And that’s that then, after 1,201 laps of racing, the 2017 season has come to a close. Ending, it has to be said, with a whimper, rather than a bang. An Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that Valtteri Bottas will treasure all winter long, but will be instantly forgotten by the rest of us.
If the fans deserved a spectacle to round off a thoroughly entertaining and absorbing season, sadly they didn’t get it. With drivers unable to follow closely enough through the final sector to set up a chance of a pass on the next lap and even with the three softest compounds in the Pirelli range serving up a one stop strategy, the field spread out and stayed spread out.
Lewis Hamilton revealed afterwards that he would have needed a 1.4 second pace advantage over his team mate to stand a chance of making a move for the lead, so unless Valtteri made a mistake, that wasn’t going to be happening. Meanwhile Max Verstappen was thankful for not having a pillow in his car, otherwise he’d have nodded off mid-race, as once again the Yas Marina circuit served up a dearth of action.
It’s been a problem at this track ever since it opened in 2009. Let’s be honest, last year’s race was only as exciting as it was because Lewis Hamilton backed his team mate into the pack from about lap 6 onwards. Interlagos, my personal favourite for a season finale, this isn’t.
But don’t expect Yas Marina to be disappearing from the F1 calendar anytime soon, so what can be done to improve matters so that we do get a classic or two in the future? Herman Tilke, the man who designed this £800 million circuit told Ted Kravitz in the notebook after the race that plans are in place to make a ‘very small change’ but ‘one that has a lot of impact for overtaking.’ Which is good news, even if it is just one corner and, if it is just one corner that’s under discussion, then I hope it’s the hairpin at Turn 7, or more to the point, the approach to it. Ideally, the cars would arrive at that corner at a greater speed, making braking more difficult and setting up a chance for a pass before the back straight, or, setting up more chances for passes down that back straight. How do you increase the speed on the approach to the hairpin? By taking out that chicane at Turns 5 and 6, that’s how. But the chicane was put in deliberately to slow the cars down on the approach as there wasn’t enough of a run off at Turn 7, because the grandstand was too close. You can’t move the grandstand, there’s 86,000 square metres of Ferrari World on the other side of it, but you can move the corner away from the stands, leaving enough of a run off area and by removing that chicane, bring in an extra overtaking opportunity that the circuit desperately needs.
That’s my simple solution anyway, let’s see what the experts come up with.
Meanwhile Pirelli has been working hard to make sure that in the future we don’t have the abundance of one stop races that we’ve witnessed this season. In 2018, starting with the ‘Hypersoft’ going through to the ‘Super Hard’ (stop giggling at the back) we’ll have more dry tyre compounds, but still only three taken to each race. The Super Hard will serve as a back up if needed and with all the compounds being one step softer than this season, the hope is that we’ll get more 2 and 3 pit stop races. Nothing wrong with that, but I’m still at a loss as to why we need to have this raft of different coloured striped tyres, two of which (the Hard and the Wet) are the same colour, when we could retain the compounds but just call them Hard, Medium and Soft at each individual race.
Which was a theory I put to Manish Pandey when he stopped me in the paddock to say hello on Saturday. Manish is the man who wrote and produced ‘Senna’ and has just been finishing his work on a new McLaren documentary which, given the access he’s been given to the team this year, should be pretty unmissable. As you’d expect though, Manish had a theory of his own when it came to tyres and was of the view that we should get rid of the coloured stripes altogether so nobody knew, except the team that was on track, what was being run and when. In his view, that would create plenty of excitement and an air of mystery as well. I said I’d share it and see what people think, but I am left with the conclusion that we talk about tyres too much, so a little bit more overtaking, especially in races like Sunday’s could cure that problem in an instant.
Given some of the forecasts though from this time last year, I think this season has been really enjoyable. A refreshing change to see more than one team challenge for the titles, although best in an ideal word Ferrari would have kept up that challenge right to the end. You win as a team and lose as a team and both Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel himself are culpable in their failure to take the title this year. Mercedes have come out on top, but in truth, they didn’t have the fastest car.
Fernando Alonso has proved himself as still one of the best, if not, the best driver on the grid with his efforts at McLaren. Would he have finished as Champion if he was still with the Scuderia? Chances are he would. We’ve had some brilliant races, Baku was everything you could possibly wish for from a Grand Prix. The sight of the cars taking corners like Copse even faster than before, has been epic. We’ve had controversy on and off the track, and Felipe Massa’s little lad reduced us all to tears with his radio message to his Daddy in Brazil. As I watched the fly past just before the race on Sunday, I realised that the season had flown by, pardon the pun, it really had. And with only 116 days to go from the final race of 2017 to 1st Practice in Melbourne 2018, chances are the winter break will go by just as rapidly.
Enjoy guys, and thank you for your company this year.