FORMULA 1: that’s all for 2015, folks!
IF ONLY all of the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix would have been as spectacular and as crazy and the spirited opening lap.
But after it settled down, the race quickly became too much of a staple of modern Formula One – an orderly high-speed procession led by two Mercedes up front, with Ferrari, Red Bull and Williams fighting over the scraps. Oh, wait, there’s someone who didn’t read and digest the script; Sergio Perez in the Force India…
Nico Rosberg turned in another dominant performance under floodlights to crush his world champion teammate Lewis Hamilton for the third grand prix in a row, with Kimi Raikkonen grabbing the final spot on the podium for Ferrari.
Rosberg had never before won three on the trot. He’d like the 2016 season to start next weekend…
So much of the chat lately has been on the question of what has happened to Lewis’s pace since he won the title in Austin. Some defenders say he no longer had anything to fight for, the championship secure. But that’s not Hamilton. He likes to win every time the lights go out. His massive ego has a voracious appetite. Others say he has simply partied too hard lately. But more likely, Rosberg, has upped his game, worked harder and become more assertive.
Hamilton certainly went into Sunday’s race in a reflective frame of mind after the purposeful Rosberg raced to yet another pole – his sixth consecutively and by a comfortable margin.
An overworked word amongst the media was “momentum” and who would take it into 2016.
The title may have been Hamilton’s but the German’s end-of-season dominance has irked the proud Brit who took no great comfort in being the second-fastest Mercedes driver in a record number of 15 front-row lockouts.
“I’m thinking of the long game today,” Hamilton declared, waving off suggestions that an advantage at the start would be crucial.
Heading the second row was a more competitive Raikkonen in third for his best qualifying result of the season, ahead of the impressive Perez in the Force India. The shock was that Sebastian Vettel was a victim to a Prancing Horse stuff-up which meant he didn’t make it beyond Q1. He started 15th.
Fifth fastest was Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull Renault, marginally faster than Valtteri Bottas, dealing with an outrageously wagging Williams tail.
With the sun setting over the desert on Sunday evening, Rosberg made another strong start, from Hamilton, Raikkonen, Perez, Nico Hulkenberg and our Daniel.
There was some brutal stuff going on in the mid-field around the Toro Rosso babies and Daniil Kyvat, while Vettel made up several places from further back.
Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado was sidelined on the mad first lap, after contact which earned McLaren’s Fernando Alonso a penalty.
Hamilton couldn’t land a blow on Rosberg as the German, in his most commanding performance of the year, powered to victory.
To emphasise Mercedes’ supremacy this season, Hamilton and Rosberg collected 80 per cent of all the available points.
“This is the perfect ending to the season for me – something I hoped for so much after a tough year,” said the delighted championship runner-up.
“To finish with six poles and three wins in a row is awesome. I am so happy that I found some performance at the end of the season. I also made my peace with this track after the toughest moment of my career here last year, which is a nice feeling.
“Today was really a perfect race. The start, the pit stops and the tyre management were all really good and I felt like I had it all under control.”
There was little else of importance to report, apart from Ricciardo’s beautifully controlled late braking overtake on The Hunk on his way to a sixth-place finish, and some spirited driving from Jenson Button.
Commendations go out to Vettel, who climbed to fourth, Perez who would not be budged from fifth at the finish, and Grosjean who stole ninth (up from 18th) in his farewell drive for Lotus.
“Parts of it were fun,” said Ricciardo of his race. “I would have liked more battles, though, but it looked quite spread out.
“It’s a circuit I enjoy fighting on. I have confidence in the big breaking zones here. I think we ended the season well and feel I got the most out of the car, so I’m leaving the season more happy than I was a few races ago.
“Sixth is probably not that representative of how good our weekend was, but I’m pretty pleased. I would love to go racing next weekend but at the same time I’m happy the season is over and I’m optimistic that next year will be better,” he said.
“I think we ended the season with a lot more feeling and confidence in the chassis.”
And a final observation from the world champion: “That was a very difficult race. My tyres were done at the end of the first stint sitting behind Nico. The second stint was very good, but I don't really know what happened strategy-wise at the end.
“I haven't finished the season as strongly as I started it - but what an incredible year it's been. I'll go away now for the winter aiming to come back stronger, fitter and straight on top of our new car for 2016.”
FORMULA 1: Renault prevaricates on future
THE latest in the saga of Renault's status in F1 next year and into the future was thrown into doubt after a prizemoney agreement with commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone fell apart.
According to insiders, Renault had concluded a deal to buy a majority share of the Lotus team, which it would rebrand. There was also an on-off-on arrangement to supply engines to Red Bull next season.
Why Ecclestone and Renault have struggled to agree on the financial terms of the manufacturer’s return next year is not public, but the BBC believes there is confusion over Renault’s deal to continue to supply Red Bull in parallel with the buy-out of Lotus, which is facing the threat of insolvency if the big cheque doesn’t arrive by December 7.
When this latest deal with Ecclestone fell over, a miffed Renault immediately threatened to walk away.
A crisis meeting was called for last Friday to try to resolve the problem.
Renault Sport boss Cyril Abiteboul told BBC Sport the discussion was constructive: "We will report the result to our CEO but I am pretty sure we will have a positive result."
However, Abiteboul also declared that while it was Renault's intent to take over Lotus it had "no obligation" to do so.
He believes Renault would be part of F1 in some capacity next season, although he also conceded to the BBC that "pulling out of F1 completely is on the table if we don't manage to convince the board that F1 is a meaningful investment for Renault".
But Lotus staff are certainly behaving as if Renault will save the team from falling into administration. They’re working co-operatively with the manufacturer on a car with a Renault engine for 2016.
The Renault boardroom must be a strange place, perhaps fitted with a springboard for back flips, remembering that the French manufacturer won championships in the mid Noughties (with Fernando Alonso) before then selling its team to investment group Genii Capital at the end of the 2009, and downsizing to a role of engine supplier.
That worked wonderfully with Red Bull roaring to four consecutive championships between 2010 and 2013.
The new hybrid formula introduced last year hasn’t been good for the once happy partnership; Red Bull initially announcing mid-year, after some frustrating power and reliability issues, that it intended to secure another power unit supplier.
At the same time Genii, similar to other venture capitalists, found motorsport a strange beast and agreed to flog Lotus back to Renault.
When Red Bull struck out in its search to find another engine source, a meal of humble pie had to be consumed as team principal Christian Horner went back to Renault and renegotiated an amended deal for 2016.
Rather than just take what Renault provides, it appears the engine will be further developed by Ilmor, the engine design company that in the past supplied Mercedes with a winning F1 engine.
GT: Two-car Cayman GT4 team for Bathurst 12 Hour
A PORSCHE team from Germany – a pioneer in the development of the Cayman GT4 – has entered its first Bathurst 12 Hour next February with two cars.
It’s a commitment the team hopes will build the profile of the GT4 class, until now always viewed as a baby class to the outright GT3 category. GT4 features more production-based vehicles with limited modifications from the showroom.
The Pro Sport Performance team, based in the town of Herschbroich inside the Nurburgring circuit, is a noted Porsche racing specialist. Pro Sport has a long record of success at the famous German circuit, notching up six outright wins and more than 100 class victories in the Nurburgring-based VLN endurance series.
The team was the first ever to compete with Porsche’s Cayman model in the VLN series.
As well as scoring several class victories in the Nurburgring 24 Hour, the team has also won a GT4 series title using a Porsche 911, and sored several class victories in GT4 competition using their Bathurst-bound Caymans.
While yet to confirm its full driving squad, the team is excited to be heading ‘down under’ for the first time to take part in a race that just keeps growing in stature internationally.
“If you have to name the big endurance races worldwide, it will be Le Mans, Daytona, Nurburgring and Bathurst,” team manager Steve Buschmann said.
“We are really curious about the reality of Mount Panorama.”
With his team so prominent in the burgeoning GT4 class, Buschmann hopes Pro Sport’s addition to the Bathurst 12-Hour grid will also help grow the baby GT class in Australia.
“Our focus is on GT4 class as it is in Europe. We hope to push this class with our entry. It is a growing market and will become more and more important, in our opinion.”
The target for the Germans is to topple the defending class winner, Tony Alford’s Lotus Exige Cup R.
Additional entries are expected in the GT4 class prior to them closing in mid-December.
Alongside the Pro Sport Performance Porsche Caymans and Lotus’ Exige and Evora models, other successful GT4 vehicles include the Aston Martin Vantage V8, BMW M3 GT4, Chevrolet Camaro GT4, Maserati Grand Turismo MC and the KTM X-Bow GTR.
WEC: Webber retains seat at cost-cutting Porsche
MARK Webber has survived the deep cuts to Volkswagen Group’s spending in the wake of the global emissions scandal to keep his seat in one of only two Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1 cars that will campaign next year’s 24 Hours at le Mans.
Porsche, and sister brand Audi, announced they would both cut the number of cars campaigning the Le Mans enduro next year from three each to just two.
Porsche said German Timo Bernhard, Kiwi Brendon Hartley and Webber would share one of the Le Mans class one prototypes for the third consecutive year, with Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb racing with the sister car.
FORMULA E: the arrival of the automaton
THE organiser of the electric car race series, Formula E, has revealed a car enthusiast’s worst nightmare – a driverless championship from next year.
Called Roborace, the intended global race series for driverless electric cars will provide a competitive platform for the autonomous driving solutions developed by car manufacturers and industrial automotive and technology players.
Ten teams, each with two driverless cars, will compete in one-hour races over the full championship season. All the teams will have the same cars, however, will compete using real-time computing algorithms and AI technologies.
The plan is for Roborace to be a key part of the support package of the FIA Formula E Championship, with the first race for the driverless machines planned to take place during the 2016-17 season.
"Roborace is an open challenge to the most innovative scientific and technology-focused companies in the world," said Formula E chief executive Alejandro Agag.
Denis Sverdlov, founder of Kinetik, which is a partner in the initiative, said: "We passionately believe that, in the future, all of the world's vehicles will be assisted by AI and powered by electricity, thus improving the environment and road safety."
For eons, motor racing writers have taken the mickey out of a space-age future where the race cars are controlled by robots.
But, really, hasn’t the world already had driveless electric machines for decades? They’re called slot cars.