AbuDhabi: doubling down on dumb

AbuDhabi: doubling down on dumb

Postby meteorite » Sat Nov 22, 2014 9:50 pm

Back at the start of the season, someone - Bernie or Jean Todt of the FIA, according to gossip - was upset that the last couple of years, Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull had so dominated the season that the championship title was mathematically decided well before the last race or two were even run, which they felt in turn caused reductions in the numbers of paying spectators at those races, and ad-watching eyeballs at the TV. So they had a bright idea - make the last three races count for double points! That would keep the title open to the last. Eventually cooler heads prevailed, backed by a chorus of complaint from drivers and teams about the new setup, and in a face-saving move, the number of double-points races was reduced to one, the last.

That done we come to AbuDhabi with the only one facing much likelihood of getting screwed being Lewis Hamilton, but he's a Brit (from the place where foreign owners have found they have to base their teams for fastest access to vital parts, and they resent it) and not white, which many European crowds resent, so screwing him doesn't matter anyway.

Despite the table-tilting exercise, Mercedes locked up the Constructors Championship a couple of races ago, and as of today have supplied the engine for every single pole winner this season, an achievement not previously accomplished since 1969 (Ford-Cosworth). Hamilton goes in with a 17-point edge over Rosberg, the only other mathematical possibility for the title. Normally Hamilton's points would mean that even if Rosberg won, Hamilton need only finish sixth or better to take the Championship, since a tie would be broken in his favour because he has more wins. But doubling down cheats him - in effect the value of his earned margin is arbitrarily cut in half, so should Rosberg win Hamilton must take second to hold the title.

Going by the qualifying results, Hamilton's edge looks pretty good. While Rosberg won the pole, Hamilton starts beside him. He can let Rosberg lead him around the course for the whole race, so long as no other car gets between them. He still wins the big prize. Should some other driver get extremely lucky and grab the win with Nico second, sixth or better hand Hamilton the title. Should Hamilton, through incident or accident, fail to finish, Rosberg would still need fifth place or better or Hamilton's final point total would be higher.

This could yet be material, as some drivers do get lucky and others can do dumb things. Rosberg is under pressure because even winning the race will not get him the Championship when Hamilton follows him home. Should he bog the start and get passed by one or both of the Williams cars from the second row - and their times are remarkably close this race - he will have a lot of difficulty getting by them again. But he can't get very aggressive as even a short stop for damage, or a penalty, could doom his chances. And even the blue lights and flags don't always get the response they should from the backmarkers in a timely fashion.

The backmarkers will be plenty twitchy, with the two Red Bulls having lost their third row grid position as a result of a wing that didn't pass scrutineering and having to start from the last row instead. The track has its subtle tricks; as the sun sets and the air cools, brakes and tires change their performance with every lap. The pit out twisting in its tunnel may catch a driver out, and drivng into the glare of the setting desert sun is wickedly difficult.

The odds basically favour the outcome of Hamilton quietly following Rosberg home, but they're longer than might be thought. Rosberg must win and even then Hamilton can take the Championship. Defending his position while making no mistakes is not Rosberg's long suit. A strategic error in pit stop timing, someone else's dumb move, a pace car intervention - it's no slam dunk for anyone.

But it could be a rattling good race. Just look at qualifying.

Pos No Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3 Laps
1 6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:41.308 1:41.459 1:40.480 13
2 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:41.207 1:40.920 1:40.866 12
3 77 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes 1:42.346 1:41.376 1:41.025 18
4 19 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 1:41.475 1:41.144 1:41.119 20
DSQ 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:42.204 1:41.692 1:41.267 12
DSQ 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:42.495 1:42.147 1:41.893 17
7 26 Daniil Kvyat STR-Renault 1:42.302 1:42.082 1:41.908 18
8 22 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:42.137 1:41.875 1:41.964 18
9 7 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:42.439 1:42.168 1:42.236 15
10 14 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:42.467 1:41.940 1:42.866 19
11 20 Kevin Magnussen McLaren-Mercedes 1:42.104 1:42.198 13
12 25 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Renault 1:42.413 1:42.207 12
13 11 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1:42.654 1:42.239 15
14 27 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1:42.444 1:42.384 12
15 99 Adrian Sutil Sauber-Ferrari 1:42.746 1:43.074 14
16 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:42.768 8
17 21 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1:42.819 8
18 13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus-Renault 1:42.860 8
19 10 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham-Renault 1:44.540 7
20 46 Will Stevens Caterham-Renault 1:45.095 8
Q1 107% Time 1:48.291

Note - Ricciardo & Vettel excluded for illegal front wings. Grosjean qualified P16, but has 20-place grid penalty for power unit changes and incurs an in-race drive-through penalty in lieu of undropped places.
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Re: AbuDhabi: doubling down on dumb

Postby meteorite » Mon Nov 24, 2014 12:40 am

And so, in the race, justice has been served. Elegantly.

Quite simply, Hamilton led at the start, led at the finish, and barring the usual shuffling during tire stops, led all the way. For the last 30 of the 55 laps, he was essentially coasting - in fact at one point he was heard on team radio telling his engineers not to give him more power, he didn't need it.

It needs to be remembered that Hamilton was seeking the World Championship, and did not need to win the race to get it. In the worst-case scenario for his chances, Rosberg winning, he only needed to finish second for the title to be his, and there was nothing Rosberg could do about it. Below that, the lower Rosberg finished, the lower Hamilton could come in and still be champion. In the event, after lap 25, Hamilton did not even have to finish to be Champion.

It does appear that Hamilton decided to show incontestable, unquestionable Champion's qualities. As the lights went out, he made what he later described (and in my memory, accurately) as the best start of his F1 career. Rosberg on the pole bogged for a split second but was still away fast enough to lead the rest of the field into the first corner, but Hamilton was long gone down the track in a lead widening in every sector. No one on the track could keep up, with even Rosberg seeing his gap to the leader opening slowly but inexorably. Etiquette says within a team whichever car is leading has first choice of when to pit, as being first may confer an advantage; Hamilton was quite happy to let Rosberg go in first. After the stops the pair continued in the 1 - 2 formation.

On lap 24 Rosberg's lap time suddenly lengthened; it was soon reported that his energy recovery system (ERS) had failed. He began a slow drift down the order. Subsequent reports were made of additional electrical failures. By the end of the race he was asking his pit not to call him in and retire the car, but to let him finish the race. He was granted the favour and crossed the finish line in 14th position. Even had Hamilton's car had a similar failure, Rosberg would have needed to finish sixth or better to claim the title with Hamilton out of the points. This clearly could not happen.

Regardless, Hamilton won the race on clear merit, to the raucous delight of the sellout, Union Jack-waving crowd. Much of his family was in the Mercedes pit, parents and siblings, while another guest was Prince Harry, eligible heir to the British throne. The Prince had been visiting with the drivers and team prior to the race, remained during the running, and conveyed a personal message of congratulation over team radio to Hamilton during the cool-off lap. Not seen on race television was Bernie Ecclestone, who had dodged a deadly bullet from his dumb double-point decision when Hamilton's victory took him of the hook. One hopes he is duly grateful.

Hamilton's victory made him the winningest British driver in Formula One racing history, and the first Mercedes works driver to claim the title since Juan Manuel Fangio, as Mercedes took a multi-year sabbatical from racing after Pierre Levegh's deadly LeMans crash in 1955. A tremendous accomplishment.

It was also gratifying to see Felipe Massa and Valetteri Bottas claim the other two podium positions for Williams, who last saw one of their drivers on the top step in 2005. Especially heartening was Massa's second placing. In my opinion he is a hugely underrated driver, having been overshadowed by his tenures as wingman to Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso, and the need to recover from the near-mortal wounds inflicted when a suspension spring detached from a car he was pursuing at full race speed and flew full into his helmet in a deadly impact. It was an event when he even regained consciousness and later was judged fit enough for therapy, though no one believed he would ever race again. His is a story of immense tenacity and courage in the face of crushing adversity, and seeing him on the brink of success again is hugely heartening. And he even has a team-mate well worthy of his mentoring,who already shows championship promise for the future.

And so, the summaries released by Formula One:

Race - brilliant Hamilton claims world title with Abu Dhabi victory 23 Nov 2014

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton produced a faultless performance in Abu Dhabi on Sunday evening to claim his 11th win of the season and with it his second world drivers' crown.

Hamilton - previously champion in 2008 - made the perfect start to grab the lead from polesitting team mate Nico Rosberg, giving him the platform to control the race from the front. Williams' Felipe Massa meanwhile slotted into third from the start ahead of McLaren's Jenson Button, while Valtteri Bottas in the second Williams tumbled down the order after an awful start from third.

For the first 23 laps Rosberg kept Hamilton honest, the duo rarely separated by more than two seconds, but the race turned dramatically on Lap 24 as Rosberg's car began to slow as he lost ERS and then other systems began to fail.

The German began to slip back, the loss of second to Massa the first act of a slow and anguished plummet down the points places. While he did his best to hang on to a top-five result - crucial for his title chances - he gradually slipped out of contention. To add insult to brutal, cruel luck, he was lapped by Hamilton in the closing stages, and eventually finished 14th after Romain Grosjean crept by the stricken Silver Arrow in his Lotus.

Despite such misfortune, Rosberg showed dignity in defeat as he was one of the first to congratulate his season-long championship rival Hamilton. The Briton described his second title - and the first for Mercedes since Juan Manuel Fangio in 1955 - as the greatest day of his life.

But even with Rosberg out of the picture, the Briton's 11th victory of the year was no easy run. Massa was hungry for Williams' first success since Barcelona 2012 and made the best use of a very long second stint to gamble on a set of supersoft tyres for the final 12 laps. Initially he slashed the gap to race leader Hamilton, but with a handful of laps to go his tyres began to lose their vital grip and he didn't quite have enough to challenge the Mercedes, finishing 2.5 seconds behind at the chequered flag.

Bottas did recover from his poor start to clinch third, sealing an excellent day for Williams - it was their first double podium since 2005, and earned them third place in the 2014 constructors' championship.

Daniel Ricciardo drove a brilliant race for Red Bull to surge from the pit lane to fourth, chasing hard after Bottas in the closing stages, while Button drove another blinder to take fifth for McLaren ahead of Nico Hulkenberg's Force India. That was enough to keep McLaren in fifth place overall in the constructors' standings, even though Sergio Perez gave Force India a strong finale by fending off Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel - who like Ricciardo started from the pit lane - in a fight for seventh.

Ferrari had an appalling race, as even Fernando Alonso could only muster ninth on his final drive with the prancing horse, just ahead of team mate Kimi Raikkonen.

Kevin Magnussen was 11th in the second McLaren after first-lap brushes with Hulkenberg and Sauber's Adrian Sutil, while Jean-Eric Vergne was Toro Rosso's sole finisher in 12th after Daniil Kvyat was forced to stop early on with technical problems.

With Grosjean leading the bitterly disappointed Rosberg home, Esteban Gutierrez headed team mate Sutil as their Sauber careers came to an end. It is the first time in Sauber's F1 history that the team have failed to score a point over a season.

Will Stevens was the final finisher for Caterham after a steady debut, as team mate Kamui Kobayashi joined Kvyat and Pastor Maldonado, whose Lotus caught fire, on the retirements list.

"2007 was a very bad experience losing the world championship in the last race," Hamilton admitted. "I fell to a low over which I had no control. In 2008 I came back and won the championship but Felipe here won the race and won the championship for a few seconds, before I got it back in the last corner. So I lost it and won it and, while that was great, my emotions were shot. I wasn't so mature, I didn't have the knowledge I have now.

"Normally before a race you have butterflies in your stomach and are nervous, but today I felt extremely calm. It was weird; was that a good thing or a bad thing? Obviously it was good!

"Last night I kept thinking that tomorrow is the big date, something could happen to the car and that would be the championship done. Naturally you think of all the negative things that could happen but I tried really hard bring all the positives into it, and I brought into the race and looked after the car. It helped when Nico's car was not performing, and when he fell out of the points I knew I could fight Felipe.

"Today was the greatest race of my life."

Pos No Driver Team Laps Time/Retired Grid Pts
1 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 55 1:39:02.619 2 50
2 19 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 55 +2.5 secs 4 36
3 77 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes 55 +28.8 secs 3 30
4 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing-Renault 55 +37.2 secs 20 24
5 22 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 55 +60.3 secs 6 20
6 27 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 55 +62.1 secs 12 16
7 11 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 55 +71.0 secs 11 12
8 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 55 +72.0 secs 19 8
9 14 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 55 +85.8 secs 8 4
10 7 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 55 +87.8 secs 7 2
11 20 Kevin Magnussen McLaren-Mercedes 55 +90.3 secs 9
12 25 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Renault 55 +91.9 secs 10
13 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 54 +1 Lap 18
14 6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 54 +1 Lap 1
15 21 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 54 +1 Lap 14
16 99 Adrian Sutil Sauber-Ferrari 54 +1 Lap 13
17 46 Will Stevens Caterham-Renault 54 +1 Lap 17
Ret 10 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham-Renault 42 Retired 16
Ret 13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus-Renault 26 Power unit 15
Ret 26 Daniil Kvyat STR-Renault 14 Power unit 5

Note - Ricciardo, Vettel excluded from qualifying, illegal front wings; pit-lane start after parc ferme changes. Grosjean qualified P16, 20-place grid penalty for power unit changes, incurred an in-race drive-through penalty in lieu of undropped places.
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