Phew – what a season finale! It was a breathtaking finish to what has been a turbulent season for the Scuderia Ferrari, but a strong race strategy and incredible drives from Seb and Kimi meant the team scored an end of season podium – a fitting finale to end the season on a high!
Seb’s incredible late speed and perfect race strategy surprised the Red Bull and Mercedes teams as he piled on the pressure in the later stages of the GP. With fresher Supersoft tyres he was the quickest car on track by a considerable amount of time, his aggressive approach seeing him overtake both Red Bull drivers and quickly put his SF16-H behind the Mercedes car to then eventually finish only quarter of a second behind newly crowned F1 Champion, Nico Rosberg. Kimi Raikkonen had rocketed off the start line and up to P3 before settling for P6 at the end of 55 laps.
The team could feel the party atmosphere in Abu Dhabi when both Seb and Kimi had arrived in Yas Marina. The positive mood of the team showed on track, both Scuderia Ferrari drivers topping the timing sheets in Free Practice 3 and staying competitive throughout the last qualifying session of the season.
The pre-race tension was building up and down the paddock. Finally, the green light lit up and away they went for one last qualifying battle of the season. After three intense sessions, Kimi had out-qualified his teammate taking P4 with a time of 1:39.604 and Seb alongside him in P5 thanks to his 1:39.661. Both drivers would start the race on used Ultrasoft tyres to give them the best possible run down to Turn 1 after the lights were out.
All eyes turned to race day and the Abu Dhabi GP. There was one last ‘duel in the desert’ for the F1 show. Scuderia Ferrari would line up on the grid in their starting positions alongside rivals as they turned up their engines for the start – sharing over 21,000 combined horse-power on the grid, with tyre temperatures also at their peak to increase grip from the launch off the grid.
The five red lights lit up, flashed out and the Abu Dhabi GP was underway! Kimi launched off the line zipping around the Red Bull and up into P3, then moving on to challenge for P2. Seb was up to P5 by the end of the first lap. The first pit-window opened and the team seized the opportunity to put fresh tyres on both cars, with the two drivers switching to the Soft tyre compound for stint two. The race settled into a rhythm with both drivers staying competitive, fighting at the front of the pack. Kimi would take his second pit-stop to stick with the Soft tyre, a move that would see him through to the end of the race. However, incredibly Seb managed to complete 29 laps in stint two and made a call to use the Supersoft tyres until the end of the Abu Dhabi GP.
The season finale entered into the final stages of the Grand Prix, the atmosphere was intense and heart-rates were increasing. There was an F1 Championship at stake for the two Mercedes drivers, so race leader Lewis Hamilton was slowing the race down, hoping his teammate would fall victim to fast-moving Seb.
Seb recorded several quick laps and on lap 43, he set the fastest time of the Grand Prix racing around the Yas Marina Circuit in 1:43.729 and carrying average speeds of 192.75kph! He was 2-seconds faster than the front-runners. A solid race strategy meant that Seb had fought his way to the podium in P3 and ran Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes a very close second. Kimi was in control of his race in P6.
When the chequered flag waved after 55 tense laps, four cars were all in within a second of each other – incredible scenes and a breathtaking finish to the season. The team was delighted with the result; it was a well-deserved podium for Scuderia Ferrari, Seb and Kimi.
With the season wrapped up, Seb consolidated his fourth position in the Driver Championship and Kimi held on to sixth position. More importantly, the Scuderia Ferrari team took third place in the Constructors Championship.
A delighted Seb said:
“I think it was an important race for us today: in the final laps, I would have liked to gain two more positions, because the speed was there; but it was difficult to make the move because the car in front also benefited from a tow. Nevertheless as a team we deserve this podium, and I hope it gives some momentum to all of us. It has been a tough year, with lots of up and downs, so I am really happy with this result. About our global performance in 2016, I think we don’t need to find any story or invent something. I think we expected more; but after the first half, where we could have scored more points, I think we showed real strength by coming back. In the last couple of Grand Prix we had very good race pace, always enough to match Red Bull, and probably even a bit quicker: but that was not the case on Saturdays, and that made Sundays more difficult. Overall we showed the stamina that the team has. The spirit is unbroken, and I know that we will work hard, because Ferrari deserves to come back. All in all we learned a lot, we made a lot of progress. Today is Nico’s day, well done to him. I think you don’t win the Championship by luck, and it is a sign of respect to give him this. He is a deserving champion.”
The garage door now closes on the 2016 season and the team will begin working hard on developing the new 2017 car and implementing changes from the new FIA rules that will be in place next season. The car is projected to look very different to this season’s SF16-H, with a more aerodynamic feel – increased downforce, wider front wing, lower rear wing and wider tyres to help with mechanical grip in the corners. Drivers have had time on the simulator to understand how the car will drive, but there are still a lot of unknowns at this stage…
Unfortunately there are no sneak-peeks but stay tuned for the grand reveal in early 2017!
This podium finish is a boost to the motivation of the whole team, for the people back home, who have been working so hard since this summer, and for the ones at the track, who never gave up. It’s clear that we did not reach the targets we had set for ourselves, yet this last race shows that something is moving in the right direction. Maurizio Arrivabene