Nico Hulkenberg may not have won Sunday’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but his pragmatic drive for sixth secured increased championship prize money and a controversial post-race row.
The German driver ran off circuit and gained an advantage when he passed Sergio Perez’s Force India early in the race — a move that resulted in a stewards’ investigation.
Most observers expected him to be forced to hand his place back to Perez, but instead he was handed a five seconds penalty and went on to finish sixth.
It was a result that was good enough for his Renault team to leap ahead of Toro Rosso and take sixth place in the constructors’ championship.
That success, estimated by paddock experts to be worth at least an additional €7.2 million, left Force India boss Otmar Szafneuer enraged.
He said: “It makes a mockery of the sport to have it so inconsistent. Hulkenberg cuts a corner, the FIA don’t do anything about it and guess what? They gain a place in the constructors’ championship, which means more money and more competitiveness next year.”
Renault chief Cyril Abiteboul said: “There was a penalty decided and we served the penalty…”
Hulkenberg said he felt the penalty was fair.
“It’s always different car, different perspective. I saw he was locking up and running wide. I had nowhere to go… I think the five seconds was fair.”
The two drivers were team-mates at Force India last year.
Renault had started the race with a four points deficit to Toro Rosso, but finished it in front by four.
— Renault Sport F1 (@RenaultSportF1) November 26, 2017
Lewis Hamilton has called for changes to be made to the design of the track at Yas Marina Circuit in order to make racing on it more entertaining.
The four-time world champion believes Abu Dhabi is “the best place” to host the Formula One season finale but the lack of overtaking opportunities of its track has often resulted in boring races, including Sunday night’s routine affair that saw Valtteri Bottas secure victory from pole position.
The top eight in the race finished in the same order as their qualifying standings (positions 4 to 8 each moved up one spot due to Daniel Ricciardo’s DNF).
“If there’s any way we can improve this track to enable us to have these battles… you’ve got these long straights where you can’t even get close enough to utilise them. If there’s some way where we can enable us to be able to remain closer in that third sector, I think this will go up in the rankings of a great circuit,” Hamilton said on Sunday night after claiming second place in the race.
“I don’t know if they can do it but I know there’s money to do it but I just hope… I have hope for Abu Dhabi to get better.”
Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen did everything he could to try and pip Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen on Sunday but ended up in P5 behind the Finn, just like they started.
The 20-year-old Dutchman did not hold back in sarcasm when describing how the race unfolded.
“For me that was a pretty boring race, if I had a pillow in the car I could have fallen asleep. I tried to follow Kimi at the start but it’s so hard at this track and I couldn’t find an opportunity to pass. As soon as you get within 1.5 seconds it is really tough to get close and make a pass,” said Verstappen.
Yas Marina Circuit was designed by German engineer Hermann Tilke, who also designed the tracks in Sepang, Bahrain, Shanghai, Istanbul, Valencia, and Singapore and was involved in the overhaul of some of the European circuits.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admits last night’s race was not an interesting one, describing it as a “procession of cars” but didn’t just blame the circuit.
“I think the race itself wasn’t very spectacular, the championship was already decided but also with the new regulations of cars, these cars are extremely difficult to overtake. You could see that between Raikkonen and Verstappen and the same between Valtteri and Lewis,” said Wolff.
“A track like Abu Dhabi is probably one where you can see where the effect is the worst and that’s why we saw a procession of cars rather than an exciting race.”
While some may prefer having the season-closing race to be at a track that offers more opportunities for having an exciting race, Hamilton feels Abu Dhabi is the right place to host the finale.
The Brit added that Yas Marina Circuit was not the only venue that had this problem.
“I think ultimately you can look at a lot of the tracks, my engineers can give me a number for overtaking delta for every single circuit and it obviously varies. Which is strange that the TV don’t even advertise that. They don’t tell people while they’re watching TV that the reason someone cannot overtake is because of the downforce, the drag issue, and then from track to track varies. That’s something perhaps they should include,” said Hamilton.
“But no, I think this is one of the best, if not the best, place to have the last race, in terms of the atmosphere, in terms of the hospitality, it’s second to none, it’s such a beautiful place, so it’s a great week.
“I think the track, as a lot of the tracks do, have some small flaws in the sense that it’s hard to follow, or can’t follow, which I think can make better racing. How they go about doing that, I can’t tell you, I’m not a track designer, and I don’t know if it can be changed but…”
Valtteri Bottas survived several laps of high-speed pressure from his Mercedes team-mate and world champion Lewis Hamilton to claim a memorable victory in Sunday’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The 28-year-old Finn, who started from pole position, led from the lights to the flag apart from a spell following his first pit stop when the four-time champion Briton was in control.
It was his third career victory, all of them recorded since he joined Mercedes to partner the 32-year-old Briton in January following the unexpected exit of 2016 champion German Nico Rosberg.
Hamilton came home a comfortable second, four seconds behind Bottas, having eased off in the closing laps after abandoning his bid to pass him in the turbulent air created when following close to another car.
Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel finished a lonely third for Ferrari, as the two Mercedes men delivered celebratory ‘doughnuts’ for the crowd. It was Vettel’s 99th career podium and his 13th of the season.
Finn Kimi Raikkonen was fourth in the second Ferrari ahead of Dutchman Max Verstappen of Red Bull and German Nico Hulkenberg for Renault, whose sixth-place finish assured Renault of sixth place in the constructors’ championship ahead of Toro Rosso.
Mexican Sergio Perez came home seventh ahead of his Force India team-mate Frenchman Esteban Ocon, two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso of McLaren Honda and retirement-bound Brazilian Felipe Massa, in his last F1 race, for Williams.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo, who was fourth on the grid, failed to finish after retiring his Red Bull for the third time in four outings. He had a hydraulics problem.
“Such a good car today so thank you for that and the season – it’s a very nice way to end it,” said Bottas to his team.
Hamilton was unhappy with the tight track.
“It’s impossible to pass here man!” he said in the pre-podium room. “I was like — where are all the back-markers… They’ve got to change this track.”
Hamilton ended his season having scored points in every race.