The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2017 race weekend has been about racing against oneself and coming out as a new benchmark!
Winning titles four times in a row can go to one’s head. Just watching it happen can do that to us. So one can’t blame Hamilton if he found his head too light and in the air, to aim for greater laurels. The driver is four times Formula 1 world champion just as his team Mercedes has won the Constructor’s championship four times in a row from 2014 – ever since the sport was driven by hybrid engines. But the fact is, the Mercedes boys seem to be neither satiated with success nor overconfident by the early taste of it.
From the first practice session to the last qualifying race, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2017 has been all about ‘bettering oneself at the game’ – if Hamilton set a new lap record for Abu Dhabi Grand prix on the first day of practice, he renewed the record twice again in the following stints before finally, teammate Valtteri Bottas went on to improve it in the qualifiers. The latter did well for himself by turning the tables on his teammate yesterday, and landing pole position in the final race.
- Valtteri Bottas 1:36.231
- Lewis Hamilton 1:36.403
- Sebastian Vettel 1:36.777
- Daniel Ricciardo 1:36.959
- Kimi Raikkonen 1:36.985
- Max Verstappen 1:37.328
- Nico Hulkenberg 1:38.282
- Sergio Perez 1:38.374
- Esteban Ocon 1:38.397
- Felipe Massa 1:38.550
Well, more than just rules have changed in the past one year. Liberty Media has taken over control of F1 from the legendary Bernie Ecclestone and looking at the turnout at Yas, the sport seem to be growing in appeal to its audiences. Mercedes has remained in the top five from restart, after staying away from the competition for 53 years (1956 – 2009). Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff considers Ferrari and Red Bull as ‘competition’ and expects the tussle to continue, but is sure that the winning streak will go on if they manage to keep the balance between the chassis and the power unit.
In fact, the race weekend started off with Vettel on top till dusk, before Hamilton made the turnaround. Ironically, as Hamilton did that, what crumbled was the lap record at Abu Dhabi Grand Prix set by Vettel himself, eight years ago in the first ever Grand Prix held here. 1 minute and 37.877 seconds instead of 1:40.279. In the same session, five racers – from Vettel to Verstappen – finished within a gap of 1.08 seconds behind the champion and a total of 13 in the race beat the previous lap record! Lewis Hamilton steadily worked on this record in both the following sessions, finishing in 1:36.742 in the second one and 1:36.403 in the final outing.
As the race day dawns, Lewis Hamilton’s sentiment is perhaps shared by all the racers. “It’s been a good (weekend) but I’m happy that it’s the last one of the season.” As his boss Toto Wolff noted, there is no time between the end of a season and the start of another. There is no off-season anymore. What is practice for the final race of the year is also practice for the upcoming season. As Valtteri Bottas observed on Day 1: “We dedicated the first practice session to testing for next year.” Well, as of now, next year can wait till tomorrow. Today is race day.
The line up at the grid is a formula for excitement. There is sentiment in play. After his leading performance yesterday, Bottas added “I was so gutted in Brazil in the last race to be on pole and missing out on the win. I have a clear target for tomorrow.” Bottas was beaten by Vettel earlier this month, as he boldly stepped past the Mercedes man to clinch the race. Lewis Hamilton who missed the 12th pole this season will line up next to his teammate and Ferrari’s Vettal, the other four-times world champion who qualified third will take position alongside Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull.
If the champion has already been named, there always are records to be set. Records make headlines.