With the drivers’ and constructors’ championships already decided at the front there is still a lot to race for in Abu Dhabi. Some positions in the standings are not decided yet, and the drivers know that in motorsport you are only as good as you were in your last race. With the winter break approaching that last result counts even more.
It’s especially important for the drivers who had higher expectations for this season and failed to gain their momentum recently. Considering these factors, let’s take a look at five drivers who need to shine in the twilight race this weekend.
Despite putting his Mercedes on pole position at the Brazilian GP, Valtteri Bottas was criticised for letting the victory go to Sebastian Vettel. And it wasn’t just about losing the lead in the first few hundred metres, but more about his general pace.
While teammate Lewis Hamilton started from the pits after his blunder in qualifying and still made it to fourth, and less than six seconds away from the leader, the Finn stayed in second the whole race and couldn’t even make a proper attempt to retake the lead.
Toto Wolff even said that Bottas still needs ‘the tick of a killer’, while Hamilton has been driving in a different league since the summer break. Therefore, Bottas clearly needs a result where he can show that he is still capable of giving Hamilton a run for his money. And now he has his last opportunity to do so for this season.
Yes, we chose him again! Although he has scored more points than his teammate this season, the recent run of Max Verstappen should worry Daniel Ricciardo. After the young Dutchman’s run of bad luck in terms of accidents and reliability issues came to an end after Singapore, the younger Red Bull driver has taken two victories and a second place within the last five races.
He has earned so much respect for making life difficult for even the Mercedes drivers in recent times, and the likes of Lewis Hamilton have come to see Verstappen as a proper title contender for 2018.
Daniel Ricciardo meanwhile inherited a bit of Verstappen’s bad luck with two DNFs and is often slower than the other car. With the recent performance of ‘Mad Max’ Ricciardo needs to raise his game.
His last victory in Baku was more through lucky circumstances, and even there Verstappen was in a better position before he suffered one of his many retirements.
So why not finish on a high, showing who is the stronger bull and also, perhaps more importantly, strengthening his position for further contract talks for 2019, be it with Red Bull, Ferrari or Mercedes.
With one race to go Marcus Ericsson is the only full-time driver on the grid who hasn’t scored any points yet. Despite teammate Pascal Wehrlein scoring all five points for Sauber in 2017, Ericsson looks to be the one who will keep his seat, most likely because the new owners of the team are also sponsoring the Swede’s career. But nothing is confirmed yet since it’s also possible that the two Ferrari junior drivers of Charles Leclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi will take over the seats.
With the current Sauber the drivers need a miracle to score points anyway, but you can clearly see that Ericsson desperately wants to score his first points since Monza 2015; struggling for positions with his car he crashed himself out of the race at both the Singapore and Japanese GPs.
A good result in Abu Dhabi is desperately needed, but the real question is: How much does it really affect his chances for 2018?
It’s not just about Gasly, but rather both drivers at the Red Bull B team. The battle for sixth in the constructors’ championship is still on with Toro Rosso being closely ahead of Renault and Haas (53:49:47). But the Faenza-based outfit is in trouble when it comes to keeping this position after Carlos Sainz’s departure to rivals Renault, since which the team has only scored one more point through Daniil Kvyat at the United States GP.
With a late driver change and the arrival of two rookies it appears a rather difficult task to retain their advantage, but at least Gasly has scored a steady run of finishes despite Renault’s recent reliability issues.
After missing out on the Super Formula finale through weather circumstances and with teammate Brendon Hartley winning the WEC again, a good result for the French rookie would not only make Dr. Marko happy, but also put a smile on Gasly’s face as he heads for the winter break.
No matter if the guys at Toro Rosso can secure sixth or not, their seats for 2018 have luckily already been confirmed.
Stoffel Vandoorne’s first, and McLaren-Honda’s last, F1 season is coming to an end and the Belgian experienced this year how tough it can be to go through the year with an uncompetitive and unreliable package.
And with Fernando Alonso on the other side of the garage it’s even tougher for the former GP2 champion to show his true potential, and he has had to adapt his driving style to get the most out of the McLaren. It took him until the last race before the summer break to score his first point of the season but, with two seventh places in Singapore and Malaysia, he put himself ahead of his illustrious teammate in the standings. However, after two more points finishes in Mexico and Brazil, Fernando is now again ahead of the Belgian (15:13).
To achieve the right mindset of being able to defeat his Spanish teammate in the future, and especially to end the season ahead of him, a points result in Abu Dhabi is needed. Especially after Vandoorne crashed in Brazil while Alonso made it into the points again.
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