MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: Abu Dhabi GP

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ABU DHABI – After 18 races and some frenetic battles at the front of the field, the 2014 Formula 1 championship will finally be decided in Abu Dhabi this weekend. Just as it has been all season long, it will be Lewis Hamilton versus Nico Rosberg at the front of the field, only this time, it is the final battle for the world championship.

Hamilton enters the final race of the year with the upper hand, leading Rosberg by 17 points. However, with double points on offer for the final race of the year, there is still plenty to play for.

As things stand, Hamilton only needs a top two finish to be sure of the title, with Rosberg seemingly pinning his hopes on trouble striking his teammate’s Mercedes. However, after two more troublesome title tilts in 2007 and 2008, Hamilton will know to take nothing for granted.

This weekend’s race sees a number of ‘lasts’ take place: Sebastian Vettel’s last race for Red Bull; Renault’s last race powering Lotus; Mercedes’ last race powering McLaren; Kvyat’s last race for Toro Rosso; Gutierrez and Sutil’s last race for Sauber – and probably the last time we will see Fernando Alonso driving a Ferrari, and perhaps even the last time Jenson Button will be racing in F1.

This is also the last set of MST predictions for this season – so be sure to check out what our writers think will happen under the lights in Abu Dhabi.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Nico Rosberg. This race should see Nico pick up the maximum score of 50 points and put the pressure on Hamilton for the title. Lewis doesn’t have to win in Abu Dhabi – he just has to finish second. My reckoning is that Nico will cross the line first, but with his teammate in hot pursuit just behind him.

Surprising finish: Caterham. Surprising in the sense that the team will actually race in Abu Dhabi. It’s a turn of events that very few could have seen coming, but alas, the team will line up on the grid on Sunday.

Most to prove: Lewis Hamilton. A controversial choice? Perhaps. After losing out in 2007 and 2010, Hamilton has his best chance yet of winning the championship heading into the final race of the year. It’s time for him to make it count and become a two-time world champion.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. This is one of Hamilton’s best tracks, and armed with the best car in the field, I think Lewis makes it an emphatic 11th win of the season and confirms his second World Championship, first with Mercedes.

Surprising finish: Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn spoke of a better balance with the front end of his Ferrari in Brazil, and will be poised to be closer to his 2012 form than a year ago, when he retired from the race in what was ultimately his final start for Lotus.

Most to prove: Kevin Magnussen. McLaren is deciding its driver lineup post-Dec. 1. Even if Magnussen is retained into 2015, the youngster has been outshone of late by Jenson Button, who could well be headed for the exits. There’s many drivers uncertain of their 2015 plans and K-Mag could use a run to book-end the season that was as dynamic and outstanding as his Melbourne podium debut.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. Nico Rosberg put in a superb effort to beat back Hamilton in Brazil, but it’s still the Briton’s World Championship to lose in Abu Dhabi. After everything Hamilton has done this season, he can’t cough up the title now.

Surprising finish: Romain Grosjean. Lotus believes that their E22 will be a better match for the Yas Marina Circuit, and with their Frenchman talking of upgrades and more power this week, I figure he’ll be keen to take advantage of that.

Most to prove: Nico Rosberg. With double points on offer for this final battle, he still has a chance to snatch the title away from Hamilton. But he can’t worry about him. All he can – and must – focus on is winning this race.

Jerry Bonkowski (@JerryBonkowski)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. After an absolutely dominant season, there is no way Hamilton is letting the championship slip through his fingers in the season finale at Abu Dhabi. Admittedly, he has struggled in the last two races at Abu Dhabi after winning there in 2011, but with the championship on the line, Lewis is the man to get it done.

Surprising finish: Sebastian Vettel. Having won three of the first five Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, including last season, Vettel would likely love to finish off the season on a high note. That’s particularly significant since Vettel has not won a race this season. If anyone is to beat Hamilton, which we still feel unlikely, it’ll be Vettel.

Most to prove: Nico Rosberg. While he still has a shot at the championship, and has a strong past record at Abu Dhabi, Rosberg will come up short in Sunday’s season-ending race. Still, Rosberg has nothing to hang his head about. He’s enjoyed his best F1 season to date and presented a formidable challenge to his teammate. We foresee even bigger and better things ahead for Nico.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).