lord have mercy on your soul.

In all, 7 Constructors scored at least 100 points, the most since 2012, all 7 of them recorded at least one podium, 4 won races, the most since 2013, and 2 – AlphaTauri and Racing Point – scored their maiden victories.


And with that, the Motorsport Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday Chapters for 2020 come to an end, and all I can say is thanks for reading my regular 4000+ word essays, and a big thanks to everyone in global motorsport who managed to keep the action going in this apocalyptic year of famine, plague and pestilence.

Stay safe kids, enjoy the New Year if you can.

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