Abu Dhabi GP Notebook

Qualifying Notes

The final qualifying session of the season threw an early shocker with the elimination of Sebastian Vettel at Q1—the Ferrari driver is set to start the race at P16. Vettel didn’t turn a fast enough first run and seemed to have abandoned his second, later run in the middle of the lap and by the time the clock ran out, he was uncharacteristically pinned in the knock out zone at sixteenth place.

As early as Q1, the Force India duo of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg stole the show, setting the third and fourth fastest times respectively, not far behind the two Mercedes. Perez again posted the third quickest time in Q2, which saw the Lotus of Romain Grosjean retire during his out lap for what would have been his one-and-only run as the clock wound down.

In an exhilarating Q3 however, Kimi Raikkonen deposed Perez from P3, relegating the Mexican to fourth while Hulkenberg qualified seventh. Up front, the two Silver Arrows provided some fireworks with a nip and tuck battle for pole position. Ultimately, it was Nico Rosberg who attained pole for the sixth-straight race, as he continues his dominance over teammate Lewis Hamilton in terms of qualifying pace to close out the season.

A force to be reckoned with

As I said, the show-stealers of the qualifying session were Force India, with Perez looking like he had the pace to maintain his early claim over P3. Raikkonen turned in a mighty lap to topple Perez out of the top three. Force India’s pace started to be evident during the practice sessions. Sky Sports F1 reporter Ted Kravitz identified a front wing endplate aero update for both Force India cars. Clearly, Perez and Hulkenberg had blistering pace, seemingly quicker than they’ve ever been this season, maybe even faster than the two teams ahead of them in the constructors’ championship: Williams and Red Bull. Perez out-qualified both Williams and Red Bull drivers, while Hulkenberg split Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa. Fox Sports Asia analyst Alex Yoong described Perez as “a revelation” also referencing to the Mexican’s recent string of impressive results. Force India’s performance so far in the Abu Dhabi grand prix has been a revelation that they’re a team that could further improve its position in the constructors’ championship next season.

GP3 Feature Race Review

All eyes were on the battle between the two championship contenders Esteban Ocon and Luca Ghiotto at the final Feature Race of the 2015 GP3 season, set for 18 laps around the Yas Marina Circuit. The championship leader Ocon of ART Grand Prix started from pole but ran wide at Turn 1, eventually incurring a five-second time penalty a few laps after the incident was investigated by the race stewards. This gave the race a peculiar factor as second place essentially represented the race win when it became evident that Ocon couldn’t build a hefty five second gap up front.

Arden International’s Kevin Ceccon was running at second place and keeping the race leader honest until he was forced to retire his car before the midway point of the race. Ceccon’s retirement neutralized the field through a Virtual Safety Car, crucially keeping the gaps between each runner constant, which meant Ocon was able to keep his advantage at the lead. When the race was restarted, the runners behind Ocon kept up to pace with the race leader until the end.

When the checkered flag flew, Ocon crossed the line first but it was his teammate Marvin Kirchhoffer who took the race win, ahead of Arden’s Emil Bernstorff and Koiranen GP’s Jimmy Eriksson. With five seconds added to his overall race time, Ocon dropped to fourth place, just ahead of rival Ghiotto (Trident), building a six-point championship lead heading into the season-ending Sprint Race on Sunday.

Up until the middle stages of the race, Ghiotto kept his pace and looked to be in line to finish ahead of Ocon because his gap to the leader had been less than five seconds and was pressuring Eriksson for fourth place. However, Ghiotto constantly made mistakes braking for Turn 17, often locking up his front brakes and having to use the runoff area. Eventually, he dropped back from his challenge against Eriksson and started receiving pressure from Matt Parry (Koiranen GP) close behind. Ghiotto kept Parry’s challenge in check but never got to decrease the gap back to the leading four cars.

The two championship leaders are still neck-and-neck heading into the Sprint Race on Sunday, which is sure to be compelling given its championship implications. Ocon is looking to add another junior formula championship under his belt after winning last year’s European Formula 3 title while Ghiotto aims to put an exclamation mark on a season where he has earned five race wins.

GP2 Feature Race Review Notes

  • I’ve never really paid much attention to tire compound choices in a GP2 race but I found it interesting that the medium and supersoft compounds were to be used for the Abu Dhabi Feature Race. Runners who started the race on supersofts struggled mightily after five or so laps as the medium tire runners started harassing them from all over. The pit stop window only opened on lap six, so the supersoft-running drivers had to wait agonizingly for a chance to get rid of their degraded tires that have fallen completely off the pace of the medium tire runners.
  • After making his pit stop late in the race, Sean Gelael crashed his Carlin into the wall at the pit exit tunnel. He couldn’t slow his car down enough as he went down the hill right after the end of pit lane and just ran straight to the wall, losing his front wing in the process. It was an embarrassing moment for the GP2 rookie, caught off guard by the funky underpass pit exit of the Yas Marina Circuit.
  • I will have to embarrassingly admit that I fell asleep before the end of the race. When I woke up, the broadcast was already finished and I never got to see the podium ceremony. It was Stoffel Vandoorne who was leading with less than five laps to go. Rafaelle Marciello was in the lead for the middle part of the race because he started on mediums. When Marciello pitted for supersofts, Vandoorne was well ahead as the Italian driver exited the pit lane at second place with Mitch Evans following closely at third. Vandoorne had a huge gap up front and Marciello was asked by his race engineer to nurse his tires for the time being so that they could last to the end. I guess Marciello had to focus more on defending against Evans rather than attacking Vandoorne. Looking for the final race results online, the top three drivers before I fell asleep—Vandoorne, Marciello, Evans—finished the race in that order.

GP3 Sprint Race Review

Esteban Ocon claimed the 2015 GP3 Series championship after keeping his rival Luca Ghiotto in check through fourteen gritty laps. Ocon got ahead of Ghiotto in the start and maintained his position until the checkered flag waved, the two drivers finishing third and fourth respectively. The newly-crowned champion did not make mistakes despite the constant presence of his rival behind him, a threat that slowly weakened as the race progressed. Although Ghiotto drove a cleaner race than his Feature Race performance a day ago, he couldn’t seem to up his pace to catch Ocon in front of him.

Ghiotto won five races in his first full season in GP3 but complete newcomer Ocon just edged him out in the championship with a more consistent season. Both drivers are equally impressive and I wonder if Ghiotto will follow Ocon in graduating from GP3. Ghiotto has been confirmed to drive for Racing Engineering in the GP2 test next week.

Not to steal the spotlight away from the actual race winner, rookie Alex Palou of Campos Racing scored his maiden victory in GP3, also the first for the newcomer team. I expect Palou to be a contender next season if he returns as he has shown some glimpses of the impressive young driver that I first noticed in the 2014 Euroformula Open season.

GP2 Sprint Race – Cancelled

Originally scheduled for 22 laps, the Sprint Race lasted only seven or so corners before the red flag was waved. An incident triggered by a spinning Pierre Gasly out of Turn 2 resulted in multicar pileup on the wall at the beginning of Turn 3. Norman Nato couldn’t avoid Gasly and clobbered into him. Instantaneously, Nato’s car collected Daniel de Jong, Rene Binder, and Sean Gelael, with all four drivers heading straight to the wall. Gelael was launched upward and even struck the fencing behind the barriers. Fortunately, all drivers escaped injury despite nasty-looking pileup. Further down the accident site, Sergey Sirotkin had just managed to escape the crash but was smacked in the back by Arthur Pic.

Due to the damage inflicted on the Tecpro barriers, the race was decided to be cancelled to make sure repairs were made on time before the Formula One race. It was an anticlimactic ending to the GP2 season it seems lucky now that Stoffel Vandoorne had clinched his championship five races in advance. The champion finished his campaign with seven wins for a total of eleven in his career, setting a new GP2 Series record for most wins in the series, previously held by one Pastor Maldonado.

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