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Abu Dhabi preview - the showdown is on!

24 Nov 2016

So here we are at last: the longest F1 season on record will end, as is fitting, with a showdown between two men who have slugged it out over the last 20 races - Nico Rosberg, seeking to emulate his father’s 1982 world championship title, and his Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton, who needs nothing less than a Yas Marina miracle to snatch his third in a row…

Rosberg sticking to the same approach…

After some deep deliberation, Rosberg, with his 12-point advantage, has decided to adhere to the philosophy that he has long employed, which is to take this as just another race rather than getting himself all hyped up over what could be the most important weekend of his career.

All he needs is a third place, regardless of what his team mate does, but he’s going to push for a 10th victory of the year.   

"I will give it everything to end the season with a win," the German says.

"In Brazil, after the race, I was joking that I would still be taking things one race at a time. But, the more I think about it, the more that's actually not as crazy as it sounds. I have to treat this like any other race.

"Doing a good job on a Grand Prix weekend is always a challenge. Nothing in this sport is easy, so this won't be any different and I still have to go all out for a good result."

Numerically, as well as in the points stakes, things favour him, for he has out-qualified Hamilton on the three occasions they have gone to Yas Marina as Mercedes team mates.

"I have great memories from winning at this track last year and it's somewhere I've usually been strong in the past, so I have every reason to feel confident," he adds. "The closer it gets, the more I'm feeling excited."

…while Hamilton knows odds are against him

After their back-and-forth season, Hamilton heads to Abu Dhabi needing a miracle, for which read Rosberg running into trouble (either of the mechanical variety or a clash with somebody else) and finishing outside the top three while he himself wins. The way Rosberg’s season has gone, with not a single mechanical problem and only one non-finish (when he and Hamilton collided in Spain) on his scorecard.

By contrast, Hamilton had that infamous engine failure, and ERS problems in China and Russia and an engine mode problem in Baku. Even he admits that his chances are slim, to say the least, but he is not one to give up until the maths say he has zero chance.

"It's not been a perfect season and I'm faced with pretty impossible odds no matter what I do this weekend," he says. “But I can't and won't give up. You never know what might happen - however unlikely it may seem.

"I'm approaching this weekend the same as I do every race. I want to win and I'll give it everything to finish the season on a high.

"I'm happy I beat everyone in Brazil. I'm happy that with the same car I beat Nico and Nico is driving at his best right now and on Sunday he had nothing on me. I'm happy that we as a team are continuing to make history."

The world championship permutations

 

The end of an era

Abu Dhabi won’t just see the sun set on the 2016 season, it’ll also see the curtain fall for two of the grid’s most popular drivers.   

“It’s going to be another emotional one!” says Williams' Felipe Massa, who after a gut-wrenching final home race in Brazil, bows out for good after this event.

“You try not think about it too much when you’re in the car, you just try to do as good a job as you can. I really hope the final, and 250th race of my Formula One career, can be a fantastic one. We will of course have a big party! Hopefully we can celebrate with a great result.”

It will also be the last Grand Prix for the foreseeable future for Jenson Button at McLaren. “I’m really looking forward to this weekend, and have been for a few races now,” the Englishman says.

“It marks a very special chapter in my life and I’ll have my friends and some of my family out in Abu Dhabi with me which I’m very excited about. It’s going to be a hugely emotional weekend and I hope with the support of the fans, the team and the people that are closest to me, we can go out there and give it our absolute maximum and enjoy the weekend.

“It’s not the end of my career with McLaren-Honda, but it’s the start of a new phase that I’m incredibly positive about. This race marks the culmination of a huge amount of hard work, dedication and passion for the sport that I love and I’m immensely proud of everything I’ve achieved in the past 17 seasons, and the fantastic progress we’ve made over the past couple of years with McLaren-Honda.

“It’s been an amazing project to work on and my involvement certainly won’t end here. I’m looking forward to concluding this chapter in style and starting a new one with just as much enthusiasm, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.”

Fond farewells

There will be other goodbyes it Abu Dhabi too. It will be the last race for Nico Hulkenberg with Force India before he departs for Renault, the last race for Kevin Magnussen with Renault before he leaves for Haas, and the last race for Esteban Gutierrez with Haas before he goes… well, that’s yet to be determined.

“The final race of the season is always special, but this year even more so,” Hulkenberg says. “It will be my final race with the team, so it will be emotional to work with the crew and the other team members for one last time. People move around teams a lot in Formula One, so I know it’s a goodbye and not a farewell. I want to enjoy this last race together and make sure it turns into a celebration: I want us to confirm fourth place in the championship, then we will see a lot of big smiles on everyone’s faces and be proud of what we achieved together.”

Lest we forget, it will also be the last Grand Prix for the current generation of Formula One cars, as 2017 ushers in dramatically adjusted aerodynamic and tyre regulations that will see lap times drop by three to five seconds per lap.

Last chance for Manor to regain top 10 position

Speaking of goodbyes, it could also be Felipe Nasr’s last outing with Sauber, despite the crucial points he won them in Brazil which elevated them to 10th place overall - at the expense of Manor.

“Clearly we were all very disappointed with the outcome on Sunday evening in Brazil,” Manor’s racing director Dave Ryan admits. “But, you know what? When you look at it in the cold light of day, I’m really proud of the guys. I thought the team did a fantastic job in the race; we were genuinely running with both cars in the top 10 early on, we had everything covered on the pit wall during all the chaos and the guys did a textbook job of dealing with the red flags. It’s just that, come the final restart, we weren’t quite quick enough and probably needed another two or three laps to pull it off. That’s racing and we’ll have a good go at reversing things in Abu Dhabi.”

Other scores still to be settled

Positions one and two in the drivers’ standings aren’t the only ones being fought over this weekend. Lower down Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen can all still claim P4 in the championship.

In the constructors’ stakes, meanwhile, Force India stand on the brink of an all-time best finishing position, with Williams needing a miracle to wrest fourth place away from their rivals.

WATCH: Circuit guide - get the lowdown on Yas Marina

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Two stops the likely strategy

After the rain of Brazil, Pirelli have brought their three softest compounds to Abu Dhabi for what will almost certainly be a dry race: the purple-marked ultrasoft (being used for the first time since Singapore and the fifth time this year), red-marked supersoft, and yellow-marked soft.

Yas Marina is very smooth so tyre wear and degradation are low. It also features a wide variety of corners and speeds, which favours medium-downforce set-ups and places a premium on traction.

“Abu Dhabi is one of the circuits we know best, having completed a number of tests there previously, including some of the recent 2017 wider tyre tests that we have been carrying out since August,” says Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery.

“The new element to this year’s race is obviously the ultrasoft tyre, which should provide some extra speed on a circuit that forms a good all-round test for the tyres. In fact, all the compounds nominated for this year are very well suited to Abu Dhabi, opening up a number of different possibilities when it comes to strategy.”

Last year Rosberg won the 55-lap race with a two-stop strategy, starting on supersoft and then stopping for softs on laps 10 and 31. Two stops was, in fact, the most popular option. Vettel also stopped twice with the best alternative strategy, but did two initial stints on softs followed by a final stint on supersofts. This facilitated his climb from 15th on the grid to fourth.

Both Rosberg and Hamilton have identical tyre selections for this weekend, which kicks off with FP1 at 1300 local time (0900 GMT) on Friday. The race itself takes place at 1700 local time (1300 GMT) and runs for 55 laps or 305.355 kilometres. For a full timetable and schedule, click here.