F1 Preview: 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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When the checkered flag falls at the end of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday, and fireworks light up the night sky above Yas Marina, there will be a mix of emotions up and down the Formula 1 paddock.

For either Nico Rosberg or Lewis Hamilton, there will be sheer elation; a level of jubilance neither has previously experienced, such would be the importance of winning the title to either driver.

For the likes of Felipe Massa and Jenson Button, in what looks to be the final F1 start for both drivers (albeit unconfirmed for Button), there will be sadness, pride and gratitude.

But the overwhelming feeling will be relief. At 21 races, the 2016 season has been the longest in F1 history, testing the paddock to its limits. It has been one of the most testing campaigns as well, particularly with an overhaul of the technical regulations on the cards for 2017, forcing teams to split development.

We are, however, guaranteed a championship showdown that will be memorable. Rosberg arrives in Abu Dhabi as the strong favorite, needing just a podium finish to secure a maiden world championship. Hamilton, meanwhile, enters the finale off the back of three hugely convincing victories that have ramped up the pressure on his teammate.

The cliches have already been exhausted: it’s the duel in the desert, it’s the showdown at sundown… etc. We’ve heard it all before. But can Abu Dhabi give the 2016 season one final twist in the tail on Sunday?

2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Talking Points

The end is in sight for Rosberg

Nico Rosberg’s run to the 2016 title has been an odd one. He has nine victories to his name (as does Hamilton) and has only had a couple of bad races, yet his end to the year has been far from convincing. After his victory in Japan, all he needed to do was stay on the podium through the final four races; after three, that is exactly what he’s done.

Rounding out the season without winning would be a bit of a quiet note upon which to see out a championship, but will Nico care? He has taken the opportunities as they have come. The chance to emulate his father, Keke, who won the world title in 1982, is one that he will relish.

The biggest worry for him will probably be reliability. Rosberg was in Hamilton’s position back in 2014, facing improbable odds to win the title, yet there were reduced to nil when the ERS system on his car failed. It was a dud end to the championship fight.

Hamilton has had all the bad luck through 2016. Is Nico due a dose in Abu Dhabi?

Hamilton in all-out-attack mode

Lewis Hamilton may not be crowned world champion for a fourth time on Sunday, but if he can capture a 10th victory of the year, he would surely be remembered as the strongest runner-up in F1 history.

Sure, the luck hasn’t been there this year. But that’s racing. And after his mid-season digs and his questions for Mercedes in Malaysia, Hamilton appears to have settled into a relaxed mode through the final run of races. His victory in Brazil was, from the outside, one of the most impressive of his F1 career. Hamilton himself said that it was pretty easy…

Capping off the year with another victory would only further the questions about who deserved the title more. The Yas Marina Circuit is a track that Hamilton likes, having won here in 2011 and 2014, the latter securing him the championship. He should go strong here.

Start line tactics will obviously be a consideration – the idea of pushing Rosberg wide and dropping him down the order must have entered Hamilton’s head – but in reality, Hamilton knows that if he is to win the title on Sunday, he needs the luck that has eluded him all year long.

Verstappen, Ricciardo look to play spoilers

Max Verstappen won praise from all corners of the paddock with his wet-weather escapades in Brazil, drawing comparisons to Ayrton Senna at the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix, or Michael Schumacher in Spain in 1996.

But now the Dutchman and Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo will be looking to play the role of party pooper for Rosberg in Abu Dhabi. Rosberg may only need a top-three finish, but stick the two Red Bulls between him and Hamilton – just as they finished at Hockenheim earlier this year – and the title is lost by a single point. Ouch.

Red Bull has been growing in strength through the closing part of the season, and look well-placed to mount a challenge for both championships next year. Getting in the mix up front on Sunday may prevent what some fear could be a rather anti-climactic end to the season.

Massa, Button gear up to say goodbye

Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will mark the end of an era in modern-day Formula 1 as Felipe Massa and Jenson Button gear up to make what will likely be their final starts in the sport.

Massa announced in September that he would be retiring at the end of the season, while Button is stepping back from his McLaren seat for 2017. Although the Briton has an option on an F1 drive with McLaren for 2018, most expect this to go unused unless Fernando Alonso decides to call it quits.

Button has been in every F1 race this millennium, while Massa’s career stretches back to 2002. Both have enjoyed the long, storied careers drivers dream of having. To see them off in Abu Dhabi on Sunday will be an emotional moment for the entire paddock.

While a farewell victory or podium may be out of reach, let’s hope both drivers can produce a big display to say goodbye with a decent haul of points.

What else is up for grabs?

While all eyes will be on Rosberg and Hamilton in the fight for the drivers’ championship, there are a few more battles to watch out for in Abu Dhabi this weekend:

  • Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen will fight it out for fourth place in the drivers’ standings. 19 points separate the trio heading into the final race, with Verstappen making big inroads after his masterclass in Brazil.
  • Force India can secures its best-ever constructors’ championship finish this Sunday by holding on to fourth place. The team leads Williams by 27 points in the race for P4.
  • Manor will push to reclaim P10 in the constructors’ from Sauber, having dropping behind in Brazil after Felipe Nasr’s charge to ninth.

2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Yas Marina Circuit
Corners: 21
Lap Record: Sebastian Vettel 1:40.279 (2009)
Tire Compounds: Soft/Super-Soft/Ultra-Soft
2015 Winner: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
2015 Pole Position: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:40.237
2015 Fastest Lap: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:44.517
DRS Zones: T21 to T1; T7 to T8

2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – TV Times

Free Practice 1: NBC Sports app 4am ET 11/25
Free Practice 2: NBCSN 8am ET 11/25
Free Practice 3: NBC Sports app 5am ET 11/26
Qualifying: NBCSN 8am ET 11/26
Race: NBCSN 7am ET 11/27