After 20 races, this is what it has come to. Nico Rosberg’s mission is easy: come third, win the championship. Hamilton meanwhile must do everything in his power to get into Nico’s mind. Pole Position would be a good start.
And FP1 went just like Hamilton would have wanted. He was almost four tenths ahead of Rosberg, and the Red Bulls were right on Nico’s tail. And Hamilton set his time with the Soft tire compared to Rosberg’s Ultrasoft.
The bad news: performance tends not to be representative on Fridays in Abu Dhabi – the race and qualifying are taking place in the dusk. Also, the track was still covered in a layer of dust and sand, meaning that come Saturday the balance would have to be adjusted.
That was good news for Ferrari: both Räikkönen and Vettel were over a second away from Hamilton. Even Sergio Perez was quicker in FP1. If you are Lewis Hamilton, you’d be hoping that Ferrari makes a massive step forward.
— Formula 1 (@F1) 25. November 2016
And so they did: Sebastian Vettel nurtured the hopes of Ferrari fans that 2016 could end with a win for the Scuderia, despite having to stop on track with 10 minutes left to go with a gearbox failure. He ended up being third fastest and only lost 0.269 seconds to Hamilton, who was quickest again. Another victory for Lewis, but Rosberg came close. In the longruns, Hamilton also had the upper hand, but only by a slight margin. Red Bull was almost on par with the Mercedes, promising a good race and maybe an epic podium fight with Rosberg. Ferrari also was not far off on the Supersoft tire, but they are likely to be hit the hardest by the temperature change when the sun goes down during the race.
Further down the order, Williams and Force India are still going back and forth over the honor of being the fourth best team. It would take a Williams podium to realistically move them past Force India though, so the battle doesn’t have the significance to be a real nail-biter. The other fight to look out for is Manor vs. Sauber. Every point one of the teams scores could result in them gaining P10 in the constructors championship, a position worth ten million dollars in payouts. Looks like Manor is slightly ahead thanks to Mercedes power.
— Formula 1 (@F1) 25. November 2016
Does it really matter where the smaller teams finished? The story of the weekend is the title battle and the question which other drivers might have the pace to interfere. Therefore, here’s a quick rundown of what happened to the backmarkers.
Pascal Wehrlein heroically wrestled his Manor into Q2 and beat both Toro Rossos, both Saubers, Kevin Magnussen and his teammate. Not bad considering the apparent lack of downforce and chassis quality of the car. Jolyon Palmer, recently confirmed at Renault for another year, is getting better and better at his job and stayed ahead of Wehrlein.
In Q2, Gutierrez and Grosjean didn’t manage to get a Haas into the top 10. The same applied to Bottas and to Button, who is participating in his last ever F1 race. Felipe Massa, also ending his career this year, made the jump into Q3 alongside Fernando Alonso. Force India got both cars into the final round but had no chance to race the top teams. It’s row four for Hülkenberg and Perez.
And at the front? Through all the sessions, Lewis Hamilton had the upper hand. Especially the middle sector was dominated by the reigning champion. As Q3 started, both Mercedes drivers made some mistakes in their first shot at pole position. Hamilton was ahead, but by only two tenths. That was a chance for Rosberg, all he needed to do is link his best sectors and keep it clean.
Another set of fresh tires and Hamilton went out ahead of Rosberg. The first short sector went to Rosberg, but it is the by far shortest sector of the track. In the twisty bits, Hamilton gained all the time back. By the end of his lap, the gap was at over three tenths. Not the result Rosberg would have hoped for, but he did what he had to do – the Red Bulls behind him didn’t stand a chance. Daniel Ricciardo came third ahead of Räikkönen, Vettel and Verstappen. If Ricciardo can keep his position at the start, he is one to watch: unlike all other drivers, he’s starting the race on the Supersoft tire instead of the Ultrasoft. That means he’ll be able to run longer and could use the softer tire for a sprint at the end. The same goes for Verstappen.
Tomorrow, the meters to the first corner will be deciding. Will Rosberg pull a Senna or Schumacher and crash into Hamilton, securing his first championship? Or will another driver try to use the fact that Rosberg needs to finish the race and eliminate risks at the start? One way to find out – tune in for a thrilling F1 final tomorrow.
— Formula 1 (@F1) 26. November 2016