Saturday 26 November 2016

Abu Dhabi Qualifying - It all makes sense

There were plenty of reasons in advance to expect that, whatever else happened in our latest F1 title showdown, that Lewis Hamilton would annihilate them on track.

Lewis Hamilton has dominated this Abu Dhabi weekend
Photo: Octane Photography
On the top of his form and mood, having won the previous three from pole. Determinedly relishing the role of the previously-unfortunate and currently-unlikely comeback kid. Plus he's quite the specialist at this Yas Marina track in Abu Dhabi, particularly its final sector. And so far annihilation is what we've got. Even F1 makes transparent sense sometimes.

It's looked that way all weekend. The title-battling Mercedes pair have been on top for the most part, and Lewis of them has looked a step ahead almost always. This story continued unabated in qualifying. Lewis was smooth, immaculate and imperious throughout, and set a stunning final time of 1m 38.755 to bag pole position for tomorrow's decider, seemingly without effort.

"Lewis did an incredible job, an incredible lap - you can't say more," an observing Niki Lauda noted, as ever summing matters up succinctly.

"It's been a great weekend so far," added Lewis. "I've got the car in a real sweet spot, with some great work done by my engineers and faultless mechanics who've done an incredible job."

He reflected too, appropriately, that this is the final bow of this imperious Merc machine being driven at full pelt, what with major regulation changes awaiting next year.

Nico Rosberg did his best to take the fight to Lewis, but
admitted that it was impossible to match his time
Photo: Octane Photography
Nico Rosberg did make a game of it, often sneaking under Lewis's mark in the first sector though sometimes spoiling things with subsequent niggling errors. In the final reckoning he was three tenths shy, a little bigger gap than it tended to be for the most part. But importantly for him it means too yet another front row starting slot, putting him well onto the way to the third place minimum finish he needs to ensure the title. Underlining his relentlessness, Nico's run of getting into the top two in quali without fail now stands at 26 rounds...

"I come here to try to be on pole and win the race, so not ecstatic by today...Lewis just did a great job and was a couple of tenths quicker," stated Nico later, matter-of-factly.

"It wasn't possible for me to do that [Lewis's] time today, even though I tried everything.

"I was feeling good out there and had a good balance. As qualifying went on I was feeling better and better and got a good lap but in the end, not quite good enough."

But for all of Lewis's pomp, and Nico's expressed disappointment, once again Nico will likely view this as a hurdle cleared. Now so long as his launch his good the major threat to his championship becomes reliability as otherwise he'll be able to follow Lewis home as he likes, which as noted is more than he requires.

Despite expressing disappointment, Rosberg will
see this as a hurdle cleared
Photo: Octane Photography
He's been getting plenty of practice of that lately. We spoke of an unabated story, and really it can be traced back as such right to the end of the Japan race in early October, the scene of Nico's last victory and which left Lewis needing snookers to retain the title.

Today once again Lewis did what he could. Nico did what he needed. Whether it can continue like this for another hour and a half of tomorrow's race will likely frame who it is that claims our latest world drivers' championship.

As usual the man himself played such questions with a dead bat. "Keep it simple for tomorrow, I don't think of 'what if' - that would be the wrong approach" Nico added.

Lewis's considerations are much more simple, and that too was reflected in his words looking ahead to tomorrow. "I want to get away and win this race. I feel great in the car" he said.

"I am sitting on pole here right now. I feel energetic, I feel confident. Having lost the championship in 2007 - I knew what it felt like. But I have everything to gain tomorrow so I am super excited about it."

You still wouldn't bet against him for the race win at least. Another unabated story.

Nico will be more content with the gap behind him than that in front, as it's a whole half second to the next guy, who is Daniel Ricciardo. As also discussed previously the last thing Nico needs is any sort of threat from behind.

Daniel Ricciardo was best of the rest, and has
an alternative strategy for tomorrow
Photo: Octane Photography
We have a minor variation that Red Bull decided in its Q2 running that its cars would start on the supersoft tomorrow rather than the more regulation ultrasoft. It struck many as odd as there's not thought to be much of a difference in durability between the two compounds, and luminaries at the team seemed to betray afterwards that the approach is suck-it-and-see rather than based on much that is more tangible.

"It's a low-risk strategy this one," explained boss Christian Horner, "because we were very safe to qualify on that tyre. It's been a bit more robust than the ultrasoft...We made the decision this morning, after FP3."

Ricciardo said similar. "We've got to try something, I think," he added. "It seems to be the trend this year obviously. If we're in a position to qualify on a different tyre, then we'll try and see if it gives us an opportunity. We'll see what it does tomorrow, but hopefully it puts us in the fight.

"It was a pretty slow starting qualifying session for me" the Australian went on, "but we sort of chipped away at it and then in Q3, obviously when it mattered, I put in some good times.

"I'm happy, third was the target and hopefully I'll be somewhere around there as well tomorrow."

Next up is Kimi Raikkonen, who was strong throughout. This also means, amazingly, that Kimi edges Sebastian Vettel in the season's intra-Ferrari qualifying match-up. One wonders what odds would have been got on that last March...

Felipe Massa bows out on a relative high
Photo: Octane Photography
Seb got P5, while Max Verstappen got P6, not helped by an off on his final effort.

The Force Indias start next, with Nico Hulkenberg pipping Sergio Perez, while the remainder of the top ten contained some stories. First off Fernando Alonso impressed again to sneak to P9, and Felipe Massa completes the top 10, meaning he bows out of the sport by starting the race as the lead Williams, only the fourth time he has done so this campaign.

Even further back Pascal Wehrlein was excellent in getting P16, and it marked the seventh time in nine he's out-qualified Esteban Ocon from across the Manor garage. It won't improve the German's mood regarding that it's his stable mate who gets the big break up the grid next season.

But inevitably all focus will be on the front tomorrow. There, the story will reach its end. Either it will continue as it has for weeks, or there will be a final twist. Make sure you're in place.

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