Flying back from Singapore after being forced to retire for the seventh time in 14 races, Max Verstappen would never have believed what would unfold next in his never-ending season.
Fast forward two months to today in the balmy heat of Abu Dhabi in the season finale and the Dutchman’s name is now pursed on everyone’s lips again as a future world champion after a series of glittering displays since Singapore.
It all began in Malaysia with just his second grand prix triumph followed by second and fourth placings in Japan and the US.
By that time, the title was pretty much done and dusted but the 20-year-old sent out another reminder of his potential by dominating at the front - eventually taking the lead to stand top of the podium in Mexico.
His success, was of course, overshadowed by Lewis Hamilton, who stole the limelight that evening when the Mercedes driver underlined his status of being one of the finest F1 drivers with his fourth world championship.
— Denzil M Pinto (@denz_360) November 24, 2017
Hamilton, who sealed his fourth title with two rounds to spare in Mexico last month, led the way from his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
The British driver posted a best lap of one minute and 37.627 seconds at the Yas Marina circuit to finish a third of a second clear of Bottas with the Ferrari duo of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel, both half-a-second off the pace, in third and fourth respectively.
Hamilton is bidding to end his championship-winning campaign on a high and is the driver to beat in the heat of the desert having topped the time sheets on Friday and now on Saturday. The Mercedes driver needs one more win to take his tally of victories to an impressive 10 for the 20-race season.
For Vettel – the man who led the championship for 12 rounds before his charge imploded in the second half of the year – he needs to finish only eighth on Sunday to ensure he will end as runner-up to Hamilton, with Bottas 22 points adrift of the German.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo finished fifth in the order ahead of team-mate Max Verstappen with Fernando Alonso seventh for McLaren. Veteran Brazilian Felipe Massa, who will start his 269th and final grand prix tomorrow ahead of his impending retirement, was 11th.
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.