Bits from the Pits: Sharapova, Rosberg and others take in Abu Dhabi GP qualifying

Reem Abulleil 26/11/2017

The stars were out in full force for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday at Yas Marina Circuit and the paddock was buzzing all day.

Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova had her first Formula One experience, where she was making an appearance for Mercedes sponsors UBS.

She got to meet last year's world champion, the now-retired Nico Rosberg, and reminded us why they each chose their respective sport.

Sharapova spent a couple of days in the UAE capital, where she visited the recently-opened Louvre Museum on Saadiyat Island.

A tanned and relaxed looking Rosberg did the rounds, saying hello to everyone from his former rivals to the journalists and TV crews. It's hard to believe that just 12 months ago he was on the eve of the greatest day of his career -- the day he became a world champion for the first time. He retired from the sport soon after.

Former Liverpool defender Sami Hyypia was also in attendance as a guest of Mercedes, while Lebanese superstar singer Ragheb Alama was at the Ferrari team hospitality area.

Cycling's sprint king and Abu Dhabi regular Mark Cavendish was seen strolling through the paddock while Mumford & Sons, who performed at Du Arena on Saturday night, watched qualifying from the Mercedes garage.

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Daniel Ricciardo will take his time before deciding on his future

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In demand and 'desirable': Dani Ricciardo.

Having to choose between several decent options is what you may describe as ‘a good problem to have’ but in Daniel Ricciardo’s situation, it also poses a unique challenge he’s never been faced with before in his career.

The Aussie driver grew up in the Red Bull set-up, getting promoted from Toro Rosso to the main team in 2014, as a replacement for the departing Mark Webber, and he’s been with the Austrian UK-based outfit ever since.

Ricciardo has claimed five grand prix victories with Red Bull Racing over the past four seasons and has finished third in the world championship race twice. The 28-year-old’s contract will run out next year and it’s likely he’ll have interest from the sport’s current big three – Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.

While securing a ride for 2019 early can offer peace of mind and stability, Ricciardo insists he won’t be making any decisions during the winter break and says he won’t be lured by any big money deals.

Double world champion Fernando Alonso – one of the most talented drivers on the grid – left Ferrari for McLaren at the close of 2014 and the Spaniard ended up driving a non-competitive car for the past three seasons.

Ricciardo is wary of making a similar mistake.

“That’s I think another reason why I’m a bit afraid to rush the decision. Because whatever I sign it’s unlikely going to be a one-year – it’s probably a multiple-year deal, I’m assuming,” Ricciardo told reporters in Abu Dhabi after qualifying fourth for Sunday’s grand prix.

“That then is probably the peak years of my career, is the next deal I sign, so I want to make sure I maximise that with my driving ability then, so that’s why I’m going to take my time and try to figure it out.”

Ricciardo is aware he’s facing this kind of predicament for the first time in his career, but he’s embracing it. He’s also clear on what his priorities are when making that decision.

“I highly, highly doubt I’ll be signing any dotted lines over the next month. Probably not event if I get a ridiculous offer. I think right now it’s not about the offer, it’s about who’s going to have the best car in 2019,” he said.

“It’s worth me just seeing how the start of the year goes. I don’t want to be too clever and think I’ll have every option possible but I think I’ve got enough time on my side to still sit it out a little bit.”

On the possibility of talking to all three powerhouse teams, Ricciardo said: “Talking to Red Bull is easier, because I know them already, the other two I guess if they’re interested they’ll need to make the approach.

“I don’t want to come across as desperate. Doesn’t work with the ladies either,” he added with a laugh.

Ricciardo sees “no merit” in deciding now but also believes he won’t leave it until late next year.

He knows there will be some discussions with Red Bull over the next couple of weeks but he wants to switch off during Christmas time and enjoy the Australian summer Down Under.

Does the uncertainty surrounding his future affect his driving? The Perth-native responds with confidence: “I mean, today I drove alright so… no it doesn’t!

“I think it would if I didn’t have a drive, if you know what I mean – I’d like to think there’s still some offers, even though I’m out of contract, I think there’s still some demand, whether it’s from Red Bull or others.

“I know Red Bull is certainly keen, at least from the small initial talks we’ve had. Obviously the longer I leave it, then I need to make sure I’m performing well into next year to still be desirable. But obviously if anything I’m confident I can get better.

“This year was at times challenging but I definitely feel that every year you get better, you progress, and I feel I’ve continued with that.”

Ricciardo enters Sunday’s final race of the season lying fourth in the championship standings, just seven points ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.

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Bottas grabs pole at Abu Dhabi GP, Hamilton to start in second

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Bottas grabbed pole ahead of Hamilton and Vettel.

Valtteri Bottas claimed pole position for Sunday’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after coming fastest in Saturday’s qualifying session at the Yas Marina circuit.

The Finn, who could yet snatch second place in the standings from Sebastian Vettel, will start ahead of his Mercedes teammate, world champion Lewis Hamilton, at the front of the grid.

When the first flying lap is a new track record, you know you are in for something special.

Bottas claimed his second consecutive pole and the fourth of his career with a best lap of 1:36.231, two-and-a-half seconds faster than last year’s pole-winning lap and 2.250 better than the previous best qualifying lap seen at Yas Marina Circuit.

‘I just managed to find time here and there,’ said the laconic Finn, ‘and felt really good in the car. I was so gutted in the last race in Brazil, being on pole but missing the win, so I have a clear target for tomorrow.’

Lewis Hamilton, king of the pole in 2017 with 11, made it the third all-Mercedes front row of the season, almost losing his car in a big twitch out of Turn 21 on his final flying lap and finishing 0.273 behind Bottas.

The World Champion-elect was gracious in defeat: ‘What a lap!’ he said of his team-mate’s final effort. ‘He just had an incredible qualifying. For me, overall, it was just little bits here and there.’

Sebastian Vettel, four times on pole in 2017, could not get his Ferrari within half a second of Bottas’s time but refused to be disheartened. ‘It was a good session,’ he insisted, ‘although obviously a bit of a shame to be that far back. It should be a fun race.’

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo performed superbly to split the two Ferraris, slotting into fourth spot on the grid behind Vettel and ahead of Kimi Räikkönen with his youthful team-mate Max Verstappen in sixth.

Row four is shared by Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg and the Force India of Sergio Pérez, whose own team-mate Esteban Ocon will start from ninth alongside the man making his 269th and final Grand Prix start, Felipe Massa of Williams.

Not only did Hamilton break his own Yas Marina Circuit track record as soon as he took to the 5.554-km track with a lap in 1:37.473, but Bottas promptly fired in a 1:37.356 – and that was only in the first 18-minute segment of qualifying.

While those two stayed top, the five drivers eliminated in Q1 were Haas’s Romain Grosjean, continuing a troubled weekend, Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson, and the rookie Toro Rosso pairing of Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley.

Canadian Williams driver Lance Stroll needed a mighty final effort to get through to Q2 – and immediately sighed, ‘Oh God, that was everything’ as he made it to 15th spot.

Stroll’s ordeal was over soon enough as he was the slowest of five men eliminated in Q2 along with Renault’s Carlos Sainz, both McLarens of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne and the second Haas of Kevin Magnussen.

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