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F1 Preview: 2017 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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It all ends here.

After 20 races, five different winners, three victorious teams and one newly-minted world champion, the sun will set on the 2017 Formula 1 season in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel’s battle for the world championship had been expected to rage all the way to the season finale, only for a twist in form to settle proceedings with two races to spare.

While the final race of the year as the Yas Marina Circuit may be a dead rubber, there are still a few things to play for in the championship standings.

And with plenty of eras coming to an end on Sunday, it promises to be an emotional event.

2017 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Talking Points

Setting the stage for 2018

The race for the 2017 titles may already be over, but next year’s battle is well and truly underway. With Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari taking one win each in the last three races, it is clear that the margins at the front of the field are incredibly tight indeed.

With the technical regulations remaining largely unchanged heading into next year, teams have already been able to fit parts that will help the development of their 2018 cars, with the results acting as an early indication of the fights that may follow next year.

The nature of the Abu Dhabi circuit makes it hard to pick a clear favorite. Ferrari and Red Bull have been strong on high-downforce layouts, while Mercedes impressed in both Brazil and Mexico, surprising itself in the process.

Nico Rosberg proved at the end of 2015 just how important victories in the ‘dead rubber’ events can be, with a hat-trick of wins giving him the momentum that arguably was decisive in his 2016 championship win.

Can anyone upstage Lewis Hamilton in Abu Dhabi and end the year on a high?

Toro Rosso, Renault, Haas set to fight for P6

While the top four positions in the F1 constructors’ championship are locked in and Williams looks nailed on for P5, the battle to finish sixth – and capture the uplift in prize money that comes with it – will rage on to the checkered flag in Abu Dhabi.

Toro Rosso currently leads the way on 53 points, but has scored just one point since the Singapore Grand Prix. With a combined total of six grands prix experience between drivers Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly, the Red Bull B-team’s position is far from safe.

Renault (49 points) has certainly been on the up through the second half of the season, with the arrival of Carlos Sainz Jr. giving the team a shot in the arm, yet its lack of reliability and repeated power unit failures have dashed hopes of getting ahead already.

Haas’ second season has exceeded expectations in terms of performance and the team’s internal goals, yet it is still sat eighth overall, equal to its rookie year result. Running with 47 points but a more reliable Ferrari power unit than its two rivals, the American team could yet vault two places up the order.

Numerous eras ending in Abu Dhabi

Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will mark the end of a number of important eras in modern F1 history, as explored by Tony DiZinno earlier this week.

F1 cars may have undergone a dramatic visual overhaul for 2017, but there will arguably be an even greater change next year when the ‘Halo’ cockpit protection is introduced for 2018. The aesthetics have been widely debated – and not always for the best – but the key safety improvements have received praise from many drivers.

The McLaren-Honda era will also come to an end after three difficult years, while Felipe Massa will also bid farewell to F1 for good this time when he makes his final race start.

It may also end up being the final time we see Pascal Wehrlein and/or Marcus Ericsson in F1, with both their futures at Sauber in doubt as Ferrari pushes to plant both Charles Leclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi at the team next year.

Final driver market puzzle pieces fall into place

Sauber holds two of the final three free seats in F1 for 2018, but the decision appears very much as being Leclerc alongside either Ericsson or Giovinazzi, depending who gets their way out of Sauber’s backers and Ferrari.

The only other seat on offer for 2018 lies at Williams, but momentum appears to be gathering for Robert Kubica to make a remarkable comeback to F1, seven years after sustaining severe injuries to his right arm and hand in a rally accident that appeared to end his single-seater career.

Kubica will test for Williams next week in Abu Dhabi in the Pirelli running, and relying all goes to plan, he should be lining up alongside Lance Stroll next year.

The driver market is nearly complete. Will we get the final full picture in Abu Dhabi?

A farewell to Formula 1 on NBC Sports

This weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be the 98th and final Formula 1 race to be carried by the NBC Sports Group following confirmation of the sport’s move away for 2018.

Over five years, NBC Sports Group has grown F1 live viewership by 65 per cent, and is on course to have its most-watched F1 season since acquiring the rights in 2013.

The 98-race stint has seen three different drivers – Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg – win world titles, with a further four – Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen, Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen – winning races.

A number of key F1 figures have bowed out of the sport, including Mark Webber, Jenson Button, Felipe Massa (twice!), Ron Dennis, and, to some extent, even ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone.

The last five years have been among the most important in F1 history with the changes in power both on and off the grid, and it is an era we shall look back on fondly.

2017 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – TV/Stream Times

NHRA shocker in Houston: John Force fails to qualify for first time since 2008, snaps 221-race streak

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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Sunday’s eliminations in the 31st annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston  just won’t be the same without John Force.

In one of the most stunning turn of events seen in the last decade-plus in NHRA drag racing, the legendary 16-time Funny Car champion and the sport’s all-time winningest driver on Saturday failed to qualify for Sunday’s main event of the race weekend.

It marks the first time Force, who turns 69 on May 4, failed to qualify for a race since Sept. 13, 2008 in Charlotte race, snapping a string of having made the eliminations in each of the subsequent 221 races until failing to do so Saturday.

“That is hard for me,” Force said after failing to go any faster than 222.29 mph in the four qualifying rounds for the race, two on Friday and the other two on Saturday. “You earn what you get. We didn’t put it in the show. We couldn’t get to half-track.

“We have had a lot of problems all year. At least I got my final shot to get in and I didn’t make it. I will be here tomorrow rooting on Robert, Courtney and Brittany (teammates Robert Hight and daughters Courtney and Brittany Force). I’ll be signing autographs for all the fans. I am sorry to all of you fans that I didn’t make it.”

Saturday’s failure to qualify marked only the 22nd time he’s DNQ’d in his 40-year professional drag racing career. He set a drag racing record by qualifying for 395 consecutive events from 1988 until April 2007.

“I am bummed that the boss didn’t get in. That was quite a streak he had going,” Hight said of hoss and father-in-law. “There is nobody better at rallying a team and leading a comeback than John Force.

“He loves the fight and he will do whatever it takes to get his team back on top. It really isn’t something to worry about because two of our Chevys are No.1 and No. 2 right now.

“We have good combinations and we just have to duplicate one of those set ups for John’s PEAK Funny car. He’ll be back next week in Charlotte.”

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As for the other classes (information courtesy NHRA Media Relations):Leah Pritchett set a new Top Fuel track record during the final qualifying session on Saturday to secure the top spot in Top Fuel heading into Sunday.Hight (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the fifth of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Defending event champion Pritchett raced her Mopar Dodge dragster to a pass of 3.680-seconds at 326.00 mph. This is her first No. 1 qualifier of the season and eighth of her career.

“We’ve been developing our confidence the last couple of races,” Pritchett stated. “To be able to put it on the track is phenomenal. We know we need to be exceptional because our competition is exceptional.”

Pritchett will line up against Terry Brian in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Defending world champion Brittany Force locked-in the No. 2 spot after a 3.701 at 313.80 in her Monster Energy dragster. Tony Schumacher is seeded third and will face William Litton.

Hight’s final qualifying pass of 3.894 at 317.27 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro took him to the top of the Funny Car category. This is his first No. 1 qualifier of the season, second at Houston and 58th of his career.

“This is going to be a new ball game tomorrow,” Hight said. “With fresh asphalt and the sun being out; these cars are going to spin. It’s definitely going to be fun. Two of our Chevy’s are one and two (in Funny Car) which shows we have good combinations.”

Hight will face-off against Todd Simpson Sunday morning in the first round. Teammate Courtney Force sits in the No. 2 position with a pass of 3.911 at 295.14 in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro and two-time world champion Matt Hagan rounds out the top three.

Anderson, four-time Pro Stock world champion, remained atop the field Saturday with his pass of 6.492 at 213.00 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro from the first qualifying session on Friday. He notched his third consecutive No. 1 qualifier of the season and is seeking his first victory of the year.

“I haven’t had great Sunday’s yet,” Anderson stated. “I know I’m going to break through one of these days though. The weather is going to be great again tomorrow. I feel good about it, I’m excited and so far it’s just been a great weekend.”

Anderson will race Steve Graham in the first round of eliminations. Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified in the No. 2 position with a pass of 6.504 at 212.36 in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro and Tanner Gray is third.

Eliminations at the NHRA SpringNationals begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Royal Purple Raceway.

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SUNDAY’S FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS FOR ELIMINATIONS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.680 seconds, 326.00 mph vs. 16. Terry Brian, 4.275, 284.62; 2. Brittany Force, 3.701, 320.20 vs. 15. Terry Haddock, 4.081, 287.17; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.703, 322.73 vs. 14. Bill Litton, 3.927, 306.60; 4. Billy Torrence, 3.737, 317.87 vs. 13. Kebin Kinsley, 3.819, 313.51; 5. Antron Brown, 3.740, 324.98 vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.783, 314.31; 6. Clay Millican, 3.746, 315.78 vs. 11. Mike Salinas, 3.766, 313.73; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.748, 320.05 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.766, 316.23; 8. Scott Palmer, 3.754, 318.17 vs. 9. Steve Torrence, 3.759, 313.88. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Totten, 4.636, 216.34.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.894, 317.27 vs. 16. Todd Simpson, Dodge Charger, 4.318, 288.33; 2. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.911, 313.58 vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 4.151, 283.49; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.913, 311.85 vs. 14. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.077, 305.77; 4. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.918, 317.42 vs. 13. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.026, 308.99; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.918, 301.94 vs. 12. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.017, 307.51; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.925, 311.41 vs. 11. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.994, 311.34; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.926, 313.00 vs. 10. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.989, 313.37; 8. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.927, 316.52 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.938, 314.09. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 4.341, 273.05; 18. John Force, 4.625, 222.29.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.492, 213.00 vs. 16. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.775, 205.60; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.504, 212.36 vs. 15. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.621, 208.65; 3. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.507, 211.99 vs. 14. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.592, 210.93; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.513, 212.29 vs. 13. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.548, 210.67; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.518, 211.99 vs. 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.545, 210.50; 6. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.525, 212.79 vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.532, 212.73; 7. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.527, 212.29 vs. 10. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 211.79; 8. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.528, 211.93 vs. 9. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.530, 211.33.