x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Five things we learnt: It is getting close at Mercedes

Michael Schumacher's improved form is setting up a fascinating inter-team battle at Mercedes GP.

Nico Rosberg, left, is being caught in the drivers' standings by Michael Schumacher, his Mercedes GP teammate, with the gap down to just five points with two races to go.
Nico Rosberg, left, is being caught in the drivers' standings by Michael Schumacher, his Mercedes GP teammate, with the gap down to just five points with two races to go.

Michael Schumacher competitive edge spells good news for Yas

A Mercedes engineer confirmed last month that motivation is hard to come by now the team is secure in fourth position in the Constructors' Championship. Yet for the drivers there is still everything to fight for.

Schumacher, the seven-time world champion, arrived in India with teammate Nico Rosberg firmly in his sights and only seven championship points separating the two drivers. Starting the race in 11th, the 42 year old showed there is little stopping him when he has the bit between his teeth.

Rosberg started in seventh, yet by the chequered flag Schumacher - having been told he was "free to race" with his stablemate - finished 1.4 seconds ahead of him in fifth place.

The result closed the gap by two points and with the battle set to continue at Yas, the showdown between the two Silver Arrows will be one of the key duels to keep an eye on in two weeks' time.

Sebastian Vettel will not gift his teammate a race win

Red Bull Racing's two-time world champion, arriving in India with the Drivers' and Constructors' Championships wrapped up, had to repeatedly insist he was not lacking any desire to win.

The German proved exactly that on Sunday by completing his perfect day in which he converted pole into a race win, led from start to finish, and also secured fastest lap on his final circuit of the race.

Now the 24 year old's focus turns to Yas Marina Circuit in two weeks where he can secure a hat-trick of victories after wins in 2009 and 2010.

Motivation is not a problem for Vettel, but if it were he will also be acutely aware that victory in Abu Dhabi will take him to within one race win of equalling Michael Schumacher's record of 13 successes in a single season.

Mark Webber, his teammate, said he wants no positions off Vettel as he fights for his first win of the season, but with such records at stake for Vettel, any intention his team principal has of gifting Webber anything will likely fall on deaf ears. Vettel wants to win in Abu Dhabi. No doubt.

Tony Fernandes will pass up chance to redeem himself

The Team Lotus principal made an unpopular decision last week when he announced Karun Chandhok, the Indian driver, would not be racing in Sunday's main event.

The Malaysian was bombarded by criticism on the social networking site Twitter and when Jarno Trulli - the Italian who kept the seat Chandhok had hoped to fill - spun on the opening lap after being hit by another car, the flak intensified.

With Abu Dhabi providing a large Indian expatriate community, Fernandes could give Chandhok a chance at Yas Marina, but with his team still fighting to secure 10th place in the Constructors' Championship, the Indian driver knows the best he can hope for is another outing in the first free practice session of the weekend.

It was confirmed at Buddh International Circuit that Frenchman Romain Grosjean will take part in FP1 at Yas for Renault.

Fernandes will be sure to keep a close eye on how Chandhok performs in comparison to the GP2 champion.

Yas to get first glimpse of future stars

With the Young Drivers' Test at Yas Marina Circuit quickly approaching, several teams have started sounding out potential candidates to take part in the three-day programme, which runs the week immediately after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Toro Rosso, who already have a challenge on their hands in squeezing Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastien Buemi and Daniel Ricciardo into two race seats for next season, are close to agreeing to provide Stefano Coletti, the 22-year-old Monaco driver, a chance to prove himself. The Red Bull-owned manufacturers are also keeping a close eye on the Italian Kevin Ceccon.

Toro Rosso had been linked with Charles Pic, but the Frenchman, it seems, will now run with Force India. Estonia's Kevin Korjus, 18, is expected to run with Renault alongside Christian Vietoris, while Sauber confirmed last week they will test Esteban Gutierrez, the Mexican, and Fabian Leimer of Switzerland.

India has a massive future in F1

Uncertainty surrounded the inaugural Indian Grand Prix. Would the track be finished? Would the country get behind the race? Would the drivers avoid the much-anticipated Delhi belly?

The answers were all an emphatic yes. Not only was the circuit finished, but it offered what the drivers said was one of the most challenging and fun tracks on the 19-race calendar. More than 95,000 spectators turned up on race day, 50,000 for qualifying and only McLaren's hospitality team suffered any stomach troubles.

Vettel said he is "already looking forward to coming back next year" and few could blame him.

Not since Abu Dhabi in 2009 has an inaugural race seen such enthusiasm. If India can build on this year - and they undoubtedly will - the country can prove to be a major player in the future of the sport.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae