Nico Hulkenberg: “It was pretty annoying and frustrating…”

Nico Hulkenberg finished the 2014 season on a high with a solid sixth place in Abu Dhabi, but the Force India driver was frustrated to have lost 5s with a penalty for forcing Kevin Magnussen off track on the first lap.

Hulkenberg insisted that he was not at fault, and said that without the extra handicap he would have beaten Jenson Button to fifth place. The Briton finished 1.8s ahead.

“Not much we could do there,” he told this writer. “It was reported to the stewards, and once they decide, you can’t appeal it. It was pretty annoying and frustrating to have that, because I’d done nothing wrong, it was just the battle in the heat of the first lap of the race. Kevin was pushing me wide the corner before. We were going side-by-side around Turn 6 or 7, I wasn’t purposely pushing him wide, I was sliding, and that’s what happens.

“That’s racing, and we want to see racing, don’t we? I think we touched very slightly, nothing bad or serious. Otherwise I think it could have been a fifth place, I’m pretty certain. But still a very satisfying and good end to the year.”

Regarding Force India’s improvement in form from qualifying to the race he said: “That was quite unexpected and a surprise, to be honest. Obviously it’s good that the car is at its best in the race, but this performance is really a bit out of the blue. Since Friday we changed the set-up quite a bit, but we don’t do long runs from that point onwards.

“I was confident in the car, there was good harmony between me and the car, and it was going quite well. It’s been a trend always this year that in qualy we don’t seem as strong as in the race. On the aero side we still have a lot of work in front of us, we need to get better there.”

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Standing restarts abandoned after teams voice concerns

The plan to have standing starts after safety car periods in 2015 has been abandoned after this week’s meetings of the Strategy Group and F1 Commission.

The decision came after teams did more research into what it meant, and concerns emerged regarding issues such as tyre temperatures and pressures, and the complex procedures required in the cockpit prior to any start. There were also question marks over the build-up of tyre marbles on one side of the grid creating a handicap for drivers on that side.

As has been expected for some time double points for the final race have also gone after F1 insiders accepted that the public didn’t like the idea. Fortunately they did not affect the outcome of this year’s title battle, but they also did not contribute to extending it until the final race.

The original plan, as suggested by Bernie Ecclestone, had been to have three double point races, in order to reduce the risk of a team losing out through one bad weekend.

As discussed here on Friday teams have also provisionally agreed that the likes of Caterham and Marussia can use the 2014 spec engines, if they want to. They are likely to be cheaper than the 2015 spec, and in Caterham’s case at least will open up the chance to use the 2014 chassis without major modifications to accommodate new packaging. Currently rules allow manufacturers to homologate only one engine spec.

Any changes agreed at the F1 Commission now have to be passed by the World Motor Sport Council, which meets next week in Qatar.

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Tough start for McLaren Honda as car runs five laps in two days

McLaren and Honda endured another tough day in Abu Dhabi as Stoffel Vandoorne completed only two laps, bringing the MP4-29H/1×1 test car’s official total up to five for the two-day test – without setting a flying lap time.

The car appeared to be ready to run at the start of the day before an electrical issue intervened. In the afternoon Vandoorne did an installation lap, but when he went out for a four-lap run the car shut down on track. The team was not able to get it out again before the end of the day.

Although the whole point of the Abu Dhabi test was to find problems before running begins again in Jerez in February clearly both parties were expecting to do at least some representative mileage. This week has been poor reward given the effort involved in building the test car, which was a brand new chassis – and which in theory will not be used again, assuming that the new MP-30 is ready for the first test in February.

The team does still have the opportunity to use the older car in the first test and spend a bit more time developing the definitive model before it actually runs.
The other downside of the lack of mileage is that the team may have been using the Honda test in part as a way of evaluating whether or not Vandoorne is ready for a 2015 race seat, although in theory the Belgian will do a second year of GP2.

“Although this looked like another difficult day, this is just part of the learning experience we expected when we took on the interim car programme,” said team boss Eric Boullier. “It’s useful to discover these issues pre-Christmas, as it allows us to deepen our understanding of the complex integration between power-unit, ancillaries and the car.

“And, to be honest, I’d rather be ironing out these problems here in Abu Dhabi, than discovering them in Jerez, next February.

“It’s definitely been a positive for both McLaren and Honda to conduct this test – there have been some troublesome issues, but we’ve made progress. We’ve also made an excellent start to the relationship – communication and interaction have been great, and you can really feel the positivity and sense of purpose in the garage. Any mileage we accrued this week would simply have been a bonus.”

Honda motorsport boss Yasuhisa Arai added: “In short, this was a tricky day. We encountered system start-up and data communication issues that prevented us from running as we’d planned.

“However, actually conducting testing at the track enabled us to understand the complexity of the system at a deeper level. We now know what is necessary to further develop the system, and we’ll work together with McLaren to be ready for the next test – at Jerez in February.”

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Vergne reveals that he’s been dropped by Toro Rosso

Jean-Eric Vergne has used Twitter to reveal that he won’t be driving for Toro Rosso next year.

Red Bull’s Helmut Marko told this writer in Abu Dhabi that an announcement would come next week, so clearly Vergne has decided to or been allowed to pre-empt that.

Once source told this writer than Vergne has known since August – in effect when Max Verstappen entered the picture – that he would be out. It’s understood that team principal Franz Tost was keen to retain him in order to have one experienced driver in the line-up, but the decision was made by Red Bull.

The Frenchman said: “Despite a good season & 22 pts, I’ll not drive anymore for Toro Rosso in 2015. Thanks for those years. Let’s go for another big challenge.”

Confirmation of his departure obviously leaves the door open for Carlos Sainz Jr, who drove for Red Bull in Abu Dhabi yesterday. GP3 champion Alex Lynn, who tested for Lotus today, could be the logical choice as third driver for STR/RBR.

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Fernando Alonso: “I’m looking for better results than 10th…”

Fernando Alonso admits that he has mixed feelings about leaving Scuderia Ferrari – but he cites Felipe Massa’s 2014 results after leaving Maranello as an example that he intends to emulate.

Alonso and team mate Kimi Raikkonen finished the Abu Dhabi GP in ninth and 10th places after one of Ferrari’s worst races of the season.

“It’s mixed feelings,” said the Spaniard. “Obviously I will miss the team, I will miss the guys. There are great people inside. You are always the favourite, you are always in the eyes of the people a contender for the World Championship, and that we didn’t do it is a bad thing. I need to go with some proudness, with the head up, because I fought until the end, every single point, every single race.

“It was a nice experience, every driver should experience driving for Ferrari at least one year, because it’s a unique thing. But I’m looking for better results than 10th. I think it was hard also for Felipe last year after a long relationship to say bye-bye, and he’s second now, on the podium, and we are 10th, so it’s what I’m looking for.”

Regarding his last race for the team he said: “You wish to be on the podium at least or to enjoy it a little bit better. More or less I knew it was going to be tough, because we were not competitive all weekend. We had some fights out there, it was the maximum, and probably summarised how the season was – fighting for not important positions, and try to score some points.”

Meanwhile he was keen to praise former team mate Lewis Hamilton.

“I said on Thursday that any of the two who could be World Champion would be a well deserved champion. Lewis won 11 races this year, he was perfect all season long. He deserved the championship, and I hope he enjoys it. He will be the favourite again next year.”

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Sebastian Vettel: “It has been an incredible journey”

Sebastian Vettel’s six-year stint with Red Bull Racing came to an end with a frustrating drive from the pitlane to eighth place in Abu Dhabi, and as such it was a disappointing day for the putgoing World Champion.

The German got caught behind other cars and ultimately finished 35 seconds behind team mate Daniel Ricciardo, who also started from the pits. After the race Vettel admitted that his farewell weekend had been an emotional one.

“Once you’re in the car, and in that case the pit exit light goes green, you’re back in the rhythm and you do your race,” he said. “You don’t really have time to think about too many things. For sure crossing the line, it’s different coming back to all the previous years. This season hasn’t been great, so jumping out of the car, and not being happy with the race, for now I’m not the happiest guy.”

Reflecting on the end of his time at Red Bull he said: “I think it has been an incredible journey. Obviously we didn’t expect that when we started working together. You can never expect four titles, drivers’ and constructors’, in a row. Obviously you get to know some people in a very good way, you go through happy days, sad days. I think I learned a lot. That’s why I feel ready for the next step.”

Meanwhile he expects Mercedes to continue its winning form into next season.

“First of all they are the favourites going into the next season. I think it will very tough for [Lewis] to keep Nico behind, I think they had a very tight battle. I think Nico surprise a lot of people in many ways. I think it will be tight amongst then, and for the rest we will try our best to try and catch up. For now, in terms of regs, it doesn’t look like there’s too much progress being made, with Mercedes blocking the other teams. We have to wait and see what happens.”

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Paddy Lowe: “It wasn’t the ideal race for us…”

Mercedes F1 technical chief Paddy Lowe admits that the team has been frustrated by this year’s reliability problems, which struck again in the Abu Dhabi GP and cost the team the chance to end the year with yet another one-two finish.

“It wasn’t the ideal race for us, as we would have liked a one-two,” he told this writer. “We came into the race with a target of a one-two, and we told Nico that, even if it had meant Lewis had won the championship anyway.

“There was a failure in the cooling system for the hybrid systems, and that was the thing that caused everything to fall apart around it. That was the core of the problem, and it cascaded into a number of other issues. Everything is linked together – the turbo isn’t working very well, and so on. Different things were coming in and out.

“I think if we stand back and analyse the season as a whole we weren’t as reliable as we should have been, but actually the unreliability fell quite equitably in the end. But overall, great to win the race itself. It takes us to 16 wins, and it was great for Lewis.”

Summarising the team’s phenomenal 2014 campaign he said: “I think it’s been the most fantastic season, and we just wanted to finish it in a nice way, and that’s what’s been done. Of course Nico won’t particularly feel like that, but he’s been an absolutely fantastic sport, very respectful to Lewis and the team. Great credit to him for that, I think it must be quite difficult for him. He won the inaugural pole position trophy, and that’s no mean feat.

“This last part of the season they have both driven exceptionally well. It’s the closing part, where you’re under pressure, that really counts, and it’s most difficult to keep it together. Both of them have shown themselves to be capable World Champions, and that gives promise to Nico for the future.

“You can’t take anything for granted over the winter in F1. We just have to do our best and see where we turn up next year.”

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