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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: Schumacher, C. Force, Kramer No. 1 qualifiers at Phoenix

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NHRA press release

The 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season continued Saturday as Courtney Force set both ends of the Funny Car track record at the 34th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.

Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel) and Deric Kramer (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the second of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Force took over the top spot in the category with a record run of 3.826 seconds at 335.98 mph in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro during her second pass of the day. After recording seven No. 1 qualifiers in 2017, she is aiming for her first event victory since Houston 2016.

“That last pass today was pretty incredible, we have run well here in the past and I’m excited to be back in that top spot,” Force said. “We are hoping to turn this consistency into a win, we just have to keep being consistent on race day.”

Force is set to face off against Del Worsham in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Ron Capps sits second after a 3.844 at 330.80 in his Napa Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T during the final pass of qualifying on Saturday. The defending Funny Car champion Robert Hight qualified 11th after a 3.927 at 329.26.

Schumacher led the category with a run of 3.649 at 334.65 in his U.S. Army dragster posted during the first qualifying session on Friday. Schumacher also set the Top Fuel national speed record at 336.57 with a time of 3.667 seconds during his second pass on Friday. After securing four No. 1 qualifiers in the 2017 season, Schumacher locked in his first of the year in day two of qualifying.

“We earned our three points and kept the top spot so it’s been a great weekend for us so far,” Schumacher said. “The car continues to be great and [crew chief] Mike Neff is comfortable and knows what the car is doing, so I think tomorrow is going to be great day.”

He will go head-to-head against Greg Carrillo in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Steve Torrence qualified second after a 3.665 at 331.45 in his Capco Contractors dragster, while the defending world champion Brittany Force qualified in the 14th spot.

In Pro Stock, Kramer took over the top spot after driving to a 6.522 at 210.80 run in his American Ethanol Dodge Dart during the fourth qualifying session of the weekend. He secured the first No. 1 qualifying position of his career as Kramer also chases his first-ever victory in the class.

“It feels great to get that first No. 1 qualifier, and we had a great package put together this weekend and that was able to move us to the top,” Kramer said. “There were definitely some tuning adjustments from Pomona, but we went back to our old game plan with that KB power and it was a great combination.”

Kramer matches up against Alan Prusiensky in the first round of eliminations. Erica Enders is second in the qualifying order after a 6.527 at 209.98, while Alex Laughlin sits in the third spot.

Eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.

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Sunday’s first-round pairings for eliminations.

TOP FUEL: 1. Tony Schumacher, 3.649 seconds, 336.57 mph vs. 16. Greg Carrillo, 4.227, 220.91; 2. Steve Torrence, 3.655, 331.85 vs. 15. Steven Chrisman, 4.089, 281.30; 3. Clay Millican, 3.664, 335.23 vs. 14. Brittany Force, 3.828, 253.52; 4. Leah Pritchett, 3.679, 334.15 vs. 13. Troy Buff, 3.809, 318.77; 5. Richie Crampton, 3.683, 325.30 vs. 12. Scott Palmer, 3.788, 326.63; 6. Billy Torrence, 3.697, 331.45  vs. 11. Doug Kalitta, 3.742, 328.78; 7. Blake Alexander, 3.705, 332.59 vs. 10. Terry McMillen, 3.740, 325.85; 8. Antron Brown, 3.712, 333.66 vs. 9. Mike Salinas, 3.737, 326.32.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Kebin Kinsley, 5.118, 136.79; 18. Terry Totten, 8.158, 69.73; 19. Terry Haddock, 10.095, 91.23.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.826, 335.98 vs. 16. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 5.089, 173.99; 2. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.844, 330.80 vs. 15. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.551, 182.82; 3. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.845, 332.43 vs. 14. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.244, 235.27; 4. John Force, Camaro, 3.864, 332.51 vs. 13. Jeff Diehl, Camry, 4.120, 307.79; 5. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.866, 317.27 vs. 12. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.971, 316.75; 6. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.879, 329.91 vs. 11. Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.927, 329.26; 7. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.888, 333.25 vs. 10. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.927, 329.42; 8. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.919, 324.20 vs. 9. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.926, 330.88.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 7.402, 91.58.

PRO STOCK: 1. Deric Kramer, Chevy Camaro, 6.522, 211.00 vs. 16. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.663, 207.94; 2. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.527, 209.98 vs. 15. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.659, 208.55; 3. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.529, 209.59 vs. 14. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.640, 209.69; 4. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.530, 211.66 vs. 13. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.581, 209.82; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.531, 211.03 vs. 12. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.567, 210.08; 6. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 210.60 vs. 11. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.553, 210.14; 7. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.534, 211.63 vs. 10. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.550, 210.41; 8. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.542, 210.05 vs. 9. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.550, 211.39.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Joey Grose, 6.720, 206.64.