Can Valtteri Bottas avoid an unwanted milestone? Will Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo, Fernando Alonso – not to mention a few others – depart their teams on a high?
And will we get one last twist in the 2019 F1 driver market? These are a few of the talking points for this weekend’s season finale.
Can Bottas avoid a win-less year?
Arguably Bottas should be heading into the final race of 2018 with two victories under his belt. A puncture caused by debris robbed him of victory at Baku and Mercedes’ team orders in Russia meant he had to surrender the lead to his team mate. You could also add China to the list of races he was unfortunate not to win.
‘Ifs’ and ‘buts’ aside, his tally of wins for the season nonetheless reads zero out of 20, with just one race left. Can he put that right at Yas Marina, where he scored his most recent victory 12 months ago? On paper he should have a good chance.
Mercedes have fared better on slow corners since their struggles at Spa. Hamilton may be at a disadvantage because of the damage his power unit suffered in Brazil. And while the team avoided using their ‘spacer’ rear wheels while the championships were still up for grabs due to a fear of a protest from Ferrari, with both trophies now locked up that is no longer a concern.
But if Bottas fails to win this weekend, he will become the first driver since Michael Schumacher six years ago to complete a season for Mercedes without winning a race.
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The many goodbyes
Alonso is saying goodbye for now at leastFollowing a season of upheaval in the driver market many drivers head into the race knowing or expecting it will be the last for their current teams – or possibly in F1 entirely.
Kimi Raikkonen will bid farewell to Ferrari and Charles Leclerc will do likewise at Sauber as their pair trade races. Daniel Ricciardo will exit Red Bull, no doubt hoping to grab a last podium finish which would be his first since Monaco.
Sauber will also say goodbye to Marcus Ericsson. McLaren are saying goodbye to both their drivers too and it seems likely Williams will be too. Lance Stroll is definitely is on his way out, the expectation being that he will replace Esteban Ocon at Force India.
Verstappen versus Ocon
The pair shook hands after their two clashes in Brazil – the first one on-track caused by Ocon, the second off-track instigated by Verstappen. But have these career rivals really put their differences aside? We’ll find out tomorrow when they are due to appear in one of the official pre-race press conferences.
You can take your pick from the likely discussion points around this one. Why did Verstappen feel the need to ‘defend’ his position from Ocon going into turn one? Did Ocon really think his rival was going to leave him ‘racing room’ when he was a lap down? And is the FIA’s penalty for Verstappen likely to have any effect at all on him?
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Million-dollar midfield fights
Sauber could shock Force IndiaThe top three positions in constructors’ championship are set but there rest are up for grabs, at least mathematically. Each position potentially means a difference of millions in prize money.
Haas need a very good weekend – even better than the one they enjoyed in Austria – to have a chance of unseating Renault from fourth place.
But how Force India’s fortunes have changed. Two races ago they looked nailed-on to beat McLaren to sixth. But stumbled badly in Mexico and only took a single point in Brazil. They could still make it if they get a points windfall at Yas Marina – but if they aren’t careful they could lose seventh to the threatening Saubers.
Another ‘extreme deg’ race?
Pirelli’s softest tyre selection is back this weekend. Does that mean we’re going to see another race of extreme tyre degradation with drivers being told 50 times to save their rubber, as we did in Mexico?
Kubica closing on Williams drive?
Rumours continue to surround the second seat at Williams, currently occupied by Sergey Sirotkin. Robert Kubica, who will drive Sirotkin’s car again during first practice this weekend, has been linked to the place in what would be a long-awaited comeback for one of F1’s most popular drivers.
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