27 November 2017Hot off the Press
Valtteri Bottas has won the 2017 Formula One season finale at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. This marks the Finn’s third career win since joining Mercedes at the start of the season, and was a great way to end the year ahead of the four-month off-season before 2018.
For two back-to-back races Bottas had started from pole position and under pressure from a four-time World Champion, this time his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton. However unlike Brazil, where he left the door open for Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and lost the lead into the first corner, Bottas covered off Hamilton and maintained the lead throughout the entire race.
Although Bottas ran wide toward the end of the race and allowed Hamilton to close to within 0.5 seconds at one stage, his teammate struggled to get the gap down, crossing the line 3.8 seconds adrift. This was in part due to being advised by his team to take turn nine in second gear (for reasons still unknown), and the inherent difficulty in following the car ahead through the last sector of the circuit. Hamilton had to settle for a second-place finish, ahead of the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel in third.
Finishing in fourth was the other Ferrari of Kimi Räikkönen, who benefited from the retirement of Daniel Ricciardo, whose Red Bull’s hydraulics gave in around lap 20. Räikkönen netted 12 points, enough to overtake Ricciardo in the championship standings for fourth overall. Ricciardo’s Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen finished the race sixth, just under a second behind Räikkönen.
A fierce battle between the Renault of Nico Hülkenberg and the Force Indias of Sergio Pérez and Esteban Ocon saw them finish sixth, seventh and eighth respectively. Despite losing places to the Force Indias, Hülkenberg fought back with a late braking move around the outside to reclaim his position.
The fight continued, Hülkenberg and Pérez side-by-side, until Hülkenberg left the track and rejoined ahead of Pérez. This was investigated by the stewards who gave the Renault driver a five-second time penalty, which ultimately had no effect on the race result. Hülkenberg’s sixth-place finish resulted in Renault displacing Toro Rosso for sixth place in the Constructors’ Championship standings.
On-track battles taking place elsewhere included the fight for ninth between the McLaren of Fernando Alonso and the Williams of Felipe Massa, with Alonso ultimately finishing ahead of the retiring Brazilian driver. Meanwhile, Romain Grosjean’s Haas finished just outside the points in 11th after a duel with Massa’s teammate Lance Stroll.
Behind Grosjean was the McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne and the Haas of Kevin Magnussen, the latter dropping to the back of the field after losing control and going into a spin on the first lap. Then came the Sauber of Pascal Wehrlein in 14th, followed by the two Toro Rossos of Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly (who had a mid-race spin), and the other Sauber of Marcus Ericsson. Lance Stroll struggled all race in his Williams, stopping three times during the race and ultimately finishing last.
Aside from Ricciardo, the other retirement of the race was the Renault of Carlos Sainz Jr, whose front-left wheel was not properly attached when he pitted and nearly caused him to crash in the pit lane exit tunnel.
A big announcement also followed the race: the unveiling of Formula One’s new logo. The new logo has already divided fans, but is part of Liberty Media’s plans to rebrand the sport and make it more digital-friendly.
Other changes are ahead next season, including expected driver changes at Sauber, where neither Pascal Wehrlein or Marcus Ericsson have been confirmed for next season. It is widely believed that Wehrlein will be replaced by a Ferrari junior driver, almost certainly 2016 GP3 and 2017 F2 champion Charles Leclerc. At the same time, rumours abound that Ericsson may be replaced by Antonio Giovinazzi, who made his Formula One debut at the start of the season, standing in for an injured Wehrlein.
At Williams, there is also a seat available alongside Lance Stroll, as Felipe Massa retires from the sport. While former Formula One driver Robert Kubica appears to be the frontrunner, he is still being evaluated by Williams to determine whether he is capable of returning to the sport after almost losing a hand in a rally accident in 2011. Other contenders are Williams reserve driver Paul di Resta, former Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat, Mercedes junior Pascal Wehrlein, and Renault reserve driver Sergey Sirotkin.
All other teams are expected to retain their current lineups, but McLaren will ditch its Honda power units and switch to Renault. The McLaren-Honda relationship has been strained after two seasons struggling with reliability and uncompetitiveness. Honda will instead be supplying power units to Toro Rosso. Sauber will get current-specification Ferrari power units, having used the 2016 specification for this season.
The 2018 season calendar will feature 21 Grands Prix, one up from 2017, and the equal-longest season (shared with 2016). The French Grand Prix will return to the calendar, having been absent since 2008, and take place at the Circuit Paul Ricard (rather than the Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours, where it was last held). The expanded calendar means back-to-back races in France, Austria and Britain from 24 June to 8 July. After a one year absence, the German Grand Prix will return at the Hockenheimring, while the Malaysian Grand Prix has been dropped having been on the calendar since 1999.
A number of technical changes will be made, including a reduction in the number of power units from four to three, meaning each will have to last seven races or drivers will incur grid penalties. Both the “shark fin” engine covers and “t-wing” aerodynamic features will be banned, while the controversial “Halo” will be introduced — a wishbone-shaped driver protection device that fits over the cockpit. Pirelli has also announced it will be introducing two new tyre compounds, one being the softest (“hypersoft”) and the other being the hardest (“superhard”), while reducing the hardness of the existing tyre range.