PULCINI VICTORIOUS AS HUBERT CROWNED CHAMPION
Italian soars to 2nd win, Frenchman celebrates on podium
Leonardo Pulcini claimed his second victory of the season in fine style in this afternoon’s Race 1 at Yas Marina Circuit, fighting off an early challenge before powering all the way to the flag for a popular win, but most eyes were focussed a little further back as Anthoine Hubert did everything he needed to claim the final GP3 Series drivers’ title before easing off at the end to finish on the podium behind David Beckmann.
Temperatures were soaring as the lights went out, with poleman and title challenger Nikita Mazepin unable to match Pulcini’s glorious getaway: the Russian cut straight across to cover the challenge, and although Hubert made a strong start he was in no position to risk a move at turn 1 and fell into line behind the front row starters but ahead of Callum Ilott, who mugged teammate Jake Hughes at the first corner, Beckmann and Ryan Tveter.
Pulcini knew he had an advantage, and he played it almost immediately: the Italian outdragged Mazepin on the long back straight for the lead, with Beckmann copying the move on Hughes for P5. The Russian was not finished though, knowing that he needed victory to keep his title hopes alive, and he pushed Pulcini before outbraking for the lead at the marina on lap 4, but a slightly wide line at the hotel complex on the next lap allowed the Italian back into P1.
Mazepin tried the marina move once again on lap 6, but Pulcini was alert to the danger: the Russian went too deep and ran off, but in his hurry to restart the battle he missed the bollard around which he needed to rejoin the track, and the subsequent 10 second time penalty effectively ended his title run.
If the move meant that the front runners could focus on preserving their cars and tyres, further back there was more action to be had: Beckmann run through Ilott at the marina for P4 on lap 9, while Giuliano Alesi started his progression up the points by claiming Tveter’s scalp behind him, while a lap later Hughes repaid his teammate by outbraking Ilott for P5. Beckmann and Hughes squabbled over P4 for a few laps before the German could finally pull away and focus on the target ahead in the closing laps.
With the title in his pocket Hubert had no reason to fight too hard for P3, particularly as it was coming back to him at the end of the race, and gave way to Beckmann at the marina chicane on the final lap, but up front Pulcini was greeted by the flag some 8.6 seconds ahead of the German and the 2018 GP3 Champion, with Ilott hanging on for 4th and Mazepin, who was 2nd on the road before his penalty, was handed P5 ahead of a charging Alesi, who mugged Hughes on the penultimate lap, with Juan Manuel Correa surviving a late squabble for P8 and tomorrow’s pole with Simo Laaksonen and Tatiana Calderon.
MAZEPIN STORMS TO ABU DHABI POLE
Nikita Mazepin has set sail on his championship fightback with a fine pole position in this afternoon’s GP3 Series qualifying session at the Yas Marina Circuit, grabbing P1 as the chequered flag dropped to deny title rival Anthoine Hubert a vital chance to pull away in the points: the Frenchman will line up behind his teammate and Leonardo Pulcini in P3 on tomorrow’s grid.
The Russian stopped the clocks at 1:54.885, less than a tenth ahead of his closest rival, but more importantly for him the lap meant that the title fight closes to just 27 points, with 44 on offer for the remainder of this final race weekend of 2018.
With temperatures increasing from this morning’s free practice session, this afternoon’s qualifying was white hot from the start. Callum Ilott led his ART teammates and the rest of the field out when the lights went green, with Mazepin, Hubert and Jake Hughes swapping the top spot between them as the times tumbled.
Hubert led the way as the entire field returned to the pits for fresh rubber and new ideas, setting the fastest times in the first two sectors in the process. With 8 minutes remaining the pack emerged looking refreshed, and soon recommenced battle for the top spot. Richard Verschoor and then Hubert and then Pulcini briefly sat on the top of the pile, and with one minute remaining the Dutchman led his rivals on track for the one remaining lap.
As the chequered flag dropped Verschoor didn’t have enough for P1, then Pulcini got one hand on pole until Mazepin crossed the line just behind him: when Hubert and Ilott were unable to improve enough the Russian pumped his fist with joy as he toured back to the paddock. Hughes had done just enough to usurp Ilott in P4, with Trident drivers David Beckmann, Giuliano Alesi and Ryan Tveter filling out the top 10 ahead of Simo Laaksonen and Juan Manuel Correa. With 16 drivers within a second of pole there was little in the fight today, which promises to promote the one to come in Race 1 tomorrow.
FORMULA 3 CAR UNVEILED IN ABU DHABI
KUBICA ‘TO RETURN TO F1 IN 2019 WITH WILLIAMS’ EIGHT YEARS AFTER INJURY FROM RALLYING ACCIDENT.
Kubica is set to complete a fairytale return to Formula One in 2019, eight years after nearly losing his hand in a rally crash, according to reports.
The 33-year-old is set to be named in Williams’ driver line-up for next season, with an announcement expected this weekend at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The veteran Polish racer would partner British rookie George Russell for the struggling Williams team, who are bottom of the constructors’ championship.
ccording to Autosport, Kubica has agreed a deal which will see him in an F1 race seat for the first time since 2010.
Kubica raced for BMW Sauber for four years and spent the 2010 campaign with Renault, before suffering horrendous injuries in February 2011.
He was injured in a crash during a rally in Italy. His arm was partially severed and he suffered fractures to his elbow, shoulder and leg.
However he has fought his way back to the top of motor sport, and was reserve driver for Williams in 2018 having also tested for Renault.
It would mean Williams will completely change their driver line-up for 2019, having raced with Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin this campaign.
The Canadian and Russian have struggled, scoring just seven points with a best race finish of eighth, for Stroll in Azerbaijan.
Autosport also report that Kubica will bring significant sponsorship from Poland, allowing them to partner the experienced racer with youngster Russell
THE RED BULL ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX PREVIEW
Daniel Ricciardo“Abu Dhabi has always been a pretty good track for me and I enjoy going there. I’m yet to get an Abu Dhabi podium, but that would be a pretty awesome way to end my stint with Red Bull and to end the season. Having a twilight race is always cool, the weather is good, so there’s not much not to like about the place. I love the third sector, it’s my favourite part of the track for sure, through the hotel and all that is good fun.
Abu Dhabi marks the end of five years with the Team and ten years with Red Bull itself. I’m sure it’s going to be emotional afterwards, especially when I cross the line for the last time with the Team. But I’m going there guns a blazing, showing a lot of love. Hopefully the love shows me back and I can spray some fake champagne on Sunday, which would be a fitting farewell.”
Max Verstappen “Apart from being the last race of the year, Abu Dhabi is always a special one due to the atmosphere. The crowds are big and noisy, and being a sunset race adds to the unique feeling. After a busy few races I think everyone looks forward to getting to Abu Dhabi. The nice weather and a more relaxed feel in the paddock means everyone is smiling. The track itself is fun to drive, passing the yachts in the final sector has a similar feel to Monaco, but it’s not as tight.
There are some long straights that do not really play to our strong points but we will try to make up for this in the twisty sectors. Once the race is done the team can relax a bit, and have some well-earned downtime. We of course have testing shortly after but I will definitely try to chill out and get some sun on the Monday. Before we know it, we’ll be testing and working hard towards 2019 throughout the winter, which is very exciting.”