By Amol S Ghokale
Abu Dhabi: “Lewis, this is Paddy, we need you to pick up the pace, that’s an instruction,” came in a team radio for Lewis Hamilton.
“Right now, I am losing the World Championship, so I don’t really care if I win or lose this race,” was a blunt reply from Hamilton to Mercedes’ then Executive Director Paddy Lowe.
The clear defiance of team orders by Hamilton caused quite a stir in the F1 world as Nico Rosberg celebrated his title and subsequently announced his retirement.
Exactly a year later, the 32-year old Brit, returns to Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi as the Four-time World Champion, as the sun sets on the 2017 Formula One season.
As the things stand, apart from the pride there is hardly anything at stake this weekend, unlike last year, with both driver’s as well as constructors’ championships were sealed in Mexico in October itself.
But still, there is a lot to look forward to when one takes a look back at things.
All eyes will be on champion Lewis Hamilton after he finished fourth, starting from pit lane in the Brazilian GP a fortnight ago. His arch-rival this season, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who won a thrilling race at Interlagos, would look to end the season on a high having already lost the championship.
Then comes their team-mates, two Finn’s – Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen, having played second fiddle all along, with moments to cherish in between as spotlight remained focused constantly on their team-mates.
Two Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo have had a season to forget in first and second half of season respectively as Red Bull struggled for reliability all along.
The much-awaited divorce from engine supplier Renault did happen eventually as Red Bull are most likely be forced to use Honda engines from 2019 season.
Esteban Ocon signing for Force India was definitely the best signing of the season after Bottas’ move to Mercedes from Williams. The 21-year-old French driver along with seasoned campaigner Sergio Perez secured the fourth spot in constructors’ championship for their team with some margin over their mid-table rivals Williams, Renault, Toro Rosso.
But the success Force India enjoyed this year has come at a cost as drivers’ were put on a leash by the team after repeated collisions in Azerbaijan and Belgium. But with a good weekend at the Yas Marina Circuit, Sergio Perez, on 94 points, can reach the 100 mark. Meanwhile, Ocon, who suffered his first retirement in a single seater after 2014, is on 83 points.
Meanwhile, Williams’ Felipe Massa will race for the ‘one last time’ second time as he finally hangs his boots this year. A possible 10th placed finish in the driver’s standing is on the cards for the icon of the sport if he manages to keep his team-mate Lance Stroll behind; for whom highlight of the season has been a surprise podium finish at the Baku.
A sly dig Hamilton had at Fernando Alonso when the McLaren driver wished for same engines at the beginning of the season in Melbourne, with Hamilton promptly responding, “I hope not the Honda,” and Alonso’s rants on team radio are the proof of trouble McLaren had with Honda.
McLaren were put out of their misery when at the Singapore GP it was announced that McLaren would switch to Renault engine in 2018.
The same period followed a scramble as Toro Rosso sacked Daniil Kvyat for poor show and lost Carlos Sainz to Renault, replacing Jolyon Palmer, as part of their deal. After much speculation, Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley would take the seats at Toro Rosso for the final race of the season as well as for the next one.
As the drama unfolded in the paddock for smaller teams, the big guns were fighting their own battles with Mercedes eventually securing the double crown for the fourth time running.
The teams will look to try and put more and more updates on their cars with one eye on 2018 season. Although, Williams has denied that deal for Robert Kubica deal is not done, with Massa seat up for grabs, the Polish driver will test with the team during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
19 out of 20 races are done, and now it has come down to the last one, a unique, twilight race in the desert, where the pride will be at stake with one eye on the future; probably fretting over how the future will look with halo, a protection for driver, installed on their cars, a beast, a diva, whatever they might choose to call it.
eom/from Abu Dhabi