While there is inevitably less tension in the air here in Abu Dhabi because the two world championships – for drivers and for constructors – have been decided, there is still honour at stake. And there is no shortage of drivers seeking one last shot at redemption.
Sebastian Vettel wants his first win since Belgium in August, and to atone for some of the errors that have proved so costly this year, but defence for the German came from team principal Maurizio Arrivabene in the day’s press conference when he got into a spat with BBC Sport’s Andrew Benson who pushed to know how Arrivabene would achieve the results in 2019 that proved so elusive this season.
“I give you an answer, having said that what you said is not correct because we started the season in very good shape and then as Sebastian said yesterday, he made mistakes, then from Monza onwards we were not there with the car and this is a fact, too, if you’re talking about facts,” the Italian said disingenuously. “I don’t want to point the finger at the team or on the driver. If we are losing, we are losing together. If we are winning, we are winning together. And that’s it.”
Well, not quite, but never mind. They’ll either get it right, or they won’t.
Daniel Ricciardo wants to sign off his successful Red Bull career, which has yielded all six of his wins, with a final one to round out a bitterly disappointing year of retirements.
"I want to end this year strong,” he admitted. “It's not going to be easy, mentally. I know that. Each lap I turn in the car will mean one lap closer to my last in a Red Bull racesuit. And when I get out for the final time, I think I'm going to have a right good cry. Maybe a few.”
Max Verstappen wants the win that got away last time out in Brazil, and Kimi Raikkonen liked the feeling he got on the top step of the podium in Austin recently, and wants to feel it again before his Ferrari career finally ends.
Typically, the down-to-earth Finn had a less emotional approach to valediction.
“Obviously I had this leaving them once already so it’s not a new thing. I’m not sad because I don’t see why we need to be sad. We will stay as friends.”
This will be Fernando Alonso’s last grand prix for the foreseeable future, and yesterday the Spaniard admitted that he would feel differently to the way he did when he arrived in Abu Dhabi.
“So far I think it’s a normal weekend,” he said before stepping into his McLaren for the few last times. As a tribute, the team have decorated it with the blue, red and yellow Asturian colours of his Kimoa clothing company.
“I think on Sunday it’s going to be different, when it gets a little bit more emotions,” he added. “I’ve been racing last weekend in Shanghai and I’m not probably into the mood yet of this final race. It feels okay right now. But it’s going to be special, emotional, and hopefully a good one.”
And Hamilton wouldn’t mind whittling Michael Schumacher’s advantage in the all-time wins stakes down to 18. With special permission he celebrated his fifth world title by running with No 1 on the nose of his Mercedes in the first practice session, instead of 44.
Of Thursday’s practice sessions, the world champion said: “Overall, it's been a good day; even though the first session was not great. The track was very green in the beginning, so there
was a lot of sliding around and - just like everyone else - we were struggling with the tyres. There's a big difference in track temperature between the two sessions; the conditions in FP2 are much more representative of qualifying and the race, so in that respect FP1 and FP3 don't really tell you a whole lot.
“We made some really good changes over the break and I was much happier with the car in FP2, but there's still a lot of work to do. Red Bull looked quick today, they're usually fast in practice and in the race, so I have no doubts it will be the same this weekend.”
Others had problems with the sausage kerb on the outside of the penultimate corner. Chares Leclerc banged his Sauber over it, while both Red Bulls also ventured into its punishing territory. Verstappen rode the whole length of the kerb, tobogganing along on his car’s underbelly, and pitted for immediate inspection.
At the end of what seemed a curiously low-key sort of day, Bottas headed Verstappen by just 0.044s, 1m 37.236s to 1, 37.280s, as the Dutchman continued to fly, with Daniel Ricciardo pipping Hamilton for third. The Australian lapped his Red Bull in 1m 37.428s to the Briton’s 1m 37.443s. With the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel fifth and sixth on 1m 37.461s and 1m 37.569s, the top six were covered by just 0.333s.
Hopefully, though, the action will speed up and spice up a little over the next two days.
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