It would have been very hard for our Abu Dhabi weekend to match the previous race in Brazil when Pierre brought home our best result of the year with his fine second place. Nevertheless on a track where only the top three teams completed the full race distance as the flag fell and the spectacular fireworks began, Daniil’s ninth place brought us some more well deserved points.
After the race in Interlagos, Daniil stayed in Brazil, as his partner is Brazilian, while Pierre headed home to France still in celebratory mood, to find that the French media had really gone to town on his performance that weekend. But it was soon back to the reality of life as a professional driver, with a day’s work in the simulator in Milton Keynes, before heading east to the Emirates.
On paper, we arrived at the Yas Marina circuit with the task of defending our sixth place in the championship and attacking Renault to try and score 8 more points than them to move up to fifth. Mission accomplished on the first part, but the second part was just a step too far. While those were the team’s ambitions, Pierre found himself lying sixth in the Drivers’ classification and that would have been something to be proud of, meaning he would have been the unofficial “best of the rest” as the only drivers ahead of him came from the top three teams that dominated the year. Unfortunately, the first lap incident with Lance Stroll at Yas Marina, which our driver was furious about, robbed him of the chance to defend that sixth place, which therefore went to our former driver, Carlos Sainz.
As for Daniil, his star shone brighter and brighter as night got darker and darker in the desert. Unhappy with his car in qualifying, he and the team opted for a brave race strategy that required total commitment from the driver. He definitely could have been crowned Tyre Master, as he was the very last of the 20 drivers to make his pit stop, on the 41st lap, to finally change tyres. The strategy got him into the points and then a typically bold Daniil move saw him dive past Nico Hulkenberg to take ninth place.
One end of year tradition that is still going strong is the taking of the team photo in pit lane. We did ours on Thursday and it drew a crowd of onlookers. Although taking the photo only takes a couple of minutes, it involves a lot of planning, with every team member allotted a specific place to sit, stand or kneel. And because, at Toro Rosso, we like to acknowledge the contribution of others in our team effort, we always invite our Honda partners, the catering crew, the Pirelli engineers and anyone else who helps us at the race track.
Another end of year tradition involves staying in Abu Dhabi for a few days more after the race, for the end of season Pirelli tyre test. All the teams are taking part, as Pirelli get us all to try tyres aimed at the coming seasons over two days, Tuesday, when Sean Gelael will be at the wheel of the STR14 in the morning, followed by Daniil in the afternoon and Wednesday, when it’s Pierre’s turn.
One unusual effect of the test is that the paddock was very calm and quiet on Sunday night after the Abu Dhabi GP, because there’s no rush to pack up the cars and equipment. It’s actually quite a pleasant way to end the season, a season in which we have made definite progress, which is therefore a good sign for 2020, given that our driver line-up stays the same and the technical rules change very little.