Abu Dhabi GP Paddock Notebook – Saturday


ABU DHABI – Just when Lewis Hamilton appeared to have got the better of Nico Rosberg and was set on the right track to claiming his second world championship in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, the German threw a spanner in the works by claiming a sensational pole position at Yas Marina today.

The first signs of a Rosberg revival came in the final free practice session when he managed to edge out Hamilton at the top of the timesheets, but with the Briton still failing to hook up a lap, he was the favorite to bag pole once the sun had gone done.

However, it wasn’t to be. Instead, the Briton made a number of minor errors once again, causing him to fall three-tenths of a second short at the flag, handing Rosberg an 11th pole position of the year – it’s a remarkable record for the German to boast.

The German headed into today on the back foot, but has emerged in as strong a position as he could have realistically wished for. He is on pole position with Hamilton P2 and a fast-starting pair of Williams cars just behind. Heading to Championship Sunday, the war is far from over.

Rounding up all of the news and action from the paddock today, here’s the notebook.




Just when Nico Rosberg appeared to have lost his way in Abu Dhabi, he found it again on Saturday by bagging his 11th pole position of the season. Say what you want about who deserves this championship more or who has been the better driver, but on a Saturday, Nico has been in a class of his own.

The result means that, for the first time since 1969, one engine manufacturer has scored pole position for every race of the season. Mercedes’ works team has claimed 18 of the 19, with Williams – powered by the three-pointed star – picking up the remainder in Austria. Given that Ford’s achievement in 1969 came in an 11-race season, Mercedes’ is arguably the most impressive the sport has seen.

For Rosberg, today went as well as it could. He knows that the championship is out of his hands now, so all he can do is win the race in Abu Dhabi tomorrow. Starting on pole position is the best way to go about it, of course, and the pace of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa on the second row of the grid will give Nico some confidence. Maybe someone can finish between himself and Lewis tomorrow?

If Lewis can keep his cool, then it is unlikely. In terms of race pace, Mercedes is still light years ahead of the field, but a poor start for Hamilton and a bit of frustration could give Nico a chance. Lewis must remember that all he has to do is finish second – he would like to win, but a second title is the most important prize on offer tomorrow.

Red Bull’s exclusion from qualifying was the big news on Saturday night, though, leaving the journalists with a very late night in the media centre. The stewards deemed the front wing on both Red Bull cars to be illegal, thus warranting their exclusion.

Red Bull pleaded its innocence, with the technical staff heading down to the stewards’ office with an armful of paperwork, only for their protests to be futile. The team did say in a statement that it felt “singled out”, yet the FIA had checked the other cars accordingly – it had been singled out because it had contravened the regulations. Quite simple, really.

The importance of tomorrow’s race cannot be underestimated. Not only will the world championship be decided, but it also marks the end of many eras in Formula 1. Seb will start his last race for Red Bull at the back, Fernando starts eighth after a very poor performance today, and Jenson Button may be starting his final grand prix from P6.

At the front though, we have the perfect scenario. One race to go, our championship protagonists side by side on the front row of the grid. It all comes down to this: the showdown at sundown; the desert duel; Nico versus Lewis.


Be sure to join us for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7a ET tomorrow. It promises to be a thrilling race.

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).