The end of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix seemed to be a relief for everyone. Even the normally impenetrable persona of Max Verstappen appeared exhausted and, unexpectedly, slightly emotional. This is hardly surprising.
Twenty-two Formula 1 race weekends (there should have been twenty-three), take their toll over some ten months. It’s not just the racing, though: jet lag, press commitments and the ongoing social media assault on their psyche are enough to drown most people.
For those who ended on a high, they can now enjoy the forthcoming break and seasonal celebrations with a clear head. While at the other end of the spectrum, it’s two months of brooding over what went, or is, going wrong before they can set the record straight again.
Top of the list, in contrast terms must be Lewis Hamilton and George Russell. The two drivers were pretty much neck and neck at the start of the season.
However, after the summer break, once the “podless pig” received its new Red Bull bodywork, the seven-time World Champion started to dominate and produce podium results. Hamilton immediately appeared at home with the “new” car, whereas Russell appeared to struggle and go backwards.
Revival & Role Reversal
It all changed in Monza. Suddenly, it was the young twenty-five-year-old who was topping the time sheets and qualifying up front. Initially, Hamilton was able to recover in the races. However, towards the end of the season, and undoubtedly in Abu Dhabi, the boy from Kings Lynn eclipsed his erstwhile teammate.
Credit has to be given to George here. One of his strengths is understanding how he needs to adjust his driving style to the car to get it to perform. Sergio Perez take note. Once he worked it out, he was a consistent front-runner and ended up on the podium, helping Mercedes to finish P2 in the Constructors’ Championship.
Sure, Hamilton beat him in the Drivers’ Championship, but George’s tail will be up when the season kicks off in February 2024. Hamilton needs to hit the ground running from the get-go if he wants to land that elusive eight Championship fish. Even if Mercedes rolls out a winning car in Bahrain, he’ll be hard-pushed to beat Russel in 2024.
AlphaTauri ‘s memorable weekend
Yuki Tsunoda justifiably picked up the Driver of the Day award in Abu Dhabi. Doing justice to Franz Tost’s last Grand Prix, (and the Red Bull-owned team’s final race with that name) he qualified the AT04 in sixth! Then, in a rare display of control, he actually led the race and eventually brought the car home in eighth.
No doubt it would have been higher if the team had concentrated on his tyre strategy rather than Daniel Ricciardo’s. However, a fine finish for Yuki, and proof that if he can keep it all together, he has some serious pace. This is good news for Aston Martin, who will undoubtedly be the recipient of his talents when the new Honda engine deal kicks in.
Ricciardo was looking like his old self again, his McLaren period, not his Red Bull era that is. The touted Checo replacement looked a bit second-hand compared to his young Japanese driver. Qualifying at the back of the grid when your teammate puts at the front hurts. Being unable to write the wrong in the next two weeks, hurts more.
T’is the season to be jolly, almost
For Perez, Santa came early in Yas Marina. He drove a great recovery race, technically coming third while his potential nemesis had a “mare”. In the cold hard light of the off-season, Red Bull will surely understand that whatever the ups and downs, their driver pairing produced their first one-two F1 Championship.
There is no logic to ending this, and a firmer line in crushing the rumours might even make it stronger. Happy Xmas Checo, no need to hold your breath anymore!