2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Saturday Analysis

Nico Notches Another Pole

“A small step” was the phrase used by Nico Rosberg in the post-qualifying press conference, in regards to his pole position in Abu Dhabi. The German has done everything he needed to do today, yet has his title rival Lewis Hamilton for company on the front row. It was not as comfortable for the Mercedes duo as was first anticipated, as Williams once again controlled the best-of-the-rest accolade, and came close to toppling Mercedes’ supremacy. Turn one tomorrow promises to be fascinating.

On The Limit

Ultimately, Hamilton paid the price for making too many mistakes in Q3 today. As so often has been the case in 2014, Nico was the calmer of the two drivers and managed to maximise his Q3 potential while his teammate pushed beyond the limits of the all-conquering W05. 
The four tenths between the pair is a huge margin in the context of a season which has been determined by fractions. Missing the apex after a lock-up at turn one contributed a significant portion of this deficit and it was only a repeat of Hamilton’s previous run in which it was the final complex where he reached the limit of grip. It is accepted that Lewis places huge demands on his brakes – slowing the car down has been his Achilles heel ever since he made the switch from McLaren to Mercedes, and this year, his brake complaints have been brought into sharp focus due to the intensity of the title fight. Today was another case study in how influential time lost in braking zones can be to an overall lap time and it was an issue which had been growing from FP3 onwards. 
However, the tendency has been for Lewis to recover during the race. Following his performance in Austin, he knows that he can pass Nico, on track, during the race and therefore, the emphasis placed on qualifying is seemingly far less significant than it was back at the start of the campaign. Tomorrow, could be a very different race, due to the title permutations. Nico could have the pace to win outright, but that will not be good enough to take the ultimate prize. As such, considering the fact that Rosberg is a master tactician, he could potentially back Hamilton into the chasing pack, in order to create an uncomfortable environment for Lewis and allow for a Valtteri Bottas or Felipe Massa to spoil his party. There are a multitude of scenarios which could play out in tomorrow’s race and the only certainty is that it will be fascinating. Rosberg’s pole position has provided the perfect stage for a thrilling finale.  

Teammate Tussle’s Decided

It is an effective measure of a driver’s ultimate speed, and as such, beating a teammate in qualifying over the course of a season is hugely important to a driver’s market value. The greatest advantage of having an uneven number of races is that these statistics provide definitive results.
Heading into today, the only Saturday battles which had not been decided where at Sauber and more poignantly, McLaren. Adrian Sutil progressed into Q2 at the expense of his teammate, while Jenson Button sent a message to the McLaren boardroom, edging out Kevin Magnussen who dropped out at the Q2 stage. However, following their impressive demonstration in FP2, McLaren were disappointed with their P8 and P11. In many ways, this is testament to how far they have come during this season. 

Result Deflection

In locking out the third row, Red Bull had achieved their potential today – the Mercedes and Williams were a bridge too far. Regardless, Daniel Ricciardo was once again supreme, out-qualifying Vettel by six tenths and posing the only true threat to the fabulous four. However, much like in 2012, Red Bull’s Saturday in Abu Dhabi has ended with unwelcome headlines depicting technicalities. 
While it was an insufficient fuel sample which saw Sebastian Vettel thrown out of qualifying in 2012, flexing front wing flaps has been the issue concerning the stewards this time around – and it has seen both cars disqualified from qualifying and forced to the back of the grid.
Flexi-wings has been a technical issue for several years and the ‘pit-lane policeman’, FIA Technical Delegate, Jo Bauer, has kept a close eye on such areas. Ultimately, the rules limit the use of moveable aerodynamics, in accordance with Article 3.15 of the Technical Regulations and Bauer has deemed that Red Bull’s front wing, on this day in history, has flexed too significantly. The mystery remains as to why this issue was not detected earlier in the weekend – answers on a postcard please. 
The end result is that Vettel and Ricciardo will either start from the back of the field, or the pit-lane tomorrow. I expect Red Bull to fit ‘skinny’, low drag rear wings overnight, to promote overtaking on the straights. This worked magnificently well for Vettel in 2012 and considering that Ricciardo was five kilometres per hour down on the straights in FP3, the additional top speeds will be welcomed again. However, such a change will see the team break Parc Fermé regulations and as such, they would have to start from the pit-lane. Personally, I think the latter option makes sense, but I am not the one with the terabytes of telemetry!
FP1 Timesheet
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:41.424 
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +0.369 
3 Felipe Massa Williams +1.005
4 Fernando Alonso Ferrari +1.229 
5 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull +1.255 
6 Jenson Button McLaren +1.344 
7 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull +1.349 
8 Valtteri Bottas Williams +1.370 
9 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso +1.385 
10 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari +1.614 
11 Kevin Magnussen McLaren +1.688
12 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso +1.928
13 Sergio Perez Force India +1.936 
14 Nico Hulkenberg Force India +2.077 
15 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber +2.219 
16 Pastor Maldonado Lotus +2.294 
17 Romain Grosjean Lotus +2.354
18 Adrian Sutil Sauber +2.598 
19 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham +3.620
20 Will Stevens Caterham +4.535 
Qualifying Result
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 
3 Valtteri Bottas Williams 
4 Felipe Massa Williams
5 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 
6 Jenson Button McLaren 
7 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 
8 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 
9 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 
10 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso
11 Sergio Perez Force India
12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 
13 Adrian Sutil Sauber 
14 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 
15 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 
16 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 
17 Will Stevens Caterham
18 Romain Grosjean Lotus* 
19 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull**
20 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull** 
*Romain Grosjean serves a 20-place grid penalty for using two components of a sixth powertrain. He will additionally serve a drive-through penalty on account of not serving his full allocation of grid places.
**Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo will start from the back of the grid for breeching Article 3.15 of the Technical Regulations.
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