Perfect dress rehearsal for Hamilton as he heads Rosberg in both practice sessions in Abu Dhabi

Title contender Lewis Hamilton stamped his mark on the beginning of a weekend that could see him crowned world champion for a second time, heading his teammate Nico Rosberg in both sessions on a track he has secured two out of five poles.

With reliability becoming the issue of the day  going into the final race where double points could affect the championship, issues and problems began creeping in free practice one.

First a significant issue at Williams with the side pod bodywork cover of Valtteri Bottas’s car falling off onto the side of the track. The issue appeared to affect Massa’s car as well as he was called into the pits as there was a loosening of the bodywork on the same side as Bottas issue. The team ultimately decided to keep both drivers in the garage for the remainder of the session as a precaution as the fixed the issue.

Jenson Button also remained in the garage for the majority of the free practice one with a suspension problem as his teammate Kevin Magnussen tested out the new front nose and wing designed by former Red Bull designer Peter Pomdoro.

Despite considerable financial pressure Caterham have arrived at the circuit for the weekend after Marussia were forced to turn around at the airport. The team is also running Will Stevens this weekend who will be racing in the place of Marcus Ericsson who has already left the team for Sauber. His weekend di not start in the best fashion however, with an over revving engine that was exceeding the 1500 RPM causing Renault to investigate the issue and forcing Stevens to sit out the session.

Tempers flared as Sebastian Vettel and Kevin Magnussen went side by side as Magnussen was harvesting battery power and therefore going slower than usual, despite this fact Magnussen (who is fighting for his career at McLaren) refused to allow Sebastian to pass him and decided to fight to retain track position.

Controversy was also stirred up in the Red Bull garage by the appearance of Mario Illien, Mercedes engine designer in the nineties, who is a friend of Adrian Newey but is rumoured to have be recruited to assist with the Renault engine next year. However this is merely conjuncture around the paddock.

Romain Grosjean will have to fight to improve Lotus’ fortunes this weekend as he will receive a twenty place grid penalty due to three engine component changes and if he does not start from the pit lane he will have to take a time penalty during the race.

Kimi Raikkonen suffered yet again with braking issue as he stated nearing the end of the first practice session that the car was unstable under braking.

In FP2 Ferrari’s fortunes did not improve with Fernando Alonso’s car coming to a stop after just two laps running with an electrical problem on the straight after turn 19 that led to a gearbox failure, not a great start to his last weekend with the Ferrari team.

After an suspension issue in FP1 Jenson Button was hit with reliability issues yet again, this time with a hydraulics issue but his McLaren team worked quickly to fix the issue to allow him to run for an hour of the session.

Meanwhile Hamilton and Rosberg were trading times at the front with Hamilton coming out on top in both race and qualifying runs on the super soft tyre. The session ended with Hamilton heading Rosberg by only 0.083 of a second but in reality Hamilton looked much more in control throughout both sessions and stated in the press conference afterwards that he had never been round the track in a better car- a good omen for Lewis Hamilton fans going into the title decider this weekend.

Classifications

Free Practice One

1 HAMILTON MERCEDES 1:43.476
2 ROSBERG MERCEDES +0.133
3 ALONSO FERRARI +1.708
4 VETTEL RED BULL +1.858
5 RICCIARDO RED BULL +1.885
6 VERGNE TORO ROSSO +2.242
7 KVYAT TORO ROSSO +2.359
8 BOTTAS WILLIAMS +2.437
9 PEREZ FORCE INDIA +2.507
10 HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA +2.554
11 MAGNUSSEN MCLAREN +2.573
12 RAIKKONEN FERRARI +2.655
13 MASSA WILLIAMS +3.073
14 GUTIERREZ SAUBER +3.080
15 MALDONADO LOTUS +3.235
16 OCON LOTUS +3.590
17 BUTTON MCLAREN +3.759
18 KOBAYASHI CATERHAM +4.495
19 FONG SAUBER +4.793
20 W STEVENS CATERHAM +7.208

Free Practice Two

1 HAMILTON MERCEDES 1:42.113
2 ROSBERG MERCEDES +0.083
3 MAGNUSSEN MCLAREN +0.782
4 VETTEL RED BULL +0.846
5 BOTTAS WILLIAMS +0.957
6 RICCIARDO RED BULL +1.070
7 RAIKKONEN FERRARI +1.376
8 BUTTON MCLAREN +1.390
9 KVYAT TORO ROSSO +1.433
10 MASSA WILLIAMS +1.445
11 PEREZ FORCE INDIA +1.633
12 MALDONADO LOTUS +1.892
13 HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA +1.955
14 VERGNE TORO ROSSO +2.044
15 GUTIERREZ SAUBER +2.203
16 SUTIL SAUBER +2.650
17 GROSJEAN LOTUS +2.873
18 KOBAYASHI CATERHAM +3.392
19 W STEVENS CATERHAM +4.944
20 ALONSO FERRARI

Gearing up for the Abu Double season finale- Abu Dhabi preview

Abu Dhabi Yas Marina Circuit -Statistics

55 Laps

Track Length: 5.554 km

DRS Zones: First between turns 7 and 8 and the second between turn 10 and 11.

Lap Record: Sebastian Vettel 1.40.279 in 2009

2013 pole: Sebastian Vettel 1:39.957

Wins: 2009- Sebastian Vettel Red Bull, 2010, Sebastian Vettel Red Bull, 2011 Lewis Hamilton McLaren, 2012 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus, 2013 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull

Poles: 2009 Hamilton, 2010 Vettel, 2011 Vettel, 2012 Hamilton, 2013 Webber

As we head into the final showdown of this tantalisingly close Formula One season double points will be awarded at a circuit that has seen many close races and one very memorable championship decider in 2010.

The good news for Lewis Hamilton fans is that he has gained two pole positions out of five of the races held at the circuit, in 2009 and 2012, illustrating that he both enjoys and thrives at this circuit. However, he has also been plagued by retirements, most notably losing him a certain victory in 2012 when he was dominating in a McLaren before suffering from engine failure.

After winning in Brazil last week and reducing the point deficit to just seventeen points Nico Rosberg is benefitting from a momentum change and the new rules of double point; if the system was not in place then Hamilton would only need fifth, the very same position as in 2008 when he clinched the title in dramatic fashion on the final corner of the final lap.

Also brakes are deemed to be an issue around this circuit and management of brakes has largely been in Nico Rosberg’s favour this season. A mechanical failure for either of the drivers would be disappointing considering the close and largely clean battle they have engaged in all season, and the fans and the team are relishing the fair and close fight so far.

In Thursday’s drivers press conference Nico Rosberg made a point of saying that it was up to Lewis for the race to be a clean fight and that he had to ensure that he drove well and fairly for it to be so; a point of irony considering most of the controversial moments between the drivers this season, such as Monaco and most notably Spa, have focused on scrutiny of Rosberg’s driving and tactics not Hamilton’s.

The circuit is well accustomed to close title fights with arguably one of the most exciting title deciders in 2010 when a four man battle between Sebastian Vettel Fernando Alonso Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton went in Vettel’s favour after both Fernando Alonso and Webber suffered with poor pit stop strategy and ended up stuck in traffic and out of title contention.

Traffic could be an issue on Sunday as this famously difficult overtaking circuit will favour whoever starts on pole position, so Hamilton will be hoping to avoid some of the qualifying errors and misfortunes he has suffered from this season.

The race will be the final race for Fernando Alonso at Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull as the German joins the Italian team for 2015 and Alonso is expected to re-join the Woking based McLaren team that he parted so acrimoniously from in 2007. McLaren have stated that they will not announce their driver line up until December leaving fans concerned that 2009 World Champion Jenson Button will not receive the proper send off from his 266 race long Formula One career that he deserves.

Since it augural grand prix in 2009 Abu Dhabi has been a firm favourite on the F1 calendar hosting the first twilight race providing a unique challenge for the drivers as the race spans from day to night and the dramatically light circuit comes to life.

Often described as a processional race the circuit still proves highly challenging for the drivers as they flirt with the barriers and one of the tightest pit lane exits on the calendar.

Pirelli have decided to bring the soft and super soft compound of tyres to the race due to the relatively low speed nature of the circuit and the expected low temperatures due to the night time running: so tyre preservation should not be the pressing issue it was two weeks ago in Brazil.

Caterham have secured enough funding to return for the last race of the season with Britain’s Will Steven’s joining Kamui Kobayashi to race in his first grand prix after Marcus Ericsson announced his decision to join Sauber after the last race in Brazil.

The double points are not only important for the two leading protagonists but for other drivers and teams down the field, with a three way battle between Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Valtteri Bottas for fourth place in the championship, all separated by only three points.

Williams will also be looking to stay ahead of Ferrari in the constructors and McLaren attempt to overhaul the fifty point deficit to Ferrari for fourth.

Overall this season finale looks set to be a classic and as the sun goes down in Abu Dhabi and the 2014 season who will be crowned the victor amongst the Silver Arrows?

Rosberg reignites title challenge with win in Brazil

As the title battle between Mercedes teammates Rosberg and Hamilton heated up in Brazil the newly laid tarmac went along with it, with at times over 50 degree track temperatures making it a race determined by tyre preservation.

Rosberg started on pole heeding the lessons he had learnt in Austin concerning being more aggressive with his tyres, taking advantage of the grip and clear air available to him. The high temperature tore away quickly at the softer compound of tyres requested of Pirelli by the drivers spearheaded by Felipe Massa, who had asserted that the medium and hard compound tyres were too conservative a choice for the newly laid tarmac.

By lap five drivers began to put on the harder medium compound and the front running Mercedes complained of blisters on the surface of the tyres as they fought for the lead.

At the start Rosberg got away cleanly from his teammate Hamilton with the Williams’ of home crowd favourite Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas running line astern behind.

Meanwhile both Red Bulls suffered a poor start with Vettel running wide into turn four allowing Kevin Magnussen and race start specialist Fernando Alonso to pass him, and by the end of the first lap Fernando Alonso headed Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo in seventh whilst Button and Magnussen ran fifth and sixth behind the Williams.

Felipe Massa was the first of the front runners to change to the medium tyres triggering the rest of the field to come steaming in. During the stop Massa was deemed to have been speeding in the pit lane and given a five second stop and go penalty, undoing all the advantage he had created by undercutting the field.

On lap seven Nico Rosberg was the first of the Mercedes to come in for a pit stop after complaining of blisters on his tyres. During this round of pit stops Hamilton was unable to make up enough time to pass his teammate; despite the gap being considerably reduced to only half a second as they both came across traffic.

By lap thirteen Alonso was still holding up the Red Bull duo in eleventh place.

Due to the difference in tyre strategy a number of overtakes were taking place throughout the field, first Fernando Alonso made a daring move on Adrian Sutil through the Senna Esses on lap seventeen followed by Felipe Massa passing Daniil Kyvat, who had yet to make a pit stop, for third and Kevin Magnussen passing Romain Grosjean down the pit straight four laps later for sixth position behind his teammate.

On lap twenty five the medium tyres appeared to be losing grip, the first indicator for Nico Rosberg was a lock up that showcased a large blister that brought him back into the pits. As Rosberg pitted Hamilton was given the call to push under the impression he would be pitting a lap later, he put in the fastest lap of the race but was unable to hold onto the pace for a second lap losing rear tyre grip and running off the track at turn one losing seven seconds in the process. It was evident that if Hamilton had not made that mistake he would have easily have passed his teammate after exiting the pit lane.

Amid a mass of drivers struggling with grip Kimi Raikkonen had stealthy made his way up to third place by making one less stop. However, this good work was unravelled during his pit stop on lap thirty six with a front jack failure causing him to lose a significant amount of time.

Trouble in the pits seemed to be becoming a theme of the day as Valtteri Bottas also suffered a slow pit stop during which his Williams mechanics unusually had to tighten his seatbelts, and a second penalty for speeding in the pit lane was handed to Sergio Perez’s Force India. Bottas’ issue dropped him behind the McLarens of Button and Magnussen.

Daniel Ricciardo’s day went from bad to worse on lap forty as he slowed down significantly citing a brake failure, the Red Bull team brought him in for a pit stop to inspect the car suspecting that it may have been suspension damage instead but were unable to fix the issue causing him to retire for the first time since Malaysia and ending his point scoring streak.

A number of battles were shaping up throughout the grid with Nico Hulkenberg putting a fantastically daring move on Valtteri Bottas for ninth place down the inside of turn one causing Bottas to run wide which also allowed an opportunistic Kimi Raikkonen to streak past.

On lap sixty one Jenson Button showcased why he should stay in Formula One next year with a fantastic move around the outside of Kimi Raikkonen into Descida do Lago and retaining the position as Raikkonen attempted to fight back. Vettel then followed Button through to take fifth in front of his expected Ferrari teammate next year.

Four laps later Raikkonen’s current teammate Fernando Alonso was close behind him as different strategies by the team had meant he had pitted once more and was clearly faster, however no order was made by the team to Raikkonen to let Alonso through. After the race Alonso stated that this was not an issue as he would have had to fuel save so would not have been able to challenge Vettel in front. Finally on lap sixty seven Alonso passed his teammate for sixth with a move around the outside on the pit straight.

The second retirement of the day came on lap sixty six with Romain Grosjean abandoning his heavily smoking Lotus at the side of the track, ending an otherwise promising weekend for the team.

Meanwhile up in front the battle for the lead was down to half a second with Hamilton faster in the first sector by 3 tenths, but he was unable to challenge for the lead allowing Rosberg to win for the first time in four months and reigniting the title battle going into the final race in Abu Dhabi and of course the double points it will award.

The result was an eleventh one-two for the Mercedes team this season and for Hamilton to win the title he will have to finish no lower than second in Abu Dhabi if his teammate wins the race due to the seventeen point lead Hamilton holds. If Rosberg is second he can afford to finish fifth, the same position as when he won his first title in 2008.

The home favourite Massa finished third adding to his stellar record at the Interlagos circuit with Jenson Button securing fourth amidst concern over his future at McLaren, Sebastian Vettel in fifth and Fernando Alonso once again finished in front of his teammate in sixth.

Classification

1 ROSBERG MERCEDES 1:30:02.555
2 HAMILTON MERCEDES +1.400
3 MASSA WILLIAMS +40.900
4 BUTTON MCLAREN +48.500
5 VETTEL RED BULL +51.200
6 ALONSO FERRARI +61.600
7 RAIKKONEN FERRARI +63.400
8 HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA +63.600
9 MAGNUSSEN MCLAREN +69.700
10 BOTTAS WILLIAMS +1 LAP
11 KVYAT TORO ROSSO +1 LAP
12 MALDONADO LOTUS +1 LAP
13 VERGNE TORO ROSSO +1 LAP
14 GUTIERREZ SAUBER +1 LAP
15 PEREZ FORCE INDIA +1 LAP
16 SUTIL SAUBER +1 LAP
RET GROSJEAN LOTUS
RET RICCIARDO RED BULL

Rosberg reignites title fight and secures pole position trophy in Brazil

There is only one word for the final qualifying session in Brazil and that was tight. The top ten were covered by only a second and vitally Lewis Hamilton lost pole to his teammate Nico Rosberg by only three hundredths of a second. Home favourite Felipe Massa also shined by beating his Williams teammate Valtteri Bottas by only six hundredths of a second to round off a top three separated by only two tenths.

It was apparent from the very start of Q1 that it was going to be a tight fight as the Mercedes cars went out on the softer, and subsequently faster, tyres straight away to secure their progression through to Q2.

At the start of the session Fernando Alonso was heard on the radio complaining to the Ferrari team he is expected to depart at the end o f the season, after he was sent out on a flying lap with no battery charge which allowed him to be passed by a Lotus on the track.

Among the high ranking names that were made to sweat as the session came to a close was Sebastian Vettel in thirteenth place as the two Sauber cars managed to squeeze their way through at the expense of the Lotus’s of Grosjean and Maldonado, Jean-Eric-Vergne’s Torro Rosso, who was complaining of understeer, and Sergio Perez’s Force India who will also receive a seven place grid penalty after being deemed to have caused an accident in Austin.

In the second qualifying session the success Sauber had experienced in Q1 seemed to be undone as Adrian Sutil ran wide onto the grass at Junção and was unable to find a way through to the top ten shoot out.

Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg was also unable to re-enact his previous fantastic performances at a track of which he gained pole position in 2010 to put at least one Force India through to the final session after his teammate Perez was unable to get past Q1.

McLaren decided to risk not sending Button out for another lap in Q2 as they deemed him to be safe with Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen unable to go faster than him.

Meanwhile Daniel Ricciardo had to put in a good lap with only thirty seconds to go to get out of the bottom four. Daniil Kyvat also decided not to go out as he had a seven place rid penalty left over from Austin for a component change.

Going into Q3 the momentum well and truly appeared to be with Rosberg who had been fastest in every single session that weekend, with Felipe Massa sneaking past Hamilton in Q2 and receiving standing ovation from the home crowd for his efforts.

The Williams cars looked genuinely threatening to the Mercedes duo as Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas stayed within a tenth of a second until the last flying laps by the Mercedes drivers despite a lock up on Bottas’ first flying lap.

Kimi Raikkonen’s decision to go out early did not appear to work  in his favour as he fell to tenth and his teammate Fernando Alonso secured eighth in the dying moments of the session.

A slight a lock up on Hamilton’s flying lap caused him to lose pole by the smallest of margins 0.033 of a second. Felipe Massa was unable to join the battle for pole due to a slow middle sector which caused him to abandon his last lap.

Going into the race Rosberg looked a dominant force as he aimed to reignite his chances of adding a world championship to his pole position trophy.

Top Ten Classification:

  1. Rosberg Mercedes 1.10.023
  2. Hamilton Mercedes +0.033
  3. Massa Williams +0.224
  4. Bottas Williams +0.282
  5. Button McLaren +0.907
  6. Vettel Red Bull +0.915
  7. Magnussen McLaren +0.946
  8. Alonso Ferrari +0.954
  9. Ricciardo Red Bull +1.052
  10. Raikkonen Ferrari +1.076

Rosberg heads Hamilton in both practice sessions in Brazil

Political manoeuvring behind the scenes overshadowed the on-track action during free practice one and two in Brazil with disputes over contracts and financial concerns filtering through the paddock.

The sad news that Marussia have ceased trading came on Friday morning and Caterham, who were not at the race last week in Austin or at Brazil, are launching a crowd funding scheme to raise £2.3 million in an attempt to escape the same fate.

Meanwhile at Sauber the financial pressure has not stopped them from taking to the track but has appeared to have influenced who will be driving for them next year with reports that Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson and Williams reserve driver Felipe Nasr will be replacing Esteban Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil. Sutil has alluded to the fact that he still has a two year contract and could therefore have a challenge to the announcement, Sauber’s reserve driver Giedo Van de Garde also claims to have believed he would be contracted for a race seat next year, however it would appear that the vast funding of Felipe Nasr is sorely needed at Sauber due to the financial pressures of the sport at the moment.

A driver change at McLaren also appears imminent as Jenson Button has announced that he is considering other career avenues than Formula One with the expectant news that Fernando Alonso will replace him at McLaren after a disappointing season at Ferrari.

As the politics played out behind the scenes on track the action was shattered as a series of red flag incidents interrupted both sessions.

The problems started early for Jenson Button when his Mclaren pulled over to the side of the pit lane exit with an issue that did not allow him to go out for the rest of Free practice one.

As is tradition in Free practice one a number of new faces were seen on the grid with Jundacella in Sergio Perez’s Force India and Max Verstappen, who has a Torro Rosso set for next year. in Jean Eric Vergnes car.

Unfortunately the new boys encountered some issues around the classically challenging track with Jundacella going off into the tyre barriers of Curva Da Laranjinha causing the first red flag with just 28 minutes on the track. Then after the session restarted Max Verstappen suffered from a severe front tyre lock up and ran wide through the Senna Esses.

After Free practice one a virtual safety car was tested, with all cars being given a set delta time in which to return to the pits and a new practice of two drivers coming in to perform a pit stop.

Rosberg headed Hamilton on the leader board, breaking Hamilton’s run of perfect practices faster by 0.221 seconds.

In Free practice two the red flags came thick and fast with Jean Eric Vergne stopping on Descida do Lago with over an hour and fifteen minutes left on the clock.

Then an issue appeared to be hampering Fernando Alonso’s progress throughout the session ending in an apparent engine failure which caused flames to engulf the Ferrari and cause Alonso to change from Formula One driver to fireman as he ran to put it out.

Classification

Free Practice One

1 ROSBERG MERCEDES 1:12.764
2 HAMILTON MERCEDES +0.221
3 KVYAT TORO ROSSO +0.959
4 ALONSO FERRARI +0.978
5 MASSA WILLIAMS +1.047
6 VERSTAPPEN TORO ROSSO +1.063
7 MALDONADO LOTUS +1.270
8 RAIKKONEN FERRARI +1.350
9 MAGNUSSEN MCLAREN +1.372
10 RICCIARDO RED BULL +1.433
11 SUTIL SAUBER +1.670
12 F NASR WILLIAMS +1.758
13 HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA +1.914
14 VETTEL RED BULL +2.138
15 GROSJEAN LOTUS +2.345
16 JUNCADELLA FORCE INDIA +3.266
17 GUTIERREZ SAUBER
18 BUTTON MCLAREN

Free Practice Two

1             ROSBERG                                                              MERCEDES                               1:12.123

2 HAMILTON MERCEDES +0.213
3 RAIKKONEN FERRARI +0.573
4 RICCIARDO RED BULL +0.833
5 BOTTAS WILLIAMS +0.912
6 MASSA WILLIAMS +0.976
7 ALONSO FERRARI +0.999
8 KVYAT TORO ROSSO +1.131
9 VETTEL RED BULL +1.210
10 MAGNUSSEN MCLAREN +1.356
11 MALDONADO LOTUS +1.374
12 GROSJEAN LOTUS +1.591
13 HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA +1.759
14 GUTIERREZ SAUBER +1.779
15 SUTIL SAUBER +2.081
16 BUTTON MCLAREN +2.086
17 VERGNE TORO ROSSO +5.048
18 PEREZ FORCE INDIA