2013 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Preview

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After Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull both secured their fourth consecutive titles in India last weekend, it may appear that there is little to play for in the final three races of the season. However, the battle for second place in the constructors’ championship is particularly tight between Mercedes, Ferrari and Lotus, a good deal of pride needs regaining at Williams and McLaren, and even Seb can still tie Alberto Ascari’s long-standing record of nine consecutive race wins should he clean-sweep the final three events. The year is far from over.

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Talking Points

Lucky seven for Seb?

It’s a long running feature in our talking points. “Can Vettel extend his winning streak to X?”, then add one onto that number for the next race. Interestingly though, the pole-sitter in Abu Dhabi has only won the race on one occasion, and his retirement in 2011 and exclusion from qualifying in 2012 means that the German driver could be due a slice of luck at twilight on Sunday. With six wins on the bounce, it’s difficult to see anyone but the German driver taking to the top step of the podium.

Mercedes look to extend advantage

Having reclaimed second place in the constructors’ championship, Mercedes are now looking for the killer punch in their battle with Ferrari and Lotus. Both of their rivals are in hot pursuit but, judging by Nico Rosberg’s pace in India, the Silver Arrows are best-placed to win this battle. Then again, we said the same about Lotus last weekend…

McLaren building on Indian summer

Sergio Perez’s gutsy driver to fifth in last weekend’s Indian Grand Prix has eased the pressure on the Mexican driver as well as giving McLaren something to smile about after he equalled the team’s best result of the season. Therefore, should a race of attrition ensue in Abu Dhabi, the team could be celebrating once again as their stranglehold on P5 in the constructors’ tightens.

Sauber set sights on Force India

Despite failing to score in India, Sauber will be aiming to bounce back this weekend at a track that should suit them. The traction off corners and straight-line speed of the C32 worked wonders in Korea and Japan, and coming out of the long DRS zones both Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierrez should excel. Of course, with Force India just twenty-three points down the road, the Swiss team’s season could turn out to be highly fruitful.

One last chance for Caterham?

Ever since Jules Bianchi’s thirteenth-place finish in Malaysia back in March, Caterham have been playing catch-up in the constructors’, appearing to be relying on a race with few finishers to re-claim the position. Despite outclassing the Anglo-Russian team ever since the Bahrain Grand Prix, luck simply hasn’t been on Caterham’s side. With a fifty percent chance of a safety car this weekend, perhaps it marks one final shot at overthrowing Marussia?

Track: Yas Marina Circuit
Laps: 55
Corners: 21
Lap Record: Sebastian Vettel 1:40.279 (2009)
Tire Compounds: Soft (option); Medium (prime)
2012 Winner: Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus)
2012 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) 1:40.630
2012 Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 1:43.964
DRS Zones: T7 to T8; T10 to T11

Friday – Free Practice 1: 05:00am ET
Friday – Free Practice 2: 09:00am ET (LIVE on NBCSN)
Saturday – Free Practice 3: 06:00am ET
Saturday – Qualifying: 09:00am ET (LIVE on CNBC)
Sunday – Race: 08:00am ET (LIVE on NBCSN, pre-race show starts at 07:30am)

Alex Palou fastest as several go off course during IndyCar practice at IMS

IndyCar Harvest GP practice
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
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Alex Palou paced the opening practice Thursday for the IndyCar Harvest GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

The Dale Coyne Racing rookie turned a 1-minute, 10.177-second lap around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course in his No. 55 Dallara-Honda.

Jack Harvey was second, followed by Colton Herta, points leader Scott Dixon and Max Chilton.

PRACTICE CHART: Click here to see the speed rundown from Thursday’s session

FRIDAY AT IMS: Details for watching Race 1 of the Harvest GP

Qualifying for Friday’s race will be at 6:20 p.m. ET Thursday on NBC Sports Gold.

Will Power, who won the pole position for the July 4 race at the track, spun off course with just more than a minute left in the session after the left rear of his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet made slight contact with the right front of Alexander Rossi’s No. 28 Dallara-Honda.

Power was among several drivers who went off track, but there were no damaged cars during the session. Marcus Ericsson missed the final 5 minutes of the practice after being penalized for causing a red flag with a Turn 8 spin.

Arrow McLaren SP drivers Pato O’Ward and Helio Castroneves, who is driving for Oliver Askew (who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms), also veered off course as did rookie Rinus VeeKay and Santino Ferrucci.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was in attendance at the session before racing Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Johnson will be driving a partial schedule of road and street courses in IndyCar next season for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Literally, the smallest of details, I can pick up on,” Johnson told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee. “It’s been really nice today just to see how a session starts and obviously to jump on the radio and listen to how the systems work and then obviously you get into the car and the setup and such. I’m at ground zero right now, a 45-year-old rookie trying to learn my way into a new sport essentially.”

Johnson told Lee his sponsorship hunt to run a Ganassi car “has gone really well. The fact that I’m here today and ingrained so deeply in the team is a great sign of where things are going. Looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a car soon and hopefully having some announcements for the world to see soon, too.”

Fans were in attendance Thursday for the first time this season at IMS, which is allowed a limited crowd of 10,000 for its races this weekend.