Getty Images

What to watch for: Abu Dhabi GP (NBCSN, NBC Sports app from 7am ET)

Leave a comment

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.

Could Scott Dixon someday break Foyt, Andretti wins and championships records?

IndyCar
1 Comment

With five races left in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Scott Dixon is in the driver’s seat to potentially earn a fifth career IndyCar championship.

After winning Sunday at Toronto, Dixon now has a 62-point edge over second-ranked and defending series champ Josef Newgarden and a 70-point lead over third-ranked Alexander Rossi.

The triumph north of the border was Dixon’s third there, as well as his 44th career IndyCar win, third-highest in IndyCar annals.

Add in the four IndyCar championships and those are stellar numbers indeed.

What makes things all the more amazing is Dixon has done all that in under 18 full seasons on the IndyCar circuit. Heck, he’s only 37 years old, too (although he turns 38 on July 22).

Dixon’s championships have come in 2003 (his first full season in IndyCar after two prior seasons in CART/Champ Car), 2008, 2013 and most recently in 2015.

The quiet, unassuming New Zealander has been one of the most successful drivers ever not just in IndyCar, but in all forms of motorsports.

When his name is mentioned, it’s typically included with the only two drivers who have more career wins than he does: A.J. Foyt (67 wins and seven championships, both records) and Mario Andretti (52 wins and four titles).

That’s a pretty lofty pair to be part of.

One might think that after all the success he’s had, Dixon could easily walk away from IndyCar and Chip Ganassi Racing and enjoy an early retirement.

But competing in and winning races isn’t really a job for Dixon. He enjoys what he’s doing so much that he easily could keep doing what he’s doing – and at a high level – for another seven or more years, at least.

So, can Dixon catch Mario and A.J.? The former would be easier than the latter, for sure.

Numerically, it’s possible – at least part of it:

* Dixon can easily be competitive into his mid-40s.

* He’s averaged three-plus wins every season since 2007 (37 wins from then through Sunday). That means if he can keep that average going, he could reach 24 more wins – to overtake Foyt – by 2026. Yes, that may be a stretch to even imagine, but if there’s any current driver who potentially could overtake Foyt, it’s Dixon.

* Dixon already has three wins this season, and with five more races still to go, he could easily win another one, two or maybe even three more in 2018 as he continues his road to the championship. And let’s not forget that with each additional win, that’s one win closer to overtaking Andretti and Foyt.

In his usual modest and humble manner, Dixon downplays not just talk comparing him with Andretti and Foyt, but also overtaking one or both.

“I think A.J. is pretty safe,” he said. “He’s a long ways ahead. … Eight (championships) is an infinity away. Takes a long time to get eight.”

But that doesn’t mean Dixon can’t keep working at approaching Foyt’s mark.

“I think for us, we take it race by race,” he said. “We’re in the business of winning races. If we’re not doing that, I won’t have a job for too long. That’s the focus for right now.”

If he wins the championship this year, he’ll pass Andretti’s championship mark. That would be one record down, three to go.

And if he can win nine more races over the next few seasons, he’ll pass Andretti’s 52 career wins, making it two records down and two more to go.

“Right now with 44 wins, next on the list is Mario I think at 52 or something,” Dixon said after Sunday’s win. “We’ll see how it goes. Right now, we’re just trying to get the job done for the team.”

And he’s doing a darn good job at that indeed – with likely even more success still to come.

Follow @JerryBonkowski