RACE DEBRIEF

    Formula 1’s paddock fraternity soaked up the Vitamin D amid hot and dry conditions at Yas Island on Thursday as the sport prepared to bring down the curtain on the 2023 campaign.

    Abu Dhabi has become the familiar season finale, its 16-turn 5.281km circuit weaves around a picturesque marina packed with a plethora of different sized boats bobbing up and down, with water gently lapping up against the walls.

    NEED TO KNOW: The most important facts, stats and trivia ahead of the 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

    It’s a pretty special location, a high-quality venue and a race track that has become tasty for racing following tweaks to the layout.

    And while the drivers’ and constructors’ championships have long been decided, in favour of Max Verstappen and Red Bull, there is still plenty to play for in the desert, starting with the battle between Mercedes and Ferrari for P2 in the standings.

    ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 23: Charles Leclerc of Monaco and Ferrari and Carlos
    Can Ferrari continue their good run of form in Abu Dhabi?

    Just four points separate the two titans of the sport, with Ferrari having spent the last 10 races chipping away at a 56-point advantage. Since the summer break, Ferrari have taken five podiums, including one win, while Mercedes have managed just two of their seven rostrums in that same period.

    Intriguingly, it looks like Red Bull and McLaren will be the strongest two packages around Yas Island, which means Ferrari and Mercedes’ P2 battle will likely be fought using the smaller points paying positions.

    READ MORE: Russell excited for Mercedes vs Ferrari showdown in Abu Dhabi as Leclerc predicts ‘tight’ battle over P2

    That gives Mercedes the slight edge, as the points gap between positions is much smaller, especially as their degradation has generally been better than their Italian rivals.

    However, this is an area Ferrari have shown progress in, the Scuderia managing to keep the rubber in the right window for longer periods of time. And it is the red cars who are in form, both in terms of performance and operationally.

    There’s plenty to fight for further down the championship, too, with McLaren hoping to fend off a resurgent Aston Martin in the fight for fourth.

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 18: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) Aston Martin AMR23
    Aston Martin are 11 points away from McLaren after a double-points finish for the team in Las Vegas

    Aston took 10 points out of McLaren at the last race, helped in large part by Lance Stroll’s second successive fifth-place finish, to slash the deficit to 11 – however, McLaren should be the stronger of the two packages by some margin in Abu Dhabi in a conventional race based on data.

    Elsewhere, Williams are fighting to hang on to seventh place – the decent chunk of prize money that comes with it.

    BETTING GUIDE: Who looks set to star as the sun sets on the 2023 season in Abu Dhabi?

    The British team haven’t updated their car since race eight in Canada – as they threw hefty resource into next year’s machine – and yet they’ve fought off AlphaTauri, Alfa Romeo and Haas – a trio of teams who have brought a series of upgrades.

    AlphaTauri are Williams’ greatest threat, not least because they have new parts for the final race of the season.

    Those inside the team say that they think this circuit should suit the AT04 – and providing those upgrades deliver the anticipated lap time, it bodes well for the team, especially as Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda are in fine form.

    ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 23: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Scuderia
    Ricciardo and Tsunoda will be hoping to end the year on a high for AlphaTauri

    Should they jump Williams, it would be a fine send-off for their Team Principal Franz Tost, F1’s current second longest-serving boss who is leaving the team that has been his baby for the last 18 years on December 31.

    Talking of Williams, there was a bit of driver market chat in the paddock on Thursday, too, with Logan Sargeant’s seat the only one still up for grabs in 2024.

    READ MORE: Sargeant 'doesn't see any issues' that would prevent him staying with Williams for 2024

    The American had been under pressure soon after the summer break to up his game – and he’s done just that, scoring his first point on home soil in Austin as well as shutting the performance gap to team mate Alex Albon both in qualifying and the race.

    And as we head into the final race, sources suggest Sargeant is on the brink of securing his seat with the team for a second season.

    That would be the first time ever the field has remained the same for successive seasons.

    To read on, sign up to F1 Unlocked for free

    You'll unlock this article and get access to:

    Free Wall_Article.png