Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: The Battle for the Title in Abu Dhabi, Farewells & More

This Sunday marks the end of the 2016 Formula 1 season.  Mercedes earned the manufacturer’s championship, the one that matters with regard to handing out the prize money, long ago and never looked to be pressured for the title.  The driver’s championship, however, is a little more tight, though something to be determined between the two Mercedes drivers.  Nico Rosberg holds a 12 point edge over defending champion Lewis Hamilton.  

All Rosberg needs to do is finish on the podium and he walks away as the 2016 champ.  Reliability has hindered Hamilton this year, though Roberg’s silly driving maneuvers has allowed Hamilton to hang out throughout the year when it’s possible he could have put him away.  They both stand with nine wins as they head to the finale, so thanks to the superb Mercedes they’ve evened out, though at times each has held large points leads over the other.  

The interesting aspect for the race will be if Hamilton takes the early lead.  Timing after Free Practice 2 showed Hamilton and Rosberg atop the leaderboard, to no one’s surprise, with Hamilton holding a one-tenth edge.  Should Hamilton be able to scoot away cleanly, he might be able to control the race, maintaining a slow pace that would allow the Red Bulls to challenge Rosberg.  In that scenario, either or both of the Red Bulls would pass Rosberg, then Hamilton would push to keep them at bay while Rosberg and his crew would be forced to use pit/tyre strategy to make up any ground.  

Should Hamilton be able to do such a thing it would be a marvelous manifestation of race craft, possibly earning him his fourth title in stunning fashion.  Of course, Rosberg is likely well aware of any such strategy and will be seeking to keep the Red Bulls behind him – though keeping Max Verstappen there might prove to be the real race of the day.  Whether or not any of these things play out, well, that’s part of the fun of watching, but once again, should Rosberg finish on the podium, that’s all he needs.  And then the other pundits can go back to arguing whether or not he’s a worthy champion.  (What the hell does that really mean?)

Enjoy the finale.  

Odds & Sods

– A fond farewell to two stalwarts of the grid as they make their last starts in F1 in Abu Dhabi.  Both Jenson Button and Felipe Massa will be bidding the sport farewell.  Button’s move is being laughably termed a sabbatical, but his remarks indicating how he’s ready to move on and how he’s happy to leave F1 are solid indications that he’s not coming back.  Between them, the two drivers hold 553 starts (2 more to add), 91 podiums, 26 wins, and one championship (Button’s in 2009).  

during the Formula One Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 4, 2016 in Monza, Italy.
Jenson Button and Felipe Massa enjoying their last season in F1 (credit: Getty Images)

Many will recall Massa taking a spring to the helmet in 2009, an incident that cracked his eye socket and kept him out until the 2010 season.  Then again, his drive in 2008 is the one for which he should be remembered, losing out to Hamilton at the final race by one point.  Button’s championship driver lacked the drama but felt exciting because both he and the Brawn GP team (later bought and relabeled as Mercedes) were underdogs.  

Throughout their careers, the two drivers have displayed class and proven to be gentlemanly racers.  They may have underperformed in these recent years, but that is more on the teams they drive for, Button with McLaren and Massa with Williams, than it is eroded driver skill.  

– One of the big stories off the track has been that Ron Dennis out at McLaren.  Dennis, who currently owns 25% of the McLaren Technology Group, which is the parent company to McLaren F1, couldn’t save his job from the other stakeholders.  He’ll maintain his shares in the company but will no longer be heading the racing division, and will have little influence in any matter, with a strong likelihood being that Dennis will be bought out.  

The change is a wild one as Dennis is to McLaren almost what Enzo Ferrari is to, well, Ferrari.  He’s held the position of team principal since 1981, a tenure that seems unimaginable in contemporary racing.  Zak Brown replaces Dennis, and will bring a different skill-set to the company as his background is in marketing, an area where McLaren could certainly use some help.  The team lost its longtime sponsor Mobil 1 this year and has not had a titular sponsor for their race team the past two seasons and already announced they won’t for 2017.  They shift at McLaren looks like one of trading technical expertise for someone’s ability to navigate the corporate climate.  

– Silly season is nearly complete for 2017.  Formula 3 champion Lance Stroll takes over for the retiring Felipe Massa at Williams.  Kevin Magnussen moves from Renault to Haas F1, taking Esteban Gutierrez’s seat.  Gutierrez has not signed anywhere yet, but is believed to be in line for the Manor Racing spot vacated by Esteban Ocon’s move to Force India, after Nico Hulkenberg left the team to go to moved to Renault.  Then there’s Felipe Nasr, who many pegged to return to Sauber but with his Brazilian sponsorship backing withdrawing, now looks like he might struggle to find a ride.  Hope you got all that.  

– The German Grand Prix is in doubt for next year.  The question mark surrounding the race follows uncertainty of other tracks in the near future.  The Malaysian government announced that they are unlikely to re-sign the F1 race at their track, instead choosing to focus on the MotoGP event, and citing declining attendance and viewership.  In similar fashion, Singapore has questioned whether or not they should continue hosting their GP as the high costs have been difficult to justify.  Moves like these follow the reasons that Korea and France no longer hold grand prix and how other locales have wondered about the value of doing so.  This concern is one that the new F1 ownership group, Liberty Media, will be targeting.  

The Race

The Yas Marina Circuit, situated on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, was designed by Hermann Tilke, and opened in October 2009.  Using graywacke aggregate, shipped in from England, as the track surface, and boasting the largest sports venue lighting system in the world, the track costs totaled $1.3 billion.  The course features 21 turns and is roughly 3.45 miles in length.  Sebastian Vettel leads the way, earning three wins at Yas, with Lewis Hamilton having two.  Nico Rosberg is the defending race winner.  The race can be found on NBCSN at 8:00 am.  

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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Interesting race for F1 to end the year with. As usual there were the drama and palace intrigues to keep us occupied even if the racing didn’t.
Looking forward to seeing what new management and the new regs bring us for next year.

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