Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday Four: Persian Nights

Four championships come to a close and they all end in a Persian Gulf country. Three are dead rubbers. Two race take place on Friday. One championship is up for grabs between an Italian and Frenchman, who has lived on the podium in 2015. Normally I go biggest to smallest but today I am starting with the title that is still undecided.

The final weekend of the GP3 Series season occurs during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend and two points separate two drivers for the title.

Italian Ghiotto leads Frenchman Estaban Ocon 227-225 entering the final weekend of the season. The Trident Racing driver Ghiotto has won five races, stood on the podium eight times and has scored points in every race but has finished in the points in only 15 of 16 races. He started on pole on the first race from Monza, which earned him four points but that is his lone retirement this season. He won the most recent race in the series last weekend at Bahrain as a support race to the FIA World Endurance Championship season.

Ocon has not won since the first race of the season at Barcelona in May. However, Ocon has 11 consecutive podium finishes, ten of which are runner-up finishes. The ART Grand Prix driver Ocon, like Ghiotto, has finished in the points in 15 of 16 races with a disqualification from the second race in Austria being the lone blemish on his résumé. He finished third but was booted for an illegal undertray.

Both drivers are in their first GP3 season. Ghiotto ran four races last year for Trident and won pole on debut at Spa-Francorchamps but failed to finish in the points in any of the races. Ocon won last year's FIA European Formula Three Championship over current Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Max Verstappen (who finished third) and current DTM drivers Tom Blomqvist (second) and Lucas Auer (fourth).

A few GP3 drivers would could spoil the party the weekend are German Marvin Kirchöfer and Briton Emil Bernstorff. They are third and fourth in the championship and one point separates the two drivers. Kirchöfer is Ocon's teammate and has won four races, including the first race last weekend at Bahrain. Bernstorff drivers for Arden International and he has two victories. The only other drivers to win this season in GP3 are Jimmy Eriksson of Koiranen GP, Kevin Ceccon of Arden International and Óscar Tunjo, formerly of Trident Racing. Tunjo won in Austria but was replaced after the following round.

Formula One
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is the final of Formula One's three dead rubbers to end the 2015 season but there are many battles for final position in the championship still to be decided.

Lewis Hamilton has locked up to world championship and his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg has locked up second in the world championship with Sebastian Vettel locked in third but the battle is for fourth. Valtteri Bottas is one point ahead of fellow Finn Kimi Räikkönen, 136-135. Bottas finished fourth last year in the world championship and a podium in last year's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix caused the Finn to jump Vettel and Fernando Alonso in the championship. Bottas finished third in Mexico two races ago. Räikkönen has finished on the podium in both night races this season. He finished second in Bahrain and third in Singapore.

Felipe Massa has an outside shot to finish in the top five of the championship. The Brazilian has 117 points and would need to win or finish second and have Räikkönen fail to score points. Daniil Kvyat has an outside shot to jump Massa but the Russian would have to win and have Massa not score points. Kvyat is ten points ahead of his Red Bull teammate with 94 points. Behind the Red Bull drivers are the Force India drivers with Sergio Pérez on 68 points and Nico Hülkenberg on 52.

Romain Grosjean and Max Verstappen are tied for tenth in the world championship on 49 points. The tiebreaker is held by Grosjean, who finished third in the Belgian Grand Prix. Felipe Nasr and Pastor Maldonado are tied on 27 points. Nasr hold the tiebreaker with a fifth in the Australian Grand Prix. Carlos Sainz, Jr. has 18 points, two ahead of Jenson Button and seven ahead of Fernando Alonso. Marcus Ericsson has nine points. Both Manor drivers, Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi, look for their first points in 2015.

In the Constructors' Championship, the top five appear to be set. Mercedes has clinched the title and it will likely finish Ferrari, Williams, Red Bull and Force India, second to fifth. Sixth-ninth is still up the air. Either Lotus or Toro Rosso will finish sixth. Lotus has 76 points to Toro Rosso's 67 while Sauber has 36 points to McLaren's 27 points.

Stoffel Vandoorne has clinched the title but the battle in GP2 is for second.

Alexander Rossi enters with 169.5 points, 30.5 points ahead of Sergey Sirotkin and 37.5 points ahead of Rio Haryanto. The American had a chance to clinch second last week in Bahrain but had a poor performance in qualifying and failed to score any points over the weekend. Mitch Evans rounds out the top five on 120 points and could still finish third in the championship but could also finished as far down as eighth. Evans won the second race of the weekend last weekend in Bahrain. Alex Lynn is on 106 points with his DAMS teammate Pierre Gasly ten points back. Raffaele Marciello is four points behind Gasly. Vandoorne's ART Grand Prix teammate Nobuharu Matsushita is ninth on 68.5 points. Richie Stanaway and Arthur Pic are tied for tenth on 60 points but Stanaway will not be competing in Abu Dhabi. Oliver Rowland replaced the New Zealander at Bahrain and will run this weekend as well.

Jordan King is 12th on 52 points. Artem Markelov has 48 points. Julián Leal has 38 points but he will not be competing this weekend. Sergio Canamasas rounds out the top fifteen with 27 points and Nathanäel Berthon is three points back. Robert Visoiu and Norman Nato are tied on 20 points but Visoiu will not be competing.

Vandoorne does have a chance to become the all-time leader in GP2 race victories if he wins one race this weekend. The Belgian is tied on ten victories with Pastor Maldonado on ten victories.

The final round of the World Touring Car Championship occurs on Friday in Qatar to avoid going head-to-head to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

That championship has already been decided. José María López clinched the title in Thailand. His Citroën teammates Sébastien Loeb and Yvan Muller will battle for second. Loeb had 329 points to Muller's 324 points. This will be Loeb's final race for Citroën as the manufacture will drop him after this round. Loeb will be competing for Peugeot in the Dakar Rally next year. Ma Qing Hua is fourth on 213 points with Gabriele Tarquini fifth on 189 points.

One point separates Norbert Michelisz and Tiago Monteiro, 172-171. Rob Huff is eight on 103 points. Two points covers ninth to eleventh. Tom Chilton has 96 points while Hugo Valente and Mehdi Bennani are tied on 95.

Update (6:01 p.m. ET):
José María López and Yvan Muller split the WTCC races from Qatar.

1. Over or Under: 6.5 points being the margin between first and second in GP3 championship standings?
2. Over or Under: 1.5 South Americans finished in the points in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix?
3. Over or Under: 0.5 victories for Stoffel Vandoorne this week?
4. Over or Under: 0.5 podiums for manufactures not named Citroën?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: Two championship eligible drivers finished in the top five in the Cup race.
2. Over: Two Grand National Series championship eligible drivers finished in the top five.
3. Over: There were 14 lead changes in the Truck finale.
1. Under: Two cars finished on the lead lap in the 6 Hours of Bahrain.
2. Under: Two Ligiers finished on the LMP2 podium.
3. Under: Four (France, Italy, Finland, UK) were represented on the GTE-Pro podium.
4. Under: Three laps separated the GTE-Pro and GTE-am winners.
5. Over: David Coulthard and Alex Buncombe made the semifinals in the Champion of Champions.

1. Esteban Ocon takes the GP3 championship and wins a race this weekend.
2. There are at least two changes in championship position after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
3. Stoffel Vandoorne leaves Bahrain as the sole all-time leader in GP2 victories.
4. Mehdi Bennani finishes in the top ten of the WTCC standings.

Last Week's Predictions
1. A championship eligible driver will not win the Cup race (Wrong. Kyle Busch won).
2. Chris Buescher wins the title but finishes behind two of his championship rivals (Correct. He finished behind all three actually).
3. One Truck championship eligible drivers finishes outside the top ten (Wrong. They all finished in the top ten).
1. All three privateer LMP1 entries finish the race (Correct. All 32 cars in the 6 Hours of Bahrain finished).
2. Both Extreme Speed Motorsports cars finish and one finishes in the top half of LMP2 (Wrong. The ESM cars were the bottom two in class).
3. One of the FIA WEC teams with a streak of five consecutive podiums or more ends at Bahrain (Correct. The #17 Porsche finished 5th in class and the #83 AF Corse Ferrari finished 4th).
4. Aston Martin wins in GTE-Am (Correct. The #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda won).
5. The Nations' Cup has a first-time winner (Correct. England won the Nations' Cup).
Overall: 5/8 Running Tally: 33/63