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F1 Race Preview: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix


F1 Race Preview: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton's 103rd Formula One victory in Saudi Arabia means that the winner of the 2021 world championship will be decided at the revised Abu Dhabi circuit this weekend on the final race of the season! So, will it be Lewis Hamilton or Max Verstappen who emerges as champion? Read on to inform your predictions ahead of the big race with expert insight from Jennie Gow.

This is it… we’re down to the final title-deciding race, and what a journey this season has been! From Verstappen and Hamilton duking it out under the floodlights in Bahrain to that crash in Silverstone and then the clash in Monza – it’s been a spectacle that hasn’t disappointed.

Now, it all comes down to just one race. We have been blessed with 21 duels – with some of the finest racing I have had the pleasure to see – but now both men find themselves level on points (369.5) and its ‘winner takes all’ in Abu Dhabi.

The last race, in Saudi Arabia, was ridiculous. It was fantastic and crazy all at the same time! There were beautiful, skilful highs and shockingly shady lows as Hamilton and Verstappen gave their everything on track. They pushed each other to new heights but also brought out the darker side of racing with poor gamesmanship and the stewards having to sort out the often childish bickering. It was Hamilton who took the spoils in the end, though, and continues the Mercedes momentum but I’ll say it again: the world’s two best drivers are heading into the final race level on points – that’s extraordinary.

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Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2021

The next and final stop on Formula One’s tour of the world is Yas Island as the Championship culminates with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The track has been changed to try and bring better racing and give drivers the opportunity to overtake so it’s a little ‘into the unknown’ but when the lights go out for the final race of the season it will be the perfect backdrop for what could be the most hotly contested Championship fight F1 has ever seen.

The track is another Herman Tilke design. It’s full throttle for 69% of the lap, with drivers traditionally making 68 gear changes per lap or 3740 gear changes over the 58-lap race.

The Championship: Down to the wire

Only once before have the two title rivals come into the last race of the season level on points. That was in 1974 when Emerson Fittipaldi and Clay Regazzoni were battling for the F1 World Championship. That day, Fittipaldi did enough by finishing fourth and claimed his second world title. That was a season of 15 races that ended on October 6, and in comparison, this season feels like a marathon - but I’m not sure anyone is ready for it to end, so thrilling has it been.

The Championship has been decided three times at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – in 2010 when Sebastian Vettel won, in 2014 when it was Hamilton taking the title, and in 2016 when Nico Rosberg beat Hamilton to the title.

Pole position

Verstappen broke a long-standing record at Abu Dhabi last year, ending Mercedes’ run of finishing 1-2 in every final qualifying session at the track in the hybrid era (since 2013 when Mark Webber took pole). Red Bull arguably have a stronger car this season than they did last year so there is every chance that Verstappen could do it again and claim his 10th pole of the season. However, Hamilton has only started a race not on the front row of the grid twice in Abu Dhabi – he started P4 in 2013 and then last year he started P3. I have little doubt that Verstappen and Hamilton will line up alongside each other once again this weekend for the eighth time this season (if you take last weekend’s restarts into the equation). Misfortune is the only thing that would stand in the way of the title contenders locking out the front row.

Of the 12 races held in Abu Dhabi, seven of them have been won from pole. Hamilton won from pole on three occasions (2016, 2018, and 2019), Vettel won from pole in 2010, Rosberg won from pole in 2015, and Valtteri Bottas and Verstappen won from pole in 2017 and 2020 respectively.

The only time the race has been won from a position outside of the top two was the very first race back in 2012 when Kimi Raikkonen won the race from fourth on the grid. However, it’s worth pointing out that in three of the first four Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the polesitter failed to finish the race but the polesitter has gone on to win every year in the last six years.

Win rate

Hamilton has the most wins of any driver at Abu Dhabi, with five wins (Mercedes have won six) compared to Verstappen’s one but it’s fair to say that those statistics will mean nothing going into the final race of this season. In a ‘winner takes all’ battle that has seen so many changes in the lead, the stakes are as high as they get.

Can Hamilton and Verstappen finish this race without a clash? It’s what everyone is thinking. If Verstappen were to clash with Hamilton and neither could finish the race – then on countback it would be Verstappen who would be the victor and we know he doesn’t like to yield on the corners. This could get messy!

Clashes

The World Championship has been affected by crashes before… think back to Suzuka 1989 when Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna were teammates at McLaren and the best drivers in the world. Prost needed to finish ahead of Senna in Suzuka to win the title and with seven laps remaining, Senna went for the overtake but Prost turned in on him and the two collided. Senna ended up being disqualified from the race and lost his chance at a second title. A year later it was Senna vs. Prost all over again and this time Senna astride to go down the inside of Prost as the two went down to the first turn and hit the back of Prost’s Ferrari – sending them both off the track and out of the race.

At the 1994 Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide, it was Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill colliding. Schumacher led the Championship by a single point from Hill going into the race, and during it, Schumacher turned into Hill, causing them to collide. As a result, Hill had to retire from the race and Schumacher took the world title. It had been a ‘do or die’ moment for Schumacher, as his car was already damaged as he’d struck the wall earlier in the race, and many claimed he’d caused the collision with Hill on purpose, but Schumacher has always claimed it was a racing incident.

At the 1997 European Grand Prix, a ‘misjudgement’ led to Schumacher once again clashing with his title rival, this time Jacques Villeneuve.Schumacher was leading the Drivers’ Championship by a single point going into the race so again, there was a lot at stake. This time, when Schumacher turned in (on purpose, as was later judged by the FIA) he, as Martin Brundle described it, “hit the wrong part of the car”. Schumacher ended in the gravel (and was later disqualified completely from the 1997 F1 Championship) and Villeneuve went on to take the title.

The 2008 Singapore Grand Prix was a low moment for the sport. Renault ordered Nelson Piquet Jr. to drive into the barriers. If a safety car was deployed at that moment, Piquet’s teammate Fernando Alonso would benefit greatly. Alonso went on to win the race while race leader and Championship contender Felipe Massa found himself dropping down the order and, at the end of the season, ended up losing the Drivers’ Championship (to Lewis Hamilton) by one point.

A clean race

Everyone wants this Championship to be decided on the track and not in the steward’s office but how likely is that? Unfortunately, not very!

However, F1 has been a blast this season, we have revelled in it and I really hope you have too. Let’s just hope that the last race of the season is a classic, just like the whole of 2021 has been.

Who will win and be crowned the 2021 Formula One champion? Flip a coin! It really is that impossible to split two of the greatest drivers F1 has ever seen!

Stay up to date with the 2021 F1 season by reading Jennie Gow’s weekly race preview before analysing the latest Pinnacle F1 odds for each race!

*Odds subject to change

 


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