The top F1 teams have nothing left to play for in Abu Dhabi this weekend other than pride, but there’s a battle royal further down the order- with US$12 million of prize money at stake.
Williams has all but clinched fifth in the constructors’ standings, barring in any freak results, but the fight for sixth in the championship is still very much alive and kicking.
Realistically, this battle is between three teams – Toro Rosso, Renault and Haas, although McLaren still has a slim chance of leapfrogging the trio…as long as either Stoffel Vandoorne or Fernando Alonso win. Stranger things have happened.
Although the battle for sixth place sounds like a mere formality, there’s plenty riding on it – namely, the distribution of prize money. The “Column 2” prize money payments are based wholly on a team’s position in the constructors’ championship, and based on last year’s figures, the difference between finishing sixth and eighth in the standings was approximately $12m.
Last year sixth place paid out $31m and eighth place $19m. That is on top of a payment of around $36m for every team. For the smaller teams this is the only revenue they receive from the sport, unlike the top teams that share a bonus pot based on heritage and past successes. So every few million really counts and is the difference between hiring several engineers and launching more development programmes.
Although $12m is roughly 10% of a team’s annual budget at this level of the grid, it can still make a massive difference in how much a team is able to invest into research and development, which drivers it can sign, or whether it’ll even be on the grid the following year.
As such, the importance of climbing (or retaining) positions in the constructors’ championship should provide an exciting undercurrent to events in Abu Dhabi.
Although Toro Rosso, Renault and Haas are all well-funded outfits, their respective championship positions will nonetheless have an effect on each team’s competitiveness later down the line. Let’s look at who’s in the best position to get that coveted spot.
Current incumbent Toro Rosso has had a relatively successful season on-track having scored 53 points, largely courtesy of Carlos Sainz Jr., but since his departure the Red Bull junior team has managed just a single championship point – scored by persona non grata Daniil Kvyat in Austin. They have blanked since.
The team has shown faith by re-signing current pairing Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley for 2018, but so far points have been beyond either of the duo. Considering that the Toro Rosso duo has been beset by Renault engine penalties and difficulty in making the second qualifying session, the team may find it tough to hang onto sixth – especially as the long straights at Abu Dhabi hardly complement the STR12’s lack of straight-line speed.
Renault is certainly the best funded of the three competing outfits, and Sainz’s move to the team has boosted its aspirations of climbing the ranks – instead of relying on just Hulkenberg’s points, the late addition of the highly-rated Sainz provides the Enstone outfit with greater strength in depth.
Just four points behind Toro Rosso, Abu Dhabi would certainly be the best place for Renault to score its first double-points finish of the year.
Like Toro Rosso, Renault has struggled with the reliability of its power unit. As the season draws to a close, what the team can achieve relies on the condition of their remaining engine components, and while the team faces the same power deficiencies as its Renault-powered rival, the stronger driving staff could give Renault the edge.
A further two points behind, Haas has benefitted from an extra year’s experience – and a more evenly-matched driver line-up in Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen – to better its debut season tally of 29 points.
The American team ended its development of the VF-17 chassis earlier in the season, and is perhaps at a disadvantage compared to its better-funded rivals. That said, Magnussen delivered a sterling eighth place finish at Mexico, a venue at which Haas struggled.
Haas’ Ferrari power unit – believed to be just short of the power output boasted by Mercedes – could pay dividends in the two DRS zones, and the VF-17 chassis has been quite solid in more technical layouts, so could prove strong in Yas Marina’s final sector.
However, Haas’s performance tends to fluctuate dramatically between weekends, and hopes also rest on whether Grosjean and Magnussen can stay out of trouble.
The sun may have already set on the title battles, but it’s still all to play for in the midfield. Expect to see no quarter given as the three teams battle over the final points-paying positions at Abu Dhabi – when night falls, only one team can end the year on top.
Who do you think will come out on top in this fierce battle for status and prize money? Leave your comment in the section below