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Class of the Field
Adam Barton

A Formula One fan since he was six, back while Häkkinen and Schumacher were having many an epic battle, Adam has seen a great deal. From German domination (twice), to British determination (once) and a Spanish invasion. A near compulsive fan who one day hopes to write about the sport for a living, outside of F1 Adam also authors his own blog One Guy's Opinion.

Hülkenberg drives off into the night // Midfield battle ends in controversy as Renault edge Toro Rosso & Haas


As the 2017 season comes to an anticlimactic close, the dust begins to settle and we can look back on an intriguing F1 season. Mercedes' invincibility was broken, but not their grasp on both championships. Although, in the end it was reliability rather than pure pace that got the job done. But with Mercedes controlling Ferrari at the front in the desert, the battle for the lower placings got all the attention.

Hulk steals vital sixth place

Nico Hülkenberg, Renault F1 Team: Started 7th, Finished 6th

Hülkenberg bags the points
Credit: Renault Sport F1

Somehow Renault being easily the fourth fastest car over the weekend was largely overshadowed by controversy. While Carlos Sainz struggled and started to look forward to preseason to prepare for a full season as a Renault driver, the Hulk did the heavy lifting as the Anglo-French team from Enstone looked to pass Toro Rosso for sixth in the championship, as well as holding off Haas.

In qualifying, Sainz was stuck in second qualifying, six tenths off Hülkenberg's pace, as the German coasted into Q3 by nearly three tenths. Once there, the top six were always going to be out of reach and Nico even dropped a tenth and a half on his Q2 pace but was still able to beat the Force Indias and Massa to seventh on the grid and the coveted best of the rest.

The key moment of the race came on lap one; both Force Indias got the jump at the start, potentially critical in Renault’s constructor’s battle, but the Hulk battled back around the outside. Pérez was able to get past at the hairpin and once the Mexican was past, the German saw red mist and made an ambitious move around the outside at the end of the second DRS zone. Pérez locked up and sent them both wide, forcing Hülkenberg to straight line the corner. The German should have given the place back having clearly gained an advantage but didn’t yield. The controversy continued as while the penalty fit the crime, the damage was already done. By the time that Hülkenberg served his penalty at his pitstop, he had opened up more than enough of a gap to wait in his pit box for five seconds, even after an issue getting the tyre off.

By the time that Hülkenberg served his penalty at his pitstop, he had opened up more than enough of a gap

Without the threat of a penalty hanging over him, Hülkenberg was able to motor on with fresh supersofts and manage the gap to Pérez, eventually finishing seven seconds ahead of his ex-teammate. With neither Haas nor Toro Rosso scoring, Hülkenberg's sixth place (following Ricciardo’s retirement) was more than enough to secure sixth in the championship. In fact, Hülkenberg could have finished behind Pérez and comfortably earned enough points. Instead he was at his metronomic best, scoring his best result since Silverstone and equalling his season’s best for a fourth time.

Wehrlein proves his credentials

Pascal Wehrlein, Sauber F1 Team: Started 18th, Finished 14th

As Mercedes become the preeminent team in terms of driver development, it isn’t always good news for all the drivers in the program. The odd man out for the Silver Arrows at the moment appears to be Pascal Wehrlein, especially with the prospect of Sauber and Ferrari working in ever closer partnership. It looks as though both Sauber drivers’ F1 futures is up in the air but the German gave it his all in Abu Dhabi to increase his stock.

Wehrlein had the pace, but not the power
Credit: Sauber F1 Team

Pascal secured 18th ahead of his teammate by half a tenth. He gained a place too as Kevin Magnussen span through the first sector esses on the first lap. Having started on the supersofts, Wehrlein had his options open in terms of strategy. In the end, he went for a fairly conservative option, pitting just beyond halfway on lap 28 for ultrasofts, giving him softer rubber than his rivals for the second half of the race, although the relatively early stop meant tyre conservation would also be key.

The Sauber Ferrari just didn’t have the power to get past but the German clearly had the better pace

The German then had to fight in front and behind. Magnussen and Vandoorne were ahead, hindered by the McLaren’s pace. The Toro Rossos were closing in quickly behind too. Wehrlein made a great attempt to get past on the back straight, but the one attempt he had, Magnussen was straight back past in the second DRS zone. The Sauber Ferrari just didn’t have the power to get past but the German clearly had the better pace.

If he could have got past, he could easily have finish 12th, ahead of the struggling Vandoorne. Instead he was left to finish 14th for the third straight race. In the slowest car on the grid, that was no mean feat, competing with McLaren & Haas, as well as beating both Toro Rossos and Stroll’s Williams.

Grosjean finishes the season in style

Romain Grosjean, Haas F1 Team: Started 16th, Finished 11th

While Grosjean couldn’t finish in the points to secure seventh or even sixth in the championship, he put on a great performance to recover from a disappointing qualifying with impressive race pace.

Having been edged out of Q2 by Lance Stroll by .013 seconds, the Frenchman got past Vandoorne as well his spinning teammate at the start. With Stroll struggling ahead, the Williams driver pitted, jumping Grosjean up to 13th by lap 11. Grosjean showed one of his best strengths during the race: tyre management. He started on the ultrasofts but he was the last man to pit, coming in on lap 32, after everyone including those who started on the supersofts.

The strategy saw him as high as ninth before his stop, and crucially ensured that he was ahead of the Vandoorne train after his stop. The sole stop dropped him back behind Alonso and Massa on track, though the retirements of Ricciardo and Sainz had the Frenchman on the edge of the points. With fresh tyres compared to everyone else Grosjean was on a charge and finished within range of Alonso and Massa, showing phenomenal pace, especially when you consider that he finished 50 seconds ahead of his teammate.

While he fell just short of points, it was Grosjean’s best result since Japan as he finished 13th in the championship and Haas just behind Toro Rosso in eighth.

Grosjean’s passes in a blur
Credit: Haas F1 Team