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.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.