Ricciardo must build on strong qualifying
Daniel Ricciardo needed a strong qualifying performance at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Saturday.
Since finishing second in Singapore in September, the Red Bull Racing driver has been comprehensively put in the shade by his younger teammate Max Verstappen.
Saturday’s effort, though, saw the Australian qualify for Sunday's race in fourth. It is only the third time in the past 11 races that he had been quicker than his young Dutch teammate, who was sixth, on a Saturday in 2017.
The big thing now for Riccirardo is to back up his strong qualifying performance with a competitive race, ideally pushing for the win against the Mercedes-GP cars of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton and the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel. But at the very least he needs to beat Verstappen.
Verstappen has been the star of the final third of the season, with wins in Malaysia and Mexico, and he has scored the most points of any driver in the past five races.
By comparison Ricciardo has struggled, though not all of it is down to him as he has suffered reliability problems, which saw him fail to finish in the United States and Brazil.
Ricciardo said on Thursday that he wanted to learn from this season and come back stronger in 2018.
Beating Verstappen on Sunday for the first time in a race they both finished since Italy in September will certainly give him confidence he can do that.
- Qualifying: Bottas sets Yas Marina Circuit record to claim pole for Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
- Christian Horner: Max Verstappen will 'get stronger and stronger', says Red Bull team principal
Safety car options
You have to go back to 2012 for the last time there was a full safety car period at Yas Marina Circuit during the grand prix.
Statistically speaking that means we are probably due one, or at the very least a Virtual Safety Car (VSC), where rather than the track being at full caution, the drivers have to drive at a reduced rate, meeting a safe delta time, while whatever hazard or problem is cleared away.
A VSC is not as dramatic as a full safety car as the field does not bunch up, but it does throw up potential strategy variances.
Pitting under the VSC, if it works with your strategy, can be advantageous as the cars on the track are going slower than they normally would be.
This has been seen to work, most notably in Spain in May when Lewis Hamilton pitted behind the VSC and gained almost seven seconds on Sebastian Vettel.
A VSC on Sunday could give Ferrari and Red Bull the chance to attack and make life more complicated for Mercedes.
Massa v Alonso one more time
It is fitting that Felipe Massa faces one final scrap with Fernando Alonso.
The Williams driver will retire after the race, the 269th of his career, and he starts 10th on the grid. If the Brazilian finishes in that spot he will score one championship point and complete a perfect record of eight starts and eight points finishes at Yas Marina Circuit.
With the Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull cars looking in a class of their own, and both Force Indias and the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg looking to have an edge on him, finishing higher than 10th for Massa looks like a tall order, unless some of those ahead of him hit trouble.
The biggest threat to his perfect points record will be Alonso, the double world champion, who starts 11th in his McLaren.
The two were teammates at Ferrari for four years from 2010 and 2013, and they had a cracking duel in Brazil two weeks ago for seventh place, which went Massa's way.
A similar result on Sunday will prove to be a popular result.
- Lance Stroll interview: Williams driver keeping his feet on the ground after record-breaking debut season
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Fight for sixth
On paper, with the main championships already won by Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes-GP respectively, there is not much at stake other than pride for the rest.
But each place in the constructors’ standings earns more prize money, so the fight for sixth place between Toro Rosso (53 points), Renault (49) and Haas (47) is important to those three teams; the extra money earned for finishing as high as possible will help towards a team's budget for next season.
Hulkenberg’s strong seventh place in qualifying gives Renault hope they can leapfrog Toro Rosso and take sixth place, especially with the Italian teams struggles around the Abu Dhabi track that saw Pierre Gasly qualify 17th and Brandon Hartly last.