Marco Andretti’s improvement evident through three races, and he admits it

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Marco Andretti heads into Brazil this weekend, the last IZOD IndyCar Series race before the Indianapolis 500, just 12 points behind the championship leader and brimming full of confidence.

“This is what used to be the weakest part of the schedule for me, and I find myself just a few points out of the points lead,” he said Wednesday in a conference call. “I’m super thrilled about my progress in the off-season. Working on these weak points I think definitely has helped, but it’s definitely good to see results translate through.”

Andretti’s one of only three drivers with three top-10 finishes through the first three races. Qualifying has also improved, with seventh on the grid in the first two races and a better effort going at Long Beach before a blocking penalty relegated him to 25th on the grid.

“I’ve worked on my street courses in the off-season in a big way,” he explained. “Really I need to give my teammates credit, especially Ryan. He adapted to the street courses a lot better than I did. I was really over-driving the car.

“In the off-season I really studied how I was over-driving the car. It ended up working against me, causing more problems for myself, leaving me on the outside looking in.

“This year, qualifying, there’s a couple hundredths of a second out of the top six, but it’s a lot better than looking in on the top 12, which is where we were last year. I think we’ve improved. But to get wins we just need to keep driving the way we are.”

Andretti’s ability has shown through more this year given the self-reflection and analysis he’s done.

“Well, yeah, I always knew I was a decent driver, I just needed to put it all together basically. I’m yet to do that,” he admitted. “Until I start clicking off poles and wins on street courses, then I’ll sleep a lot better than I am at night.

“However, I am sleeping better than I was last year. I think just that alone, you know, those notches on the belt help. You know what I mean? You can’t explain it. It all just starts coming together.”

F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on NBCSN, NBC Sports App this week

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After five years and 98 Grands Prix broadcast since 2013, NBC Sports Group’s coverage of Formula 1 concludes with the 2017 season finale from Abu Dhabi at the Yas Marina Circuit this week.

The lights come on for the day-into-night Grand Prix of the year as the sun sets on five years of broadcasts, original content and additional digital specific features such as Paddock Pass.

For Abu Dhabi this week, all of the race, qualifying and second free practice will be live on NBCSN with first and third free practice live on the NBC Sports App. The race returns is back in the usual morning a.m. time slots after three mid-day races in Austin, Mexico City and Sao Paulo, and a pair of overnight affairs in Kuala Lumpur and Suzuka. Formula 2 coverage of its season finale from Abu Dhabi also airs both on NBCSN and online.

With this the final race of the season before F1’s winter break, there’s still a handful of things to get sorted even though Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have wrapped their respective championships.

Sebastian Vettel (Brazil) and Max Verstappen (Mexico) have won the last two races, with Hamilton’s most recent win coming at Circuit of the Americas. Will it be any of these three that wrap the year on a high or could any of their teammates – Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo or Valtteri Bottas – upend the script?

Mercedes has won the last three races in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton winning in 2014 and 2016 with Nico Rosberg taking the 2015 crown.

Vettel and Hamilton have three wins apiece in Abu Dhabi, Vettel having taken all of his with Red Bull in 2009, 2010 and 2013, and Hamilton adding a 2011 McLaren triumph to his last two with Mercedes. Raikkonen (2012, Lotus) and Rosberg are the other Abu Dhabi winners, and while both Vettel and Raikkonen have won in Abu Dhabi, Ferrari never has in the first eight races here.

The last place up for grabs in the constructor’s battle is for sixth, with Toro Rosso (53 points), Renault (49) and Haas (47) separated by only six total points. Toro Rosso and Renault got into a nasty war of words in Brazil, and will part ways after the weekend.

Felipe Massa signs off his career in F1 for the second and expected final time at Williams, and with Toro Rosso having confirmed Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley last week, his seat is one of only three left to fill for 2018, and the most attractive.

McLaren and Honda also bring to an end their partnership after three troubled seasons, but on the bright side will look to score points for a third straight race together, which hasn’t happened since the Hungarian, German and Belgian Grands Prix of 2016.

As ever, and perhaps for the final time as a collective unit, Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett will be on the call with Will Buxton reporting from the pits and paddock.

Here’s the F1 schedule, with stream links and TV network if applicable:

  • Practice 1: Friday, Nov. 24, 4 a.m.-5:30 a.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Practice 2: Friday, Nov. 24, 8 a.m.-9:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 3: Saturday, Nov. 25, 5 a.m.-6 a.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Qualifying: Saturday, Nov. 25, 8 a.m.-9:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Pre-Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 7 a.m.-8 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 8 a.m.-10 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Post-Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 10 a.m.-10:55 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race (Replay): Sunday, Nov. 26, 7 p.m.-9 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • F2 Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 6 a.m.-7 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • F2 Race (Replay): Sunday, Nov. 26, 9 p.m.-10 p.m. ET (NBCSN)