Abu Dhabi preview – ‘best of rest’ battle set for final duel in the desert

With Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas having cemented their 1-2 in the drivers’ standings two races ago in Austin, Texas, the attention now shifts to focus on who will finish as ‘best of the rest’ in the final grand prix of a gripping season.

Having taken a thrilling and deserved victory at Interlagos, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen finds himself third in the standings, 11 points ahead of Ferrari revelation Charles Leclerc. The duo undoubtedly represent the future of F1 Racing and are surely primed for many more important title deciding battles coming down to the final race.

For now, however, it will still be something of a moral victory for whoever finishes behind the Mercedes pair, with Sebastian Vettel also eager to have something to say about it after a disappointing season, by his high standards.

“After a great weekend in Brazil, the Team is in good spirits to have one final go at it in Abu Dhabi,” said Verstappen. “We move from a flowing track like Interlagos to a tight and twisty circuit at Yas Marina where the car needs to be set up in a completely different way to Brazil in order to get the best out of it. This is always a challenge in Abu Dhabi as we transition between day and night practice sessions, with FP2 the most important session as it gives you the most representative read of qualifying and race conditions.

“Looking back I think we can be pleased with our season this year, which is our first with Honda, and hopefully we can end it on a high this weekend before everyone breaks up for Christmas and New Year.”

For his part, Leclerc is certainly not looking towards Christmas and the holiday season just yet and is fully focused for the final push for those all-important points.

“Most of the paddock is probably looking forward to enjoying their holidays. From my perspective, I am actually pretty sad that I won’t be feeling that adrenalin rush behind the wheel for the next few months,” added Leclerc in his team’s race preview. “At this race, everyone is pushing to the maximum as, for most drivers, there’s nothing to lose.”

Although it’s now mathematically impossible for Vettel to catch Verstappen, it is possible, although unlikely, that he could overtake his young teammate, who lies 19 points ahead of him.

Behind Vettel, is arguably gets even more interesting, with McLaren’s Carlos Sainz and returning Toro Rosso driver Pierre Gasly tied on 95 points and Alexander Albon, who started the year with Torro Rosso before trading places with Gasly at Red Bull within touching distance of the pair, just seven points adrift.

The constructors’ battle below also makes for interesting reading, with just eight points separating fifth-placed Renault and Toro Rosso and Racing Point and Alfa Romeo fighting over the final scraps for seventh in the standings.

As far as the vagaries and demands of the futuristic and fabulous-looking Yas Marina circuit is concerned, it is unique in that the race begins at dusk when the light is fading and finishes under the night lights and spectacular fireworks as cars take the chequered flag.

A medium downforce level circuit, Yas Marina features 21 turns and a long straight between Turns 6 and 9 that mark the start and finish of the DRS detection zones and the prime overtaking opportunity.

The final sector of the lap perhaps represents the biggest technical challenge for drivers due to the sometimes-high track winds around the Yas Hotel.

The tricky final sector of the circuit sees cars drive through the Yas Hotel comples. (Photo by James Bearne/Getty Images)

Throw into the mix the change in track temperature as the sun sets, tyre choice and race strategy is all important in this intriguing final grand prix.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.