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F1: What’s coming to an end at Abu Dhabi, 2017

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The end of a Formula 1 season always means the ends of some partnerships or tenures. Here’s a look at what’s coming to an end, or could be coming to an end, after this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix:

MCLAREN AND HONDA’S RELATIONSHIP

It wasn’t supposed to go like this.

McLaren and Honda getting back together was meant to be the storied reunion of the glory years in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It instead produced the biggest combined flop in recent F1 memory.

Honda was a year behind on F1’s new power unit cycle that came in in 2014, and the results have been disastrous thanks to a horsepower deficit, a spate of failures, and an avalanche of grid penalties. This led to an early but ultimately necessary parting of ways announced formally at the Singapore Grand Prix, and a switch to Renault from 2018.

MONTREAL, QC – JUNE 09: Fernando Alonso of Spain and McLaren Honda waves to the crowd after his car stopped on track during practice for the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 9, 2017 in Montreal, Canada. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Barring a shock result, McLaren and Honda’s best result in 60 starts from 2015 to 2017 will be fifth, achieved three times by Fernando Alonso (Hungary 2015, Monaco and USA 2016).

Heading into the weekend, McLaren Honda has only scored 131 points total over three years (27, 76 and 28) – a number 50 points lower than McLaren Mercedes scored in 2014 alone (181), the 20th year of that partnership. It will have finished last but one twice in the constructor’s championship in ninth – ahead of only Marussia in 2015 and only Sauber this year. To put that in perspective, McLaren finished ninth in 1980, then from 1981 through 2014, McLaren finished between first and sixth every year with the exception of 2007, when the team was excluded from the constructor’s championship over the “spygate” scandal.

The glory days of the past seem even more far gone now. In a way, it’s rather fitting this partnership ends at Abu Dhabi, where the initial signs of trouble were spotted on an interim chassis from its first test after the 2014 season concluded.

FELIPE MASSA’S F1 CAREER… AGAIN

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – NOVEMBER 12: Felipe Massa of Brazil and Williams walks with son Felipinho on track before the Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 12, 2017 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

As was more heavily chronicled around the Brazilian Grand Prix weekend, this weekend now marks the actual, expected end of Felipe Massa’s Formula 1 career, unless it has yet another final act.

The Brazilian has been a crowd and paddock favorite over 15 years from 2002 through 2017. Provided he starts this weekend, his 269 starts place him sixth on the all-time list, behind five of his longtime rivals in Rubens Barrichello, Michael Schumacher, Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen.

He’s not had the easiest of seasons in 2017, with only 42 points scored – a number that would be his lowest since his injury-interrupted 2009 campaign when he banked only 22. This would also mark the first season he hasn’t had a single top-five finish if he can’t end fifth on Sunday, which would require a bit of attrition from any of the top three teams.

But a fighting seventh place at Brazil, holding back the advances of his old adversary and teammate in Alonso and also Sergio Perez, proved Massa more than still “has it.” A true gentleman of the sport, Massa’s passion and dedication won’t soon be forgotten.

TORO ROSSO AND RENAULT’S BITTER BATTLE 

BAKU, AZERBAIJAN – JUNE 25: Carlos Sainz of Spain driving the (55) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR12 and Jolyon Palmer of Great Britain driving the (30) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS17 during the Azerbaijan Formula One Grand Prix at Baku City Circuit on June 25, 2017 in Baku, Azerbaijan. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

The impasse between Scuderia Toro Rosso and engine partner Renault reached a fever pitch in Brazil, with a war of words between the two sides then needing Red Bull’s motorsport advisor Dr. Helmut Marko to step in and attempt to save proceedings as best as possible.

The midfield subplot that’s gained a bit more attention than normal thanks to the championships being decided will reach its climax this weekend, as Toro Rosso holds a four-point lead over its engine partner for sixth in the constructor’s battle (53-49) heading into the weekend. The run of unreliability has hit Toro Rosso’s pair of drivers Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley in their handful of races thus far, and left the young guns unable to show their potential.

Renault and Toro Rosso have been the “odd couple” of 2017. The year began with Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat at Toro Rosso, and Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer at Renault. Hulkenberg is the only one of those four who’s been in the same place all year long, Sainz having been switched to Renault, the new kids coming in at Toro Rosso and Kvyat and Palmer both in-season casualties.

Somehow, Kvyat has managed to get dumped twice by Toro Rosso, yet the Russian’s 10th place point in his final start in Austin might be enough to keep Toro Rosso ahead of Renault at year’s end.

Toro Rosso picks up McLaren’s Honda engine package for 2018 and optimism exists here that didn’t at McLaren, because the cash infusion and lowered expectations for a quality midfield operation is a better scenario than being a team with a title-winning pedigree attempting to recapture the good old days. In their last race with its existing partner, Toro Rosso will look to stick it to their supplier by finishing one spot ahead in the constructor’s standings.

ONE OR TWO SAUBER DRIVERS?

AUSTIN, TX – OCTOBER 22: Marcus Ericsson of Sweden and Sauber F1 and Pascal Wehrlein of Germany and Sauber F1 walk to the grid before the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2017 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Neither Marcus Ericsson nor Pascal Wehrlein has had a bad year, but they’re in the unfortunate position of being the drivers on the 10th-placed Sauber team, which in itself has a better year in 2017 than in 2016 (only one points score) and 2014 (none). This could be the last Grand Prix for both drivers at Sauber, which makes it an important one if they’re to have future chances from 2018 and beyond.

Wehrlein’s year got off to a rocky start with his Race of Champions accident and injury costing him the first two races. However he delivered nice rebounds to score in Spain (eighth) and Azerbaijan (10th) were solid results, and races where with a bit of luck Ericsson could have scored too as he came 11th in both. Ericsson’s recent form has been solid, particularly in Mexico, but the Swede stands on the precipice of his third scoreless season in four full-time campaigns, a record not fair to Ericsson’s ability level.

With one or both of Ferrari juniors Charles Leclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi (Wehrlein’s injury replacement) poised to join Sauber in 2018, here’s what lies ahead for its pair of incumbents:

Ericsson’s chances of staying in 2018 are aided by his close relationship with Sauber owners Longbow Finance, and optimism would exist with current spec Ferrari engines rather than Hondas coming on for 2018 to replace the year-old Ferraris in 2017. Wehrlein seems a Williams-or-bust driver at this stage, and having been passed over elsewhere on the grid this year, seems closer to the end of his F1 career than the start.

LIBERTY MEDIA’S ROOKIE STRIPES

MONTREAL, QC – JUNE 09: Ross Brawn, Managing Director (Sporting) of the Formula One Group, Chase Carey, CEO and Executive Chairman of the Formula One Group and Sean Bratches, Managing Director (Commercial Operations) of the Formula One Group in a press conference during practice for the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 9, 2017 in Montreal, Canada. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

This weekend Liberty Media completes its first year as owners and stewards of the sport, with a fresh approach offered by the triumvirate of Chase Carey, Ross Brawn and Sean Bratches.

Events such as “F1 Live London” and the revised pre-race festivities in Austin were positive examples of fan-focused tweaks, and Liberty also revealed an F1 social media presence far more open than in the past (driver’s meeting highlights being shown, and a full race replay of the 2001 Malaysian Grand Prix on YouTube among examples).

That being said, the training wheels are now off for the new heads of the sport after this weekend. A political storm is simmering over the distribution of finances and new engine regulations, Ferrari’s already made its not-new quit threat, and the recent security incidents in Brazil has put the relationship among the promoters, F1 and the teams potentially at loggerheads.

No different than a driver who will look to enhance his or her status in a second year, or an event needing to prove its maiden year success wasn’t down to the first year novelty, Liberty’s second year at the helm in 2018 will tell a greater tale about the eventual direction of the sport as it moves further past the post-Bernie Ecclestone era.

HALO-FREE COCKPITS… MOST LIKELY

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – NOVEMBER 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) in the Pitlane with the halo fitted during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 25, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Enough sessions have occurred over the last two years where F1 teams have trialled the “Halo,” ahead of its planned introduction full-time in 2018. Provided nothing changes again over the winter from a regulatory standpoint, Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix seems set to be the last with a purely open view of the open cockpits.

FINAL BROADCASTS FOR F1 ON NBC

October’s news that ESPN will take over the broadcasting of F1 races in the U.S. from 2018 means this weekend will be the last shows for the F1 on NBC crew, with production done at NBC’s headquarters in Stamford.

NBC took over the rights from 2013 and has steadily increased the ratings and audience for F1 in the U.S., and will wrap its run after five years and 98 Grands Prix this weekend.

The on-air team of Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs, Steve Matchett and Will Buxton are the most widely known individuals for the shows, but far from the only ones as you can see below.

Between the production and video teams in Stamford, and my primary colleague Luke Smith, who’s been our lead F1 writer on MotorSportsTalk since we started in 2013, there are dozens of people who’ve contributed to our shows and the growth over this period (several of whom aren’t pictured above).

This makes this a bittersweet weekend ahead, but as the old saying goes, don’t cry it’s over – smile because it happened.

Here’s the times for this weekend, and here’s a link to another treasure of the NBC shows the last five years, Sam Posey’s essays.

NHRA Phoenix winners: Steve Torrence, Tommy Johnson Jr., Erica Enders

Photos and videos courtesy NHRA
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Missing the season-opening race two weeks ago didn’t have much impact upon two-time defending NHRA Top Fuel champ Steve Torrence, as he roared to victory in Sunday’s finals of the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park near Phoenix.

“First round I had a little bit of the jitters,” Torrence said after the 37th win of his Top Fuel career, including 29 since the start of the 2017 season. “We missed [the season opener in Pomona, California] so you came here and this is the first round of the first race of the season for us and I was a little bit nervous to go up there.

“We’re just going to see how the races go and what the weather throws at us. I think that we’ve always had a good hot weather tune-up. We’re just going to try to develop cool track conditions. We’re easing up to it. We’ll just see how it goes and that’s something that we really need to try to put our thumb on.”

Torrence had a final round effort of 3.679 seconds at 321.27 mph to defeat runner-up Doug Kalitta. It was Torrence’s second career win at Phoenix. Torrence and his Capco Contractors dragster got to the final round after defeating, in order, Jim Maroney, Shawn Langdon and Steve’s father, Billy Torrence [in the semifinals].

In Funny Car, Tommy Johnson Jr. [3.883 seconds at 326.40 mph] earned his 18th career win in the class in what was an all-Don Schumacher Racing final round, defeating teammate Jack Beckman, who won the season-opening race at Pomona.

“We had a good car,” said Johnson, whose last Phoenix win came back in 2006. “The last qualifying run showed us that we have a solid car. Coming up here today, we had a lot of confidence. We went out first round and laid down a solid number.

“We weren’t low (elapsed time) but we were close. We came out second round and sat low ET so we knew we had a solid car. As a driver, going into each round knowing you have a car that’s going to perform makes your job a little easier. It gives you a little less stress. The guys did a great job. Even in Pomona we a had a good car, just dropped a cylinder second round and event had a little issue with that in qualifying here.”

In Pro Stock, three-time and defending champion Erica Enders won for the 26th time of her career in the class with a 6.531-second, 210.44 mph over Bo Butner.

“I’d have to say today was excellent,” Enders said. “Our objective coming in was to just get my car as happy as possible. We tested in Tucson on Wednesday, so coming in we were definitely optimistic and finally got our act together for that one fun on Saturday.

“The guys gave me a tremendous race car today. Very consistent, very fast and we just crushed the competition today and it was really fun.”

The third race of the 24-race NHRA national event schedule are one of the biggest races of the season, the Gatornationals, March 12-15 in Gainesville, Florida.

Here are the results from Sunday’s race:

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence; 2. Doug Kalitta; 3. Billy Torrence; 4. Antron Brown; 5. Brittany Force; 6. Leah Pruett; 7. Shawn Langdon; 8. Justin Ashley; 9. Terry McMillen; 10. Clay Millican; 11. Scott Palmer; 12. Jim Maroney; 13. Doug Foley; 14. Terry Totten; 15. Austin Prock; 16. Shawn Reed.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 2. Jack Beckman; 3. Ron Capps; 4. John Force; 5. Tim Wilkerson; 6. Bob Tasca III; 7. Jeff Diehl; 8. Jim Campbell; 9. Paul Lee; 10. Blake Alexander; 11. Alexis DeJoria; 12. Cruz Pedregon; 13. J.R. Todd; 14. Robert Hight; 15. Terry Haddock; 16. Matt Hagan.

PRO STOCK: 1. Erica Enders; 2. Bo Butner; 3. Jason Line; 4. Alex Laughlin; 5. Kenny Delco; 6. Jeg Coughlin; 7. Cristian Cuadra; 8. Chris McGaha; 9. Matt Hartford; 10. Fernando Cuadra Jr.; 11. Marty Robertson; 12. Aaron Stanfield; 13. Val Smeland; 14. Alan Prusiensky; 15. Greg Anderson; 16. Deric Kramer.

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FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Steve Torrence, 3.679 seconds, 321.27 mph def. Doug Kalitta, 4.052 seconds, 218.90 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 3.883, 326.40 def. Jack Beckman, Charger, 6.156, 119.31.

PRO STOCK: Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.531, 210.44 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.606, 209.33.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Doug Kalitta, 3.711, 330.07 def. Shawn Reed, Foul – Red Light; Shawn Langdon, 3.717, 321.65 def. Clay Millican, 3.750, 321.42; Justin Ashley, 3.717, 312.21 def. Scott Palmer, 3.843, 288.21; Brittany Force, 3.643, 337.92 def. Terry Totten, 8.635, 84.50; Leah Pruett, 3.654, 331.12 def. Doug Foley, 5.328, 127.81; Steve Torrence, 3.717, 325.69 def. Jim Maroney, 4.436, 190.35; Antron Brown, 3.729, 326.95 def. Terry McMillen, Foul – Red Light; Billy Torrence, 3.683, 322.73 def. Austin Prock, 9.008, 78.60; QUARTERFINALS — Brown, 3.721, 326.87 def. Ashley, 10.031, 78.07; S. Torrence, 4.570, 203.31 def. Langdon, 5.170, 216.72; Kalitta, 3.695, 325.69 def. Force, 3.685, 334.15; B. Torrence, 3.703, 328.78 def. Pruett, 3.688, 324.20; SEMIFINALS — S. Torrence, 3.698, 329.58 def. B. Torrence, 3.699, 329.91; Kalitta, 3.672, 330.55 def. Brown, 4.360, 183.74; FINAL — S. Torrence, 3.679, 321.27 def. Kalitta, 4.052, 218.90.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 4.051, 318.02 def. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 6.254, 109.34; Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.591, 248.16 def. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 7.416, 90.63; John Force, Camaro, 3.848, 335.90 def. Terry Haddock, Ford Mustang, 7.692, 86.52; Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, No Time def. Matt Hagan, Charger, DQ-CCL; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.878, 325.85 def. Paul Lee, Charger, 3.898, 320.05; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.211, 318.99 def. Blake Alexander, Mustang, 5.172, 151.36; Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.979, 286.25 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 6.045, 111.71; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.905, 329.02 def. J.R. Todd, Camry, 6.383, 103.46; QUARTERFINALS — Beckman, 3.895, 329.42 def. Campbell, 8.959, 70.61; Force, 3.894, 332.43 def. Wilkerson, Foul – Red Light; Johnson Jr., 3.864, 323.74 def. Tasca III, Foul – Red Light; Capps, 4.184, 232.19 def. Diehl, Foul – Red Light; SEMIFINALS — Beckman, 3.882, 329.91 def. Force, 3.917, 326.63; Johnson Jr., 3.871, 319.98 def. Capps, 3.864, 328.06; FINAL — Johnson Jr., 3.883, 326.40 def. Beckman, 6.156, 119.31.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Alex Laughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.548, 209.85 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.586, 208.68; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.583, 209.46 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 15.609, 67.56; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.649, 186.28 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 30.055, 23.82; Bo Butner, Camaro, 10.108, 78.96 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.601, 208.65 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 10.724, 93.79; Cristian Cuadra, Ford Mustang, 6.633, 208.10 def. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 7.162, 145.93; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.532, 210.37 def. Fernando Cuadra Jr., Mustang, 6.611, 207.91; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.535, 210.11 def. Marty Robertson, Mustang, 6.634, 206.67; QUARTERFINALS — Line, 6.581, 210.01 def. C. Cuadra, 14.134, 51.15; Butner, 6.863, 167.32 def. Delco, Foul – Red Light; Laughlin, 6.546, 210.44 def. Coughlin, 6.810, 175.34; Enders, 6.526, 211.00 def. McGaha, Foul – Red Light; SEMIFINALS — Butner, 7.262, 147.44 def. Laughlin, Broke; Enders, 6.555, 210.28 def. Line, 6.582, 209.33; FINAL — Enders, 6.531, 210.44 def. Butner, 6.606, 209.33.

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UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Doug Kalitta, 212; 2. Brittany Force, 153; 3. Leah Pruett, 137; 4. Austin Prock, 131; 5. Steve Torrence, 121; 6. Justin Ashley, 108; 7. Antron Brown, 103; 8. Shawn Langdon, 91; 9. Clay Millican, 85; 10. Shawn Reed, 83.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Jack Beckman, 220; 2. Tommy Johnson Jr., 175; 3. John Force, 173; 4. Ron Capps, 128; 5. Matt Hagan, 124; 6. Tim Wilkerson, 107; 7. Robert Hight, 100; 8. Alexis DeJoria, 99; 9. Bob Tasca III, 87; 10. (tie) Paul Lee, 65; J.R. Todd, 65.

PRO STOCK: 1. Erica Enders, 203; 2. Jeg Coughlin, 197; 3. Jason Line, 168; 4. Kenny Delco, 132; 5. Bo Butner, 131; 6. Chris McGaha, 106; 7. Alex Laughlin, 104; 8. Matt Hartford, 85; 9. (tie) Cristian Cuadra, 82; Fernando Cuadra Jr., 82.

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