Saturday 25 November 2017

Abu Dhabi Qualifying - Bottas on the bounce

Abu Dhabi visits, on track at least, aren't known for thrills. And from an early point of this Yas Marina weekend it was clear that one source of potential thrill was taken away. Mercedes was on another level to the rest.

Valtteri Bottas beat the odds to take his second pole in a row
Photo: Octane Photography
But in the qualifying session we got a thrill. We thought Lewis Hamilton would be a step ahead even of the two Mercs. But the other Merc, that piloted by Valtteri Bottas, denied him pole position.

And Bottas had plenty to overcome. Lewis was self-admittedly wary of relenting with the title won after doing just that late in 2015, which was followed by him losing the subsequent one.

Lewis had the machine to do it with too, his relatively fresh engine - a consequence of changing it after his Brazil qualifying crash - meant that he could run at full bean much more than most others. Plus Abu Dhabi is one of his happy hunting grounds.

In Q1 the silver pair were close; in Q2 Lewis was a couple of tenths clear and most thought the natural order was reasserting. But come Q3 Bottas got just under two tenths beneath Lewis's mark on their opening runs, and the pressure was on.

It may have got to both of them, as Bottas aborted his final run (though he wasn't helped by having to race Esteban Ocon on his out lap), while Hamilton gave it everything but seemed to run out of grip before the end of the lap and didn't improve.

Bottas was justifiably pleased with his effort
Photo: Octane Photography
Thus Bottas ends the season, and a difficult period, with back-to-back poles. A fine effort, particularly given everything we've outlined that was stacked in his team mate's favour.

"It just felt really good in the car," said Valtteri afterwards in that economical way of his. "The first Q3 lap was really good, and that was enough for pole.

"Today things were really getting better and better in the practice session and also in the quali, just managed to find time there and there and it was all under control."

Lewis too was complimentary. "What a lap - he just had an incredible qualifying and congratulations to him," he said.

"I gave it everything but I seemed to have lost a little pace before qualifying."

When asked where he'd missed out, he said, "just little bits here and there."

Lewis Hamilton complimented Bottas's lap. Sebastian
Vettel meanwhile looked on the bright side
Photo: Octane Photography
Another who was complimentary of the Finn was Merc's Niki Lauda. "I'm very happy for him, for his brain and problems he had through the year," noted Niki.

"The driving style needs to fit the behaviour of the car and here we have the car very well set-up."

Oddly too it was Merc's first front row lock out since Azerbaijan in June.

Sebastian Vettel as ever made the most of things and was next up, albeit half a second off the pole. And even he was struggling to see the bright side in a Ferrari shy of the pace.

"It was a good session, obviously bit of a shame to be that far back," he admitted. "Tomorrow we can be a bit closer but they've [the Mercs] been very very strong."

As in Brazil Red Bull wasn't quite there for a qualifying lap at least, but Daniel Ricciardo did well and pipped Kimi Raikkonen for fourth. He was confident also of the Bull's race pace and thought a podium finish a possibility. "We're close and all I need is a good start and then we're there...I think the car will come to us," he predicted.

Max Verstappen in the other Bull as in Brazil was unhappy. "The whole weekend already I was struggling with the car balance and was not happy with it," he noted. He got a distant sixth.

Daniel Ricciardo did well to pip Kimi Raikkonen for fourth
Photo: Octane Photography
"Sometimes you have to accept it's one of those days where it's not going to be your day," he went on. "You are fighting the car a lot. We tried to do the best possible job but that was sixth today.

"I don't know what went wrong otherwise we would have changed it."

In this final round the tight fight for sixth in the constructors' table, and the many millions that ride on it, was better for Renault today. Nico Hulkenberg starts seventh while Carlos Sainz - impeded by an apparent engine problem - starts 12th. Both Toro Rossos dropped out in Q1 as did Romain Grosjean's Haas; Kevin Magnussen in the other Haas starts 14th.

Still it's no slam dunk for the yellow squad, as while only four points separate Renault from Toro Rosso in the coveted sixth spot the Hulk needs a seventh place finish tomorrow for Renault leapfrog the Faenza team (as Toro Rosso's ahead on the count-back - ironically enough as Sainz finished fourth for it in Singapore), or eighth plus Sainz getting tenth.

The Force Indias are eighth and ninth on the grid with Sergio Perez ahead, and Ocon wasn't at all pleased afterwards - it was thought due to the out lap frolics with Bottas mentioned compromising his final effort. He reckoned P7 was lost.

Renault gave itself a decent chance of getting sixth
in the constructors' championship
Photo: Octane Photography
Felipe Massa in his final bow got P10, and thus kept up his record of always qualifying in the top 10 here. Only just though, as it required a last gasp lap to pip Fernando Alonso.

As noted Abu Dhabi isn't known for thrills, and this applies to its races. In through-the-looking-glass modern F1 the ultra-extended straights ended by big stops here don't create much overtaking. A lot tomorrow will hang on the start.

But the poleman is determined not to repeat what happened in the last round, when the start there too went a long way to spoil his day.

"I was so gutted in Brazil, being on pole and missing the win," said Bottas. "So I have a clear target for tomorrow..."

On burgeoning recent form you wouldn't doubt him.

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