F1 bids farewell to 2017 with Abu Dhabi fizzer

Valtteri Bottas, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel celebrate on the 2017 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix podium.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix won’t be remembered for its on-track action or closely contested podium fight, but the 2017 Formula One season finale was a milestone weekend for the sport nonetheless.

Valtteri Bottas was the emphatic victor, beating teammate and world champion-elect Lewis Hamilton to pole position and off the line to record his third win of the season.

Tasting the winner’s champagne was an important marker for Bottas, whose impressive early season pace dropped off dramatically after the August midseason break.

His slow recovery to race-winning form took him to pole in Brazil two weeks ago only to see the lead snatched from him at the first turn, but in Abu Dhabi he made no such errors en route to the top step of the podium.

“I’m very happy for him, for his brain, [after] the problems he’s had during the year,” Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda told Sky Sports F1. “I’m really happy for him and his team, his mechanics — everybody.”

The Yas Marina Circuit offered little in the way of action behind the leading Mercedes cars, but as the final round of the year the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix had a number of stories readymade, chief amongst them the retirement of F1 stalwart Felipe Massa.

After briefly retiring last year only to be recalled when Bottas was drafted to Mercedes to replace the suddenly outbound Nico Rosberg, Massa took his second and presumably definitive bow in Formula One with a 10th-place finish.

The sport will remember Massa fondly and for the emotional scenes at the end of the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix, where he lost the championship to Lewis Hamilton in the final seconds of a chaotic race.

The dignity with which he conducted himself on the podium, having won the race but lost the ultimate prize, will stick fast in the sport’s collective consciousness forever.

A far less emotional farewell took place in McLaren’s motorhome, where the sport’s second most successful team finally reached the end of its wretched three-year relationship with engine partner Honda.

McLaren drafted Honda back into the sport from 2015 in an effort to rekindle the duo’s glory years of the late 1980s and early 1990s, but the Japanese company could bring the English team only broken dreams.

Asked for his fondest memories of the season, tortured star Fernando Alonso responded, “The Indianapolis [500] weeks were definitely the highlight of the year for me”, referring to his decision to skip the Monaco Grand Prix in favour of an IndyCar sojourn.

But with a deal to use Renault power from 2018 now in place, the mood at McLaren-post race was one of optimism for brighter days ahead.

With most of the loose ends tied up by the end of the race — only Williams and Sauber’s driver line-ups remain unconfirmed — Formula One had a final announcement to make when podium comperes Martin Brundle and David Coulthard introduced a replacement to Formula One’s 23-year-old logo.

The change will mark January’s one-year anniversary of Liberty Media buying F1’s commercial rights and will be the centre of a whole-of-brand relaunch that will include a new television presentation, a fresh digital presence and, crucially, online broadcasts of the 2018 season in select territories.

The relaunch further distances the sport from its Bernie Ecclestone era and is the first step in what will be a commercial and technical overhaul of Formula One by 2021.

The end of 2017 is less a page-turn and more of a fresh chapter, then, for Formula One ahead of the 2018 season — if only someone could beat those silver Mercedes cars.

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