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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.

New study surveys drivers’ opinions on crashes, concussions, more

James Black/IndyCar
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Auto racing safety has continued to improve through the decades, but the sport remains inherently dangerous, according to a new survey.

At the close of 2018, a new organization called Racing Safety United emerged with the intention of reducing drivers’ risk of being harmed.

RSU is made up of more than 30 members including former NASCAR Cup Series competitor Jerry Nadeau, two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Randy LaJoie, NHRA team owner Don Schumacher and motorsports journalist Dick Berggren.

One of RSU’s first initiatives was to determine what current drivers thought of racing safety. The organization developed a 14-question survey and promoted it on select motorsports websites and forums. 

Participants were given the opportunity to disclose their identity or remain anonymous, and those who provided contact information were entered to win a $500 prize (for anonymous participants, the prize funds would be donated to a motorsports charity). 

More than 140 individuals participated in the survey over the course of 12 months. Below are the results of the survey:

Driver status

The vast majority of survey participants (60%) were amateur racers, while 26% of the participants were classified as Semi-Pro/Professional racers. The remaining 14% consisted of other individuals involved in the sport such as team owners and crew chiefs. 

When asked how frequently they race, 58% of driver respondents averaged 10 or more times per year on track, while 42% averaged 10 times or less.

The top five tracks respondents said they raced most often: Road Atlanta (21 votes), Watkins Glen (17 votes), Virginia International Raceway (16 votes), Mid-Ohio (16 votes), and Road America (13 votes).

Vehicular damage, injuries common

Over a third of respondents said they had been injured while racing, and almost two-thirds sasid they had suffered severe vehicle damage while racing

Driver error was cited as the top cause of vehicle damage (42 mentions), followed by concrete walls (26 mentions), mechanical failures (24 mentions), and other drivers (19 mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for better driver training/coaching, energy absorbing walls, and more technical inspections.

Almost a quarter of drivers said they had experienced racing-related concussions, and nearly half the respondents said one or multiple concussions would affect their decision to race in the future. 

Drivers primarily influenced by peers 

Roughly half the drivers said they would consider adopting new safety equipment if influenced by another driver (51 total mentions) and/or if recommended by a sanctioning body (47 total mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for drivers to become safety advocates and educate other drivers and for sanctioning bodies to mandate safety equipment. 

Drivers concerned with concrete walls

Approximately three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said they believed certain race tracks were more dangerous than others. Nearly half the drivers surveyed believe that concrete walls were the primary cause of damage to drivers and vehicles. 

Drivers willing to help

Just more than three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said that they would be willing to join a safety alliance to advocate for safer tracks. Two-thirds of drivers said that they also would be willing to contribute to a motorsports safety fund.

Click here for the full results of RSU’s survey

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