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.

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”