Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, Yas Marina, 2016

Will F1’s last race on high-degradation tyres serve up a championship surprise?

2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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The last race of the season is a time for goodbyes.

Felipe Massa is leaving and so is the FIA’s long-serving deputy race director Herbie Blash. Jenson Button is more than likely hanging up his helmet for good too.

Pirelli reveal 2017 tyres, Yas Marina, 2016
Pirelli’s new, wider and ‘low-deg’ 2017 tyres
And there’s another change which is significant but has attracted much less attention. Formula One’s six-year experiment with high-degradation tyres is coming to an end.

When Pirelli arrived as F1’s official tyre supplier at the beginning of 2011 it was requested to provide tyre which would degrade in performance, force drivers to make more pit stops and encourage overtaking. However its new brief is to reduce degradation and allow drivers to push flat-out for longer.

We will discover next year whether they have been successful. For now the question is whether F1’s last race with high-degradation tyres will produce a lively race – and even decide the championship outcome.

You would have been forgiven for thinking the low-degradation tyres had arrived early during first practice. Nico Rosberg ran the ultra-soft tyre from the start and found such little drop-off that his eighth lap was just seven thousandths slower than his best.

Come second practice, when the track had cooled slightly, the ultra softs were not lasting quite as long. But several drivers were still able to improve their times after their first lap.

There was as good as nothing to choose between the Mercedes drivers whose sector times were within a few hundredths of each other. Lewis Hamilton was narrowly ahead but one of his rivals suggested his team mate had some more time in his pocket.

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Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Yas Marina, 2016
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix practice in pictures
“Maybe Nico is holding back a bit and not showing Lewis too much,” said Daniel Ricciardo. “I think everyone predicts Lewis to take pole so it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out tomorrow.” Rosberg took pole position for the last two races at Yas Marina.

Hamilton has led the way in the last three races which has prompted speculation he may try to hold Rosberg up in the race to give himself a chance of winning the title. Max Verstappen reckons it’s a given. But Hamilton needs to qualify ahead of Rosberg in the first place to make it happen.

Practice gave Rosberg some encouragement on that score. First, because Hamilton was not that far ahead And second, because Ferrari appear to be quick enough over a single lap to challenge Red Bull.

Sebastian Vettel out-paced the two RB12s in second practice. If the red cars line up ahead of the Red Bulls that’s good for Rosberg, as they are likely to be less of a threat over a race stint. Vettel’s gearbox failure will not lead to a penalty as it occurred on a practice unit.

Red Bull’s practice pace on the soft tyres indicated they are in the same region as Mercedes (see below). Whether they get to use that pace will depend on whether the opportunity to pit early comes up and if they feel the rubber will last long enough – the story of the last six years.

Longest stint comparison – second practice

This chart shows all the drivers’ lap times (in seconds) during their longest unbroken stint. Very slow laps omitted. Scroll to zoom, drag to pan, right-click to reset:

Complete practice times

PosDriverCarFP1FP2Total laps
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’42.8691’40.86163
2Nico RosbergMercedes1’43.2431’40.94068
3Sebastian VettelFerrari1’44.0051’41.13057
4Max VerstappenRed Bull-TAG Heuer1’43.2971’41.38949
5Daniel RicciardoRed Bull-TAG Heuer1’43.3621’41.39059
6Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’44.5561’41.46460
7Valtteri BottasWilliams-Mercedes1’45.9401’41.95965
8Sergio PerezForce India-Mercedes1’44.1551’42.04157
9Nico HulkenbergForce India-Mercedes1’42.26436
10Felipe MassaWilliams-Mercedes1’45.0391’42.26862
11Fernando AlonsoMcLaren-Honda1’46.3791’42.36653
12Jenson ButtonMcLaren-Honda1’47.1271’42.82334
13Esteban GutierrezHaas-Ferrari1’45.9251’43.01254
14Romain GrosjeanHaas-Ferrari1’45.6001’43.10830
15Jolyon PalmerRenault1’46.2191’43.27265
16Esteban OconManor-Mercedes1’43.60035
17Pascal WehrleinManor-Mercedes1’46.4581’43.75461
18Felipe NasrSauber-Ferrari1’45.7781’43.90353
19Marcus EricssonSauber-Ferrari1’45.1681’44.04553
20Kevin MagnussenRenault1’46.3721’44.11745
21Carlos Sainz JnrToro Rosso-Ferrari1’44.6851’44.47825
22Alfonso CelisForce India-Mercedes1’45.47625
23Daniil KvyatToro Rosso-Ferrari2’01.9891’45.9488
24Jordan KingManor-Mercedes1’47.55826

2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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18 comments on “Will F1’s last race on high-degradation tyres serve up a championship surprise?”

  1. State of F1 today. Everyone talked about which Mercedes will take the pole. No driver outside Mercedes fancy a pole anymore. Sad.

    1. Welcome to Bernie Ecclestone’s F1.

    2. What a complete contrast to four years ago. I just want this season to end and hopefully it gets better in 2017.

    3. Lynda.R.J.Green
      25th November 2016, 23:54

      You mean like it was during other teams periods of dominance in the past.

      Whats happened with Mercedes the past 3 years is nothing new & is something that will happen again in the future, It’s just the nature of F1 & always will be.

      modern fans just don’t get it, those who have been watching long term know & except that dominance is just part of the game as we have been there before & understand that we will see it again.

      im actually hoping that red bull dominate 2017 just to see what all the cry baby modern fans who have cried about mercedes have to say about that, then we will truly see how much of the past 3 years has simply been anti-mercedes from bernie, the fia & most fans.

  2. Personally, I would refrain from saying “last race with high-degradation tyres” until after the first race of next season when we see how well Pirelli have done.

    1. @eurobrun it’d be more appropiate to say “last race with designed to degrade tyres”. Maybe next year they’ll be designed to last a long time and they’ll degrade fast anyway…

  3. I don’t expect any surprises from the final race, Mercedes will lock out the front row in qualifying and then whichever of their drivers makes the better start will go on to win the race.

    If one of them makes a bad start and drops down the field the pace advantage Mercedes have means they should recover to the podium.

    So when the chequered flags drops on Sunday and the season is over, Rosberg will be crowned the new World Champion.

  4. Woke up this morning with a hunch that told me Kimi is going to win this race. My bookie on the other hand is hoping he doesn’t win. People wasted their money at the retailers I played it smart and wasted my black friday money on Kimi. #coldasice

    1. Well, luckily for your bookie Ferrari is always keen to ruin a good race with some bad strategy calls.

      1. Leave me alone I know what I am doing.

    2. For some reason I have a hunch he will win too (I am TOTALLY not biased by my user name…).

      1. Man.. I had I’m exact same hunch in my merry state last night!

    3. My predictions say Kimi P1.

  5. I had a dream Hamilton’s engine was blowing while in a good position, i was in rage only to find out it was a dream 😅

    1. A prediction. Maybe not very likely but who knows.

      Nico Rosberg gets pole tomorrow, but on Sunday a divebomb by Max ruins his start, they both DNF and Max gets a six points penalty.

      Lewis avoids the tangle and scampers away. A win and the title are close at hand. Then he bins it with no one and nothing whatsoever to blame but himself. DNF. Kimi wins, with Dan and Hulk in the podium. Nico gets the WDC. End of.

      1. I don’t see Hamilton crashing out by himself. Rather a goodbye from his engine with very flames for the show in the last laps.
        Bernie would love that scenario!

        1. very high flames*

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