NBC Sports Network broadcasters Bob Varsha, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett talk about Sebastian Vettel’s strategy during his narrow victory in Malaysia. The crew also looks ahead at April’s F1 schedule, and more.
Veteran Formula 1 journalist Joe Saward raised quite an interesting point in his most recent blog post ahead of this weekend’s season finale in Abu Dhabi.
“There are times when one wonders whether NASCAR is smarter than F1 by making sure that every championship showdown has four contenders,” he wrote.
“Why is F1 so stuck in its own mud that it will not consider any kind of play-off format? I know that it was not like that ‘in my father’s day’, but a scoring system is a scoring system – and teams deal with the rules they are given. In any case, points systems have changed in F1 many times, so comparing the different eras is of no great value.”
Indeed, Joe is right. The Chase, while having its critics, does ensure that the NASCAR season has a dramatic and exciting finale – something that F1 risks not having, and so frequently misses out on.
2015 is one such example. The championship was mathematically settled in Austin one month ago, yet there has been little doubt since Italy who would be winning the title. In fact, some may say that Lewis Hamilton had the championship in the bag as early as Hungary last year when he crushed Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes mind-games.
And yet we arrive in Abu Dhabi for the final race of the year with so much to play for and plenty still waiting to be settled. There are engine dramas still ongoing, two seats on the 2016 grid to be confirmed, and a revival from Rosberg that Hamilton will be so very keen to put a stop to.
For one last time in 2015, here is your complete weekend preview featuring talking points, track stats and TV times ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
2015 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Talking Points
Nico’s charge continues
Five straight pole positions and two comfortable victories in Mexico and Brazil not only confirmed that Rosberg will finish this year as runner-up to Hamilton once again, but have set the German up nicely for a renewed charge in 2016.
Rosberg was wry when told on the podium in Brazil that he needed to drive like this earlier in the year, but knows it to be true. If this form is anything to go by though, at a time when Hamilton seems to have become almost too comfortable, Rosberg may yet be a genuine candidate for the championship once again next year.
Victory in Abu Dhabi on Sunday would also act as some kind of pain relief for Rosberg at the site of his bitter loss last year. The demons of 2014 are slowly being chased away. It may have taken him a year to do so, but Rosberg looks to be turning a corner.
Catch me if you can
Ferrari’s performance in Brazil once again stoked the fire for a close fight at the front of the pack in 2016 between F1’s two biggest manufacturers as Sebastian Vettel applied pressure on Rosberg and Hamilton throughout the race.
We therefore arrive in Abu Dhabi with hopes of a repeat, which at at track where the SF15-T should fare better still and in a race with a knack of the unexpected could offer a tremendous battle at the head of the field.
Just as Rosberg is banishing the misery of last year and suggesting that the best is still to come in 2016, Ferrari will want to do exactly the same thing on Sunday.
Fight to the Finnish
Apologies for re-using this pun, but the fight for supremacy between Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen has rumbled on for many weeks now. Their rivalry – if such a thing is possible between Finns – has been one of the interesting subplots in F1 of late thanks to their clashes in Russia and Mexico.
It’ll finally be settled this weekend in Abu Dhabi, but we all know that Bottas is the real winner. Beating Raikkonen in an inferior car is an impressive feat. However, not beating Felipe Massa with comfort in the same car may have ended his hopes of replacing Raikkonen at Ferrari in 2017.
A year changes plenty
Lots has changed in F1 over the past 12 months. Last year, there was no sign of Marussia, yet it outlived Caterham who did race at Yas Marina. Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton have both added to their greatness with impressive seasons, while the stock of others – mainly those powered by Honda – has fallen.
It’ll be interesting to see where we stand in one year’s time. The 2017 driver market promises to be one of the most active and eventful in years with plenty of top seats up for grabs, while we’ll have been back to Germany and even to Azerbaijan at this point in 2016.
And we’ll most probably either have a four or five-time world champion on our hands. Either way, we’re witnessing greatness in this period.
Say hello, wave goodbye?
On the same day that a number of teams have announced new sponsorship deals, we must also consider those who we may be waving goodbye to following this weekend’s race in Abu Dhabi.
Red Bull and Toro Rosso’s future may still not be totally sewn up, but both will be on the grid next year. The same cannot be said of Roberto Merhi, though, who is likely to lose his seat at Manor, while the team itself faces an uncertain winter after the exits of Graeme Lowdon and John Booth.
We’re also not sure what the future holds for Lotus. Autosport reported on Thursday that the team needed help to make it to Abu Dhabi from Bernie Ecclestone, as the deal with Renault is still being finalized.
One thing we do know for sure is that Haas F1 Team will be joining the grid next year – they’ve even got a pit gantry – without a toaster in sight (props if you get that US F1 joke…).
2015 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Facts and Figures
Track: Yas Marina Circuit
Lap Record: Sebastian Vettel 1:40.279 (Red Bull, 2009)
Tire Compounds: Super-Soft (Option); Soft (Prime)
2014 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2014 Pole Position: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:40.480
2014 Fastest Lap: Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) 1:44.496
DRS Zone: T7 to T8; T10 to T11
2015 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – TV Times
Free Practice 1: NBC Sports Live Extra 4am ET 11/27
Free Practice 2: NBCSN 8am ET 11/27
Free Practice 3: NBC Sports Live Extra 5am ET 11/28
Qualifying: CNBC 8am ET 11/28
Race: NBCSN 7am ET 11/29
Williams has confirmed the signing of Lance Stroll to its development programme ahead of the 2016 Formula 1 season.
Stroll, 17, raced in the FIA F3 European Championship throughout 2015 after winning the Toyota Racing Series in New Zealand over the winter and has enjoyed backing from Ferrari as a member of its driver academy.
However, the Canadian has now moved to Williams to take up a development role similar to that enjoyed by Valtteri Bottas in 2011.
“The programme includes extensive simulator time, work placements in several departments throughout the factory, as well as specific training in the fields of race engineering and marketing,” the team said via a press release on Thursday.
Williams also confirmed that Stroll will continue to race in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship in 2016, ending suggestions of a possible move into GP3 or GP2.
“I’m really honored to be part of such a great team and one with so much history and success,” Stroll said. “I cannot wait to start working with Williams and very much hope we can achieve great things together in the coming years.
“It’s a very exciting and crucial time in my short motor racing career. Reaching F1 was always the ultimate goal, I suppose ever since driving a go-kart my father had bought me for my fifth birthday.
“Williams has a long history of nurturing young drivers at the start of their F1 careers. David Coulthard, Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg, Nico Hülkenberg and most recently Valtteri [Bottas]. This element was something that was important to me in making the decision to join Williams.
“I won the Italian Formula 4 Championship last season in my first year of car racing after karts, won the Toyota Racing Series at the beginning of 2015 and finished fifth in the FIA European Formula 3 Championship in my first year which, having also won a race, hit my pre-season target. My future is now with Williams, which I’m very excited about.”
Deputy team principal Claire Williams was pleased to welcome Stroll to the team: “At Williams, we are committed to using our resource and expertise to help talented young drivers to reach their potential.
“We have a track record of success in this area, having supported Valtteri Bottas in his growth from a development driver role to a race driver and one of the most respected talents in Formula One.
“We have identified Lance as a promising talent for the future and we are happy to provide our support to his development as a driver. We look forward to working with Lance in 2016 and to the success he can achieve in the future.”
This weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix may be the final hurrah for the 2015 Formula 1 season, but that has not stopped a number of teams from announcing new partnership deals in the days leading up to the race.
Manor, Williams and Sauber all revealed on Thursday the arrival of new partners for the final race of the year, while Red Bull confirmed the extension of three sponsorship deals.
Williams’ new partnership is with investment management company Winton, and will see its logos appear on the wing mirrors of the FW37 car and in the team’s garage over the Abu Dhabi weekend.
“There is a natural synergy between both organizations with a shared emphasis on using scientific data collection and analysis to improve performance,” a team release said, with deputy team boss Claire Williams adding: “Williams is pleased to welcome Winton as a partner. We will be working closely together at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to help Winton understand the power of Formula One to help it raise global awareness.”
Manor confirmed just five minutes after Williams’ announcement that it had signed a partnership with Shazam, a music identification app. Shazam will become the British team’s official music partner for the 2016 season.
“This partnership will form a key strand within the team’s enhanced fan engagement strategy, targeting Formula 1 fans and broader audiences,” a release said. “The companies will engage race fans and the general public, with the growing team, its drivers and its portfolio of challenger brands, all through the power of music.”
The team also said that it would mark “an exciting new collaboration at the intersection of sport and music”. Shazam will enjoy branding on the side of the Manor cars in Abu Dhabi.
Red Bull has confirmed the extension of three partnerships with Siemens, Oz Racing and Sabelt, acting as further signals that the team will be racing in F1 next year.
Sauber has also announced the striking of a deal with CNBC, which has become a premium partner of the team ahead of the 2016 season.
According to the team release, “CNBC and the Sauber F1 Team will use the global Formula One media platform to maximize their potentials, as well as to reach a broader audience around the globe.
“The CNBC branding will appear on the rear wing end plates of the Sauber C35, on the drivers’ overalls of Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr, as well as on the team’s clothing.
“To launch the partnership with CNBC, the logo will be visible on the rear wing end plates of the Sauber C34-Ferrari during the 2015 Formula One season finale at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend.”
Roberto Merhi is relishing his return to Formula 1 this weekend as he steps into the seat vacated by Alexander Rossi at Manor for the last race of the season.
Rossi joined Manor on a five-race deal in Singapore that would allow him to balance an F1 drive with commitments in GP2, where he looks set to finish the year as vice-champion.
Merhi was benched to allow Rossi to take the seat, but will return this weekend after missing the last three races due to the clash with GP2.
“I’m so excited to be back in the car this weekend for the season finale,” Merhi said. “As any reserve driver will tell you, I really missed the racing; it will be a long time yet before I’m ready to hang up my racing gloves for a full-time career in TV commentary!
“I’ve kept a close eye on everything the team has been doing over the past five races, so I don’t think it will be too difficult to get back up to speed on Friday and see how I stand versus Will [Stevens]. I’ve missed the competitive spirit between us.
“The most important thing is to do the best job possible for the team on Sunday, and ensure we have a result to celebrate.
“It has been a long, hard season, so I want to say thank you for this opportunity and I hope I can deliver another strong performance to reward the faith the team has shown in me.”
However, this looks set to be Merhi’s final F1 appearance for the time being at least. Just two seats remain on the grid for 2016 – both at Manor – but the Spaniard faces stiff competition from Rossi, Stevens and Mercedes junior Pascal Wehrlein for a role with the team.
Rossi and Stevens are both known to be better-funded than Merhi, while Wehrlein has been tipped for a seat thanks to Manor’s new technical partnership with Mercedes that comes into force for 2016.