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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

Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

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MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”