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Seven key questions ahead of the race in Abu Dhabi

27 Nov 2016

How will Mercedes' two title contenders tackle their race? Could another team prove to be a joker in the championship pack? And how will old hands Massa and Button fare on their F1 farewells? We consider the key talking points ahead of this afternoon’s 2016 Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix…

How will Rosberg and Hamilton approach their showdown?

Twelve points are all that separate Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton in the fight for the 2016 title - and while Rosberg has the points advantage, he also has to contend with the extra pressure that brings. Hamilton, meanwhile, enters the showdown having taken an emphatic 61st career pole. So, with the various title permutations in mind, what are their game plans?

"Well, so far this weekend has just been solely focused on getting to this position, which I truly believed I could,” Hamilton says. “And obviously it worked. I guess this evening and tomorrow we'll sit and work with my engineers and strategist to fully understand the scenario and what I've got to do."

As Hamilton jokingly invited help from third-placed man Daniel Ricciardo, Rosberg cut a slightly more tense figure after qualifying second.

"I've come here to try to be on pole and try and win the race," he said. "That's what I love to do, so I'm not ecstatic about today. Lewis just did a great job and was a couple of tenths quicker. It just wasn't possible for me to do that time today, even though I gave it everything. But as we know there are still opportunities tomorrow and for sure I'll try and go for the win.

"Of course, it's never easy to try and win a race in F1. So yeah, I just want to keep it simple. Don't think about ‘what if’ or all these kind of things you were just mentioning now [banzai starts rom the Red Bulls or the Ferraris]. That would be the wrong approach to do a good performance tomorrow."

How much of a threat are Red Bull?

"Strategically," Christian Horner says, "we've chosen to start on the supersoft tyre believing it to be a little bit more robust than the ultrasoft, which again brings another dimension to the race. Starting third and sixth on the grid here for what's bound to be an exciting start is not a bad place to be. Hopefully if we can get a good start then we should be in good shape with those tyres."

Daniel Ricciardo was very happy to vault ahead of the Ferraris to annex third place on the grid behind the Mercedes.

"It feels really good," said the Australian after qualifying. "This morning was hard, I did a run quite early and I was nearly a second off Max (Vertappen) so it didn't look good on paper, but the track warmed up so much that we didn't really know what to expect coming into quallie. Q1 was a little bit slow but then I picked it up and Q3 was solid enough, so I was happy.

"We'll see about the strategy. It's just nice to do something different to Mercedes. We know on the same equipment they're probably going to be quicker so we feel it should make us go a little bit longer at the start and then perhaps we can bring the race back to us towards the end when our tyres might be a bit different.

"For tomorrow of course I wish I was in their position, obviously they've both got a little bit more pressure than us this weekend, which I'm kind of envious about. But if the win is there for me tomorrow then I'll go for it and there will be no holding back. You always have this level of respect as they're fighting for the title, but if they leave the door open and I think I can pass, then I won't make it easy for them and let them sail into the sunset."

Max Verstappen, who could yet overhaul Sebastian Vettel for fourth in the final standings, is equally determined to make progress, despite a mistake in Q3 leaving him sixth on the grid.

"We should be able to stay out a bit longer, the tyre seems to work well in the higher temperatures so this suits the start of the race,” he said. “The pace has been there all weekend, so I am definitely aiming to go forward tomorrow and work my way to the guys up front."

Can Ferrari have an influence?

Ferrari had one of their best qualifying performances of the season, with Kimi Raikkonen fractions off third, and Sebastian Vettel fifth despite his fastest lap being disrupted by late yellows. Perhaps unsurprisingly, both men believe they can be a factor in the race.

"It was a pretty good qualifying, the car has behaved well all day," Raikkonen said. "Today we went a lot faster than we had been in practice, we did our best and it was almost enough for third place, but my last lap was not perfect in some places.

"It's hard to say if we'll be able to fight with the Mercedes tomorrow: usually in race conditions we are a bit closer, but I'm sure they will also be very strong. Tomorrow we can only do our best, we'll try to make a good start and then we'll see."

Asked about his expectations, Vettel added: “Mercedes are a bit far away, but we hope to get ahead and be in front of Red Bulls tomorrow. We are on the softer compound, which should give us an advantage off the line and for the first lap.

“In qualifying we didn't get the lap together when it mattered - probably we were a bit on the aggressive side trying to anticipate the track conditions. For tomorrow it should be positive.”

Can Force India wrap up their best-ever championship finish?

With 163 points to Williams' 136 - a margin of 27 - Force India cannot say that fourth place in the world championship for constructors is theirs. But they are certainly very close. And with Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez seventh and eighth on the grid compared to their rivals’ Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas in 10th and 11th, the odds favour them strongly.

"I'm very happy and I think seventh place was probably the maximum result for us today," said Hulkenberg after qualifying, having lost a chunk of FP3 track time with a mechanical problem. "I'm pleased with my laps, especially considering the lack of running I have had this weekend, sitting out FP1 [as tester Alfonso Celis drove his car] and missing half of final practice.

"Going into qualifying I thought it was going to be quite difficult, but we made good progress with the car during the session and I had the confidence to really push on all of my laps. Hopefully we can deliver more of the same tomorrow to end the season and my time with Force India in style. The cars ahead in the top six may be just out of reach, but we will give it a go and see where we end up."

Perez said he was happy for the team locking out the fourth row of the grid, but not with himself.

"I know I could have done better. I had a bit of understeer on my last lap so I tried to change my lines to counter it, but it didn't really work. I could have been in P7 with a perfect lap, but with Nico just ahead it's still a great result for the team. I am looking forward to our last race as team mates and beating the cars around us to finish the season on a high note. I want to outscore our rivals because finishing fourth in the championship is a really important objective for us."

Will Massa bow out on a high?

Felipe Massa has always scored points in Abu Dhabi.

The Brazilian missed the inaugural race in 2009 as he was still recuperating from his accident at the Hungaroring, but took 10th place in 2010, fifth in 2011, seventh in 2012, eighth in 2013, a fighting second in 2014 (just 2.576s behind Lewis Hamilton), and eighth again last year.

This year's race is, of course, his 250th and final in F1 outing, and he would like nothing better than to conclude with another points-scoring finish - one which could see him move ahead of former team mate Fernando Alonso for a top-ten place in the drivers’ championship.

"I'd love to sign off with a good result," says the Williams man. "That's what I wanted to finish with also in Brazil! I'm really looking forward that we can have a nice race here. I think a good result is what gives you more happiness.

"I managed to finish here second two years ago. I know it will be not easy to get the same this race, but if you can take the best out of the car, if you can do a good race, that is when you feel happy."

After qualifying he added: "It definitely was not very easy today, but I was happy with the result. To be honest, I wasn't happy with the tyres but I just tried my hardest to set a good lap. I had a very good time in Q2, which was important. I definitely expected a bit more from my lap in Q3, but maybe I didn't have as much grip in the tyres as Q2. We're not far from where we expected to be and we will see what we can do compared to the other cars."

What awaits Button on his (potential) farewell?

Like Massa, Jenson Button will enjoy what he says he is thinking of as his final (and 305th) Grand Prix today, bringing the curtain down on a great F1 racing career.

His best lap in Q2 was 1m 41.272s, compared to the 1m 41.044s lap which got McLaren team mate Fernando Alonso into Q3 and an eventual ninth place on the grid.

Button will start 12th, and believes that he can end his career with more points.

"It was good fun out there this evening - I enjoyed it.

"To be fair 12th position isn't a bad place to be for tomorrow: we get to run new tyres. With these tyre regulations, it's often better to start outside the top 10 in order to best free up the strategy for the race. And I'd definitely rather have a good race tomorrow than a good qualifying today.

"None of the compounds last for long around here, so it'll be interesting to see what happens tomorrow - points are definitely possible."

Manor or Sauber: which team will capture 10th overall?

Finish in the top 10 in the constructors’ championship and your team receives not inconsiderable prize money. Finish outside it… and you don’t. For much of the season Manor held that crucial 10th spot, as Sauber struggled to find any form. Then came that crazy, rain-hit race in Brazil two weeks ago and things were turned on their heads, with Felipe Nasr’s two points lifting Sauber ahead of Manor’s one (scored by Pascal Wehrlein in Austria back in July).

Realistically, it will take major misfortune on the part of other teams to see either squad increase their tally in Abu Dhabi, though of the two, you’d have to say Manor look the more likely - Wehrlein qualified an impressive 16th, with team mate Esteban Ocon 20th. At Sauber, Felipe Nasr starts 19th and Marcus Ericsson 22nd.

“We could have been forgiven for letting our heads drop and writing off the season there and then,” says Manor’s racing director Dave Ryan. “But instead, we've dusted ourselves off and decided to throw everything we have at the finale.”

They are going to need to.