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Stat Wrap: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Valtteri Bottas celebrates his Abu Dhabi victory with a few donuts

Sean Kelly, C4F1 Statistician

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix may have brought the 2017 Formula 1 season to an end with more of a whimper than a bang (and been more memorable for the launch of F1’s new-for-2018 logo), but there were still plenty of reasons for the Yas Marina event to be relevant to the history books.

After a season that saw Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel battle neck-and-neck for the title (at least until the final few rounds), it was Valtteri Bottas who took centre stage on Sunday to claim victory, the third of his career.

The Finn did all he could do in order to finish runner-up in the world championship. Going into Sunday’s race, Bottas knew he had to win with Vettel finishing ninth or lower if Mercedes were to have their drivers finish 1-2 in the championship for an unprecedented fourth consecutive year.

Bottas’ win gave Mercedes a record fourth Yas Marina victory, and made him the third consecutive race winner from pole at this track. Having also taken pole position ahead of Lewis Hamilton, it gave Mercedes their 50th front row lockout as a constructor. They’re now only 12 short of the all-time F1 record held by McLaren and Williams, despite not being in F1 at all from 1956-2009!

Winning the 2017 world championship may have been mission accomplished for Hamilton, but he continued the oddity of never having outqualified or outraced a teammate after clinching a title in any given season. He won the 2008 and 2014 titles in last-round deciders, but after wrapping up the 2015 crown with three races to spare he never beat his teammate (Nico Rosberg) in the remaining races.

The same phenomena struck again in 2017, and Bottas was the top scorer in the final three races of this year’s championship (61 points).

On a more positive note, Hamilton joined another exclusive F1 club on Sunday, as he matched Juan-Manuel Fangio (1954-55) and Michael Schumacher (2002) as the only drivers to score in every F1 championship race in a single season.

There are several caveats to that statistic. For one, Fangio’s achievement took place in seasons in which the Indianapolis 500 counted toward the championship, an event in which most F1 drivers – Fangio included – did not compete.

Furthermore, Hamilton’s achievement has come in a season where points have been awarded down to tenth place, whereas Schumacher managed it in the final year in which points were awarded down to sixth place. Hamilton twice finished outside the top six this season (seventh in Monaco, ninth in Mexico), so you could say it’s not as impressive as Schumacher, but conversely Hamilton did it in a season with three more races than Schumacher. That argument is sure to run and run…

This weekend also saw Mercedes-Benz engines claim a 175th consecutive points finish in F1. The last time the Stuttgart marque was out of the points was way back at the 2008 Japanese GP – before Lewis Hamilton had ever won a world title!

Officially at least, it is the second-longest streak by an engine manufacturer in F1 history, behind the 228 scored by Ford during the legendary Cosworth DFV era from 1967-83. However, Renault have unofficially scored in 179 in a row, but it is obscured by the fact that Red Bull’s engine has been badged as a TAG Heuer since 2016. Once again, an argument that could run and run…

In non-Mercedes news, Sebastian Vettel’s second place in the championship is the highest by any non-Mercedes driver since the turbo hybrid era began in 2014. All three podium finishers on Sunday were up there for the 13th time in 2017, and for Vettel that is more than he scored in his championship-winning seasons of 2010 and 2012 (10 each).

Vettel will start the 2018 season on 99 podium finishes, one short of joining Schumacher (155), Hamilton (117) and Alain Prost (106) as the only drivers to reach a century. He will also go to Melbourne just 10 laps short of leading 3,000 in his career – by curious coincidence, the exact same scenario in which Lewis Hamilton began 2017.

The sister Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen finished fourth in Abu Dhabi, and even though it saw the end of his three-race podium streak (his longest since 2013), it had a significant effect as it pushed him ahead of Daniel Ricciardo to finish fourth in the championship.

Fifth-placed Max Verstappen will be hoping that Red Bull can maintain their late season momentum into 2018, as he scored the same number of points as Hamilton in the final six Grands Prix (100 each).

That said, team’s form has been erratic throughout 2017, and team principal Christian Horner pointed out that Daniel Ricciardo’s retirement on Sunday means the RB13 chassis ended the year with 13 podium finishes, but also 13 retirements. Taking into consideration that Ricciardo finished every race last season, there’s serious reliability work to be done in Milton Keynes.

Speaking of significant championship effects, Nico Hulkenberg’s sixth-place finish was arguably the single most important result of Abu Dhabi 2017. The German’s eight points were enough for Renault to overhaul Toro Rosso to finish sixth in the constructors’ championship.

This season was a big turnaround for Renault in their second year back as a works team. Last year they were only ninth in the championship, scoring in just three races and never making a single Q3 appearance. Contrast this with 2017, when they scored in ten races, finished in the top six on five occasions and Hulkenberg alone reached Q3 on 12 occasions.

One absentee who can perhaps feel some contentment was Jolyon Palmer, who left Renault after the Japanese GP. Palmer’s sixth place finish in Singapore proved to be a crucial contribution in beating Toro Rosso in 2017.

Ironically, had Hulkenberg finished eighth in Abu Dhabi then Renault and Toro Rosso would have tied on points. Toro Rosso would therefore have been sixth in the championship on the basis of their best single result of the year – a fourth place in that same Singapore race courtesy of Carlos Sainz, who ended up replacing Palmer in the Renault team at the very next Grand Prix.  That could have been awkward (!)

Force India have had no such worries in 2017, having clinched fourth in the championship (for the second consecutive year) long before reaching Abu Dhabi. Sergio Perez scored for the eighth consecutive race in 2017 and the fifth straight year at Yas Marina. Teammate Esteban Ocon came home in eighth place, meaning Force India scored with both cars in 16 out of 20 races in 2017.

Sunday was Honda’s 400th Grand Prix start (or 401st, if you consider them as having started the 2005 USGP). More significantly it was their last start with McLaren, bringing the curtain down on their second era with the team. After a succession of negative headlines, the partnership was at least able to end on a positive.

Fernando Alonso was ninth on Sunday, scoring in three consecutive races for the first (and only) time in his McLaren Honda career. The Spaniard ended the year with five Q3 appearances in the final seven races, and when adding that to his three-race scoring streak, it begs the question of where the McLaren Honda alliance would be if their 2017 had started this way…

The final point of 2017 went to Felipe Massa in his 269th and (presumably) final Grand Prix start.  Massa also went out on a high, keeping up his 100% record of scoring in all eight Yas Marina starts. Williams’ headline achievements of the year may have belonged to Lance Stroll after the Canadian was third in Baku and qualified on the front row at Monza, but Massa finished three points ahead of him in the championship and outqualified him 17-2.

With that, the sport’s 68th championship season drew to a close. The beginning of the next one, in which both Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel will bid for a fifth world championship, is, at the time of writing, but 118 days away.