We Are Family: F1’s Tear Jerker Finale And a Look For The Future
We always knew that once the weekend commenced for the final round of the year in Abu Dhabi this weekend that it was indeed going to be an emotional rollercoaster of a Grand Prix, dare I say even more so than the ordinary season finale. We saw fan favourites Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo run their last races with their well known teams Ferrari and Red Bull as they head for pastures new in 2019, but we also say goodbye – for now at least - to drivers such as Stoffel Vandoorne and Esteban Ocon, and a very emotional goodbye to two time champion and all round Formula One legend, Fernando Alonso.
As the race got underway it was Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg who was the one to bow out first, in very dramatic fashion. The German driver found himself barrel rolling across the track at the turns 7/8 chicane after an ill fated pass saw him make contact with the Haas of Romain Grosjean. The car landed on the barrier and caught fire for a couple of seconds, but thankfully Hulkenberg got out with the aid of the marshals and was deemed okay after a quick check over in the local medical centre.
A sad retirement for Kimi Raikkonen saw his final race with Ferrari sadly end prematurely. Kimi was in contention early on for a podium to break his record of 12 podiums in a year but it was sadly not to be as his SF71-H grinded to a halt on the pit straight on lap 8. Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon were also casualties to mechanical failures throughout the race as well, and Marcus Ericsson suffered a total shutdown in his Sauber C37, ending his final race early before a full time assault in the USA for 2019 in Indycar for Ericsson.
It was a fantastic run for Ferrari bound Charles Leclerc, running as high as fourth and challenging Ricciardo’s Red Bull in the opening laps, came home with a fantastic seventh place to go with his magnificent roundup of points finished throughout the year. I am particularly looking forward to Leclerc in a Ferrari in 2019, he’s a very mature young guy and an amazing all round driver, I don’t recall being so impressed by a rookie in his first F1 year such as Leclerc has impressed. Do not surprised if he leaves Vettel behind next year and goes on for a proper title charge, he might just even do it.
Daniel Ricciardo would finish in fourth for Red Bull in his and final race for the team, before he moves to Renault to partner Hulkenberg for 2019, while outgoing driver Carlos Sainz will move to replace his idol Alonso at McLaren, rounded up my a lovely farewell message from Team Principal Christian Horner after the chequered flag. Ricciardo, disappointed that he could not get a final podium for Red Bull, was nevertheless happy that he finished so high and was glad for what he had accomplished at the team. Ricciardo understands that going to Renault will be a big step and that maybe for a while at least podiums and wins will not be in reach but he is ready and excited for the challenge and together with the team you can be rest assured they will work as hard as ever to bring the team back to the top.
There was a beautiful ending to the race as eventual winner Lewis Hamilton and 2nd placed Sebastian Vettel escorted former championship rival Alonso to the pit straight and the trio engaged in some celebratory donuts for the crowd. There was an intense feeling of an era ending and that everything had finally come circle for these three and they’re story in F1. It was a brilliant sense of camaraderie and family, with the drivers showing true respect and admiration to each other for what they do. It was truly an amazing moment and while Vettel and Hamilton will do battle once again in 2019, I would not be surprised in the slightest to see Alonso return in the coming years if he gets a decent chance. After all, who’d have thought Michael Schumacher would ever make a return? For next year, Alonso will continue in the World Endurance Championship with Toyota, as well as giving another crack at the Indianapolis 500, a race he came close to victory in 2017, so no doubt we will still see plenty of him.
For everyone else on the move, it seems as things are finally settling down. As mentioned Kimi Raikkonen is to be replaced by Charles Leclerc at Ferrari, with Raikkonen returning to his debut team, Sauber, for the next two years. Kimi has made it clear that he does not care for wins or championships, and just simply wants to race and help the already approving Swiss team, he will be partnered by Ferrari junior driver Antonio Giovinazzi for 2019. Esteban Ocon will be replaced by Lance Stroll at Force India next year, while Ocon will take up a reserve and sim driver role with Mercedes with the intention to return for 2020. F2 legends George Russell and Lando Norris will step up to F1 with Williams and McLaren respectively for 2019, while Polish driver Robert Kubica will make a much welcome return to the grid for 2019, marking an eight year gap due to his injuries he sustained in a rally accident in 2011.
Big changes at Red Bull also as Pierre Gasly makes the step up to join Max Verstappen due to Ricciardo’s departure to Renault. Red Bull will also swap their Power Units for next year changing to Honda after being impressed due with the performance with the sister team Toro Rosso this year, so they will definitely be ones to watch in their quest to taste championship glory once again. Stoffel Vandoorne will also make the move to Formula E, joining Mercedes backed Formula E team HWA for a campaign in the fifth season of the season. Plenty of exciting things to look out for in 2019.
With 112 days and counting until we let the lights out and race once again in Melbourne it’s time now to switch off and prepare for a blast of a season in 2019, and what a blast it so promises to be…