Finland’s Niko Kari drove a perfect race in Saturday afternoon’s Race 1 at the Yas Marina Circuit for his maiden win in the GP3 Series ahead of 2017 champion George Russell and Arjun Maini.
The victory was made at the start — when the lights went out Arden team-mates Leonardo Pulcini and Kari made great getaways from P2 and P3 respectively, leaving pole-man Russell the choice of which driver to cover.
He chose the Italian and pushed across to the inside line, leaving the outside wide open for Kari to swoop through and into the lead at turn 2, ahead of Russell, Pulcini and Maini, while behind them Nirei Fukuzumi and Raoul Hyman were slow to get away from the grid, delaying most of their rivals.
Japan’s Fukuzumi clattered into Giuliano Alesi at turn 8, forcing both drivers to pit, while ahead of them Pulcini blew past Russell to set up an Arden 1-2 on track, with the top 4 edging away and behind them Dan Ticktum leading Dorian Boccolacci, Anthoine Hubert (who was hoping to insert himself into the fight for the vice-champion position), Alessio Lorandi, Steijn Schothorst and Ryan Tveter.
Kari was looking to build a DRS buffer back to his team-mate when Marcos Siebert stopped at turn 8, prompting a brief VSC period on lap 5.
The Finn easily controlled the restart with Russell almost catching Pulcini napping and being forced to run over the kerbs to avoid the Italian, handing Kari the vital 1s gap he needed to avoid the DRS and allowing him to control the race, and his tyres.
Ticktum and Lorandi were both mugged at the restart but soon regained their positions, with the Briton sailing away into the distance and the Italian soon looking for more. As Hubert suddenly slowed with some sort of gremlin dropping him back through the field, Lorandi got the jump on Boccolacci on the back straight for P6 just before Alesi rolled to a stop at turn 20, bringing out the VSC boards once again.
Russell caught out Pulcini once again at the restart, but this time made it stick for P2 on the final turn, while Lorandi and Boccolacci resumed battle again, swapping position all around the circuit before the Italian finally made it stick on lap 14, with Schothorst inserting himself into the battle and forcing the Frenchman to keep an eye on his mirrors.
There was soon more bad news for Pulcini. His left rear started to deflate, dropping him back down the grid before an inevitable retirement on lap 17, handing Maini a place on the podium. Ahead of him Russell was unable to do anything about the speed of Kari, who punched the air with delight as he was greeted by the flag across the line.
Ticktum rolled home a lonely fourth, ahead of Lorandi and Schothorst, who both broke away from the squabble behind them: Boccolacci just held off a fast charging Hubert, who drove a magnificent recovery effort for P8 and tomorrow’s pole, just ahead of Tveter and Kevin Joerg.
Felipe Massa says retirement as a Formula One driver will not actually sink in until a few months after his final race at this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Just 12 months after performing a U-turn on his future in F1, Massa, 36, will bid farewell to motorsport’s premier competition when he gets behind the wheel for the last time in a career spanning 15 seasons.
With 11 wins and 41 podiums, Sunday’s race in the UAE capital will be his 269th start, with only Rubens Barrichello, Jenson Button, Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen competing in more grands prix.
And as Sunday gets closer, Massa is fully focused on giving his best shot but knows the reality will not hit him until he’s back home in Brazil with his family.
“I know it is the last race but when you are in the car, you are not thinking about anything,” said the Williams driver during the team’s meet and greet session at Mushrif Mall in Abu Dhabi ahead of race weekend.
“You are always looking to do your best. There are so many things you want to work to do the best. So you don’t realise it is your last race. Definitely maybe after some months when you are not doing anything you start to realise my moment and my career has finished.
“But then you look at the other way, in trying to work out your mind what you are going to do.”
Despite being one of F1’s veterans, Massa will look back on a career that is missing a world title. The closest he got was in 2008, winning his home grand prix at Interlagos, only to be denied by Lewis Hamilton, when he overtook Timo Glock at the final corner to finish fifth and secure the extra point to pip the Brazilian in the world championship.
Despite failing to get his hands on that elusive trophy that day, Massa insists he has no regrets. He even considers it among the biggest highlights of his career.
“I had amazing moments to be really emotional in my career,” said Massa, who sits 10th in the drivers’ standings this season with 42 points, his highest finish being a sixth-place in Bahrain and Australia.
“The first time I drove a Formula One car, the first podium, the first victory and then I think the moment that stands out is when I won the Brazilian Grand Prix 2006. Then to win it in 2008 was special as I was fighting for the championship as well.
“I won three times in a row in Turkey which is also a fantastic track. I had great moments with Williams as well. I finished second here in 2014 fighting for victory again. Last two years driving in Brazil was emotional.
“I’m very lucky to be in this type of profession and I did what I love to do and dreamt to do. Visiting countries and so many different people and racing in the best category in the world and against the best.”
He added: “You always have things that you didn’t do right like mistakes. But I think you are always learning with mistakes. I would say no regrets and I really learnt and enjoyed the amazing moments and also the difficult moments.”
Although he will not be seen in F1 action from Monday, he is already looking at other options in racing after retirement.
“I have time to decide what I want to do,” he says. “Yes, racing is part of my life. It is part of what I was doing as a kid. I will be racing but I will be finding time for other things as well.
“I will look for the new moment of my life. I’m sure I will find another car that I can enjoy and have fun.”
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) November 25, 2017
It took just five minutes of the first 90-minute free practice session for the new generation F1 cars to prove that they are going to be quicker than ever at Yas Marina Circuit.
Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time overall in the corresponding session in 2016 with a time of 1 min 42.869 seconds – and the same driver clocked 1:41.664 on his first flying lap this year in the wider, fat-tyred Mercedes that has already carried him to his fourth world title.
While Hamilton made a flying start, the time that eventually topped the session was a 1:39.006, set by the man with whom he fought an almost season-long battle for the title – Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
With Hamilton second, 0.120 behind Vettel, the year’s third-best team Red Bull had the third-fastest driver in the session in the shape of Max Verstappen.
At the other end of the spectrum, George Russell was a busy young man on Friday. After his normal GP3 practice session with ART he hopped into the Sahara Force India cockpit usually occupied by Esteban Ocon for his second crack at a Formula 1 practice session.
Russell finished a highly creditable 11th, five places behind team-mate Sergio Pérez, while Antonio Giovinazzi, also having another F1 practice run in place of Kevin Magnussen in the Haas, ended the session in 18th place.
Of the four regular drivers who are also having their F1 baptism at Yas Marina Circuit, McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne was best in eighth, with Lance Stroll 13th, Pierre Gasly 14th and his Toro Rosso team-mate Brendon Hartley 20th and last.
🏁 END OF FP1 🏁
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 24, 2017
The mystery was Fernando Alonso’s taking so long to appear in the other McLaren. On his installation lap the Spaniard was asked for some “funky driving” by his McLaren team, which must have been code for one lap only – he did not reappear until more than an hour of the session had elapsed, though he finished it in seventh place.
The most awkward moment was Romain Grosjean’s “off” at Turn 19, where the Haas driver hit the wall but was able to return to pit lane.
“It’s the same snap as before,” reported the Frenchman, “I don’t know where it comes from.” Happily, he was able to get back on track before the session ended.
There was a spectacular lock-up by the outgoing Felipe Massa in his Williams and harmless spins for Nico Hülkenberg’s Renault at Turn 14, then for Giovinazzi and Russell at Turn 17 in quick succession.
“Could you let me know the reason we lost the rear?” asked Russell. “I may have clipped the kerb?”
Not so: at that point a tail-wind was playing tricks so the young GP3 champion was blameless. The session was run, as always, in day-time conditions that do not accurately reflect those the drivers will encounter in qualifying or the race itself.