Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – day one


It was never really in doubt whether Kimi Räikkönen would turn up in Abu Dhabi or not because if he didn’t he would be in breach of contract. Or was it? He did have some people worried, as he missed all of Thursday’s media commitments, preferring to stay at home, and then only turned up in the paddock a matter of hours before first practice today having flown in last night.

All is not well at Lotus at the moment after the heated radio exchange between Räikkönen and the pit wall during the final stages of last Sunday’s Indian Grand Prix. Räikkönen’s tyres were gone and his team-mate Grosjean needed to get past and keep Massa at bay. Räikkönen was told this, but then defended robustly and the pair made contact. Let’s just say that the new broadcasting beep function on radio messages was used in the next bit of advice aired to the Finn. “No need to shout you *beep*,” came the reply to trackside operations director Alan Permane (below).

In truth, the problems between Räikkönen and Lotus go further back than last Sunday as there has been an issue with unpaid wages for much of the season. Add this to the fact that Pirelli’s new tyres, which were introduced after the British Grand Prix debacle, haven’t suited the Finn, and it’s easy to see why tempers are fraying.

When Räikkönen was asked after FP2 what he would do if he wasn’t paid the money he is owed he replied, “I enjoy racing, I enjoy driving, but a big part of it is business and sometimes when that is not dealt with like it should be we end up in an unfortunate situation. You have to put the line somewhere, and if it goes over that, it is not really my fault any more.” The chance of him not racing in the final two Grands Prix is very real. He also commented that he only came to Abu Dhabi because an “understanding” had been found between him and the team. No doubt each party is counting down the days until the season is over and they can officially part ways.

There was some amusement surrounding Räikkönen today, however, as during the driver autograph session he signed what he needed to wearing a cap, sunglasses and… his headphones. You really can’t beat Formula 1’s driver/fan interaction.

Back to the Lotus situation: Maldonado has said that he’s looking at a lot of teams for next year, but one of those is Lotus. It’s easy to think, based on the Lotus’ current pace, that a move there from Williams would be a good idea. Not necessarily… Pat Symonds is in charge at Williams, attention was shifted to the 2014 challenger very early this season and the cars will have Mercedes powertrains. It could be a formidable package and a dark horse on the grid.

The other question Maldonado needs ask himself is whether Lotus will be as competitive next year as it has been this year. Gone is technical director James Allison, who is now Ferrari’s chassis technical director, and there is also the question mark over Lotus’ current financials.

In June it was announced that Infinity Racing Partners had become a 35 per cent shareholder in the team. The investor has since changed its name to Quantum Motorsports Ltd., to avoid confusion with Infiniti the manufacturer, but is yet to come up with the money. Despite Lotus remaining hopeful of the money surfacing a team insider wasn’t so sure when I talked to him. If the money does arrive then Lotus would like to take Nico Hulkenberg, if not, it’ll go for Maldonado and his PDVSA sponsorship.

There was some good news for Lotus today, though, as Romain Grosjean topped the time sheets in FP1. It wasn’t a particularly thrilling session as, this late in the year, engine and gearbox wear become an increasingly important factor. Coupled to that problem, teams don’t have enough tyres to run for the entirety of the hour and a half session. It’s a bizarre situation that leaves the first half hour of first practice devoid of track action apart from installation laps.

There was plenty of action in FP2, however. The temperature had dropped to 31 degrees and, more importantly, the track temperature had dropped well into the 30s from a high of 47 degrees this morning. The high temperatures for FP1 made things difficult for the teams as both qualifying and the race will be run when it’s cooler. There were various problems for drivers, most notably for Chilton whose front-left brake duct came off. He was one of many spinners and even Sebastian Vettel – who was fastest when the flag dropped – encountered problems in the shape of an odd smell. Horner believes it may have come from a car in front.

The good news is that the soft tyres look as though they will last for over 10 laps and Red Bull, while faster than the others, is not so far out in front that they’re uncatchable. Lotus looked good on long runs and Mercedes looks almost as fast as Red Bull over one lap.

McLaren went for something different with its car setup and the result could make for a very interesting race. Both Button and Pérez have opted for a low downforce setup so their cars are as slippery as possible. They’re fastest in a straight line and Pérez was also fastest in the first sector. They may have only ended up sixth and seventh in FP2, over half a second off Vettel’s best, but their top speed will mean that they should be able to make up places easier than most. When asked about the different setup Pérez commented, “It’s the way we have to balance the car. We’ve got low downforce so that we can overtake people, but it’s not just about that.”

There’s plenty of interest in the supporting races this weekend and in GP2 the title will be decided between Fabio Leimer, Sam Bird, Felipe Nasr and Stefano Coletti. James Calado also had an outside chance of the championship, but was handed a five-place grid penalty for Saturday’s feature race after it was deemed that he had forced Tom Dillmann off the track in the practice session. Marcus Ericsson was on pole, but exceeded track limits so now Alexander Rossi will start from the front with Sam Bird alongside him.

GP3 is also on the bill in Abu Dhabi and it sees the return of Dean Stoneman to single seaters. The Brit won the 2010 Formula 2 Championship and, as part of that, tested a Williams at the end of that season. He was all set to race in the Formula Renault 3.5 series alongside Daniel Ricciardo in 2011, but was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

A year later and he was back in the driving seat racing powerboats. He won the P1 SuperStock UK title in 2012 and then this year he has raced Radicals and won five races in the Porsche Carrera Cup Great Britain. The GP3 drive with Koiranen is a chance for him to get used to single seaters and things have started well with an eighth-place finish in the opening practice session. New Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat set the pace in practice, but Facu Regalia, Kevin Korjus and Conor Daly could also win the title this weekend.

The Porsche Supercup is also here this weekend for the title decider, but when the cars made their way onto the track for the first practice session it was a sad moment for many as the championship is now without the late Sean Edwards. Dane Niki Thiim is 18 points behind Edwards and is the only man who can stop him becoming a posthumous champion. It’s been a tough year for Thiim as he was drafted in by Aston Martin to drive its number 95 GTE-Am car in the 6 Hours of Sao Paolo after the death of compatriot Allan Simonsen in the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Abu Dhabi may not be everyone’s choice of circuit, but we’re in for a great weekend of racing in all four championships.

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history  I was there when... 2010 Korean GP


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