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What to watch for: Abu Dhabi GP (NBCSN, NBC Sports app from 7am ET)

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After 19 races, five different winners, four pole-sitters, three victorious teams, two title fighters and one world champion, the 2017 Formula 1 season will come to a close on Sunday with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel’s fight for the crown was expected to go the distance, yet contrasting form through the late-season flyaways meant the season finale became a dead-rubber in terms of the title race.

Nevertheless, Sunday’s race at the Yas Marina Circuit will still be a significant one as a number of important eras come to an end.

Looking ahead to 2018, there is also pressure on the front-runners to end the season on a high and build momentum for next year ahead of a renewed fight for supremacy.

You can watch the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

For the final time, here is what to watch for in today’s grand prix.

2017 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – What to watch for

Bottas eager to make up for Brazil loss

Valtteri Bottas’ charge to pole in Abu Dhabi on Saturday was mightily impressive, given not only the track layout’s supposed favor to Ferrari and Red Bull, but also considering that Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton had a far fresher power unit in the back of his car.

The Finn wrung every last tenth out of his pole lap, but now faces a bigger challenge in converting his advantage into victory and end a win drought dating back to July’s Austrian Grand Prix.

Bottas has managed to turn pole into victory just once this year (in Austria), having suffered defeats in Bahrain and, just two weeks ago, in Brazil at the hands of Sebastian Vettel.

With the Finn under pressure after a difficult run to finish the season, ending on a high note by winning in Abu Dhabi could be significant for his 2018 campaign and his Mercedes future.

One last scrap between Hamilton and Vettel?

The title fight between Hamilton and Vettel may have been settled a couple of races ago, but there still lies the possibility of one final fight between the pair on Sunday in Abu Dhabi.

Hamilton and Vettel start second and third at Yas Marina, and while Hamilton may have a fresher power unit in his car, his rival looked stronger over the long runs in Friday’s practice running.

There have only been a handful of on-track battles between the pair this year, notably in both Spain and Azerbaijan, so to have one final scrap would be a good note to end the championship, even if there is no title fight.

Curiously, with 43 points separating the pair, the double points rule used in 2014 would have actually kept the title race alive…

Millions on the line in the race for P6

The top five positions in the constructors’ championship look all but set ahead of the final race, yet the fight for sixth is far, far more complex, with many millions riding on the result in Abu Dhabi.

Toro Rosso enjoys a slender four-point lead over Renault, with Haas sitting a further two points back, giving all three the chance to end the season strongly.

Toro Rosso has scored just one point since Singapore – courtesy of the now-dumped Daniil Kvyat in Austin – and has a tough task ahead in Abu Dhabi with Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley starting 17th and 20th respectively.

Their setbacks have opened the door for Renault, who have Nico Hulkenberg starting P7. If he were to finish there in the race and Toro Rosso did not score, Renault would take sixth in the teams’ standings by two points – and the extra millions in prize money that come with it.

Haas’ greatest hope arguably lies in reliability issues for its Renault-powered rivals, with a number of failures costing both Renault and Toro Rosso shots at points in recent races. Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean do, however, face an uphill struggle for 14th and 16th respectively.

The final Halo-less race

While F1’s technical regulations will remain fairly stable for 2018, the cars are set to look dramatically different upon the arrival of the ‘Halo’ cockpit protection.

The introduction and look of the Halo has been widely criticized in F1, with Lewis Hamilton going as far as saying that Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix would be the last race where cars looked good.

It may be in years to come we remember the introduction of the Halo as a poignant moment in F1 history, acting as the start of a new era in safety standards, much as with the introduction of the HANS device.

Regardless of your opinion on Halo, enjoy seeing true open-cockpit car race for the final time in F1.

Farewell, Felipe, for good this time

It’s rare to get the chance to say goodbye from F1 twice, yet Felipe Massa has done exactly that after his planned retirement from the sport at the end of last season was postponed following Nico Rosberg’s own decision to quit.

Massa announced earlier this month he would definitely be quitting this time, seeming more than ready to, unlike 12 months ago.

After a near-perfect display in Brazil two weeks ago, Massa will aim to sign off with another top-10 finish on Sunday in Abu Dhabi, having qualified P10 for Williams to push Fernando Alonso out of qualifying in the process. Fernando, Felipe is faster than you…

Who else might be say goodbye to? Sauber drivers Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson both face very uncertain futures. Wehrlein seems all but certain to leave, with Williams being the only (and slim) chance of a seat. Ericsson’s future depends on whether Ferrari gets its way and can place either one or two drivers at the team next year.

We’ll also be saying farewell to the current F1 logo, used since 1993, with a new design set to be unveiled after the race.

2017 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
3. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
4. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
5. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
6. Max Verstappen Red Bull
7. Nico Hulkenberg Renault
8. Sergio Perez Force India
9. Esteban Ocon Force India
10. Felipe Massa Williams
11. Fernando Alonso McLaren
12. Carlos Sainz Jr. Renault
13. Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren
14. Kevin Magnussen Haas
15. Lance Stroll Williams
16. Romain Grosjean Haas
17. Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso
18. Pascal Wehrlein Sauber
19. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
20. Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso*

* grid penalty applied

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

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.