As the final race of the season draws near, teams and drivers will have the chance to end their season with a flourish before the focus turns to 2019.
The Yas Marina Circuit once again plays host to the season finale, where the final positions in the championship will be decided.
The top two positions in the drivers’ championship have already been decided, but there are sixteen points between third-placed Kimi Raikkonen and fifth-placed Max Verstappen, with Valtteri Bottas in between.
Red Bull’s Verstappen has had an impressive second half of the season, and he would’ve been even closer to the third place battle if it weren’t for his mid-race collision with Esteban Ocon in Brazil.
That collision allowed Hamilton to take his tenth victory of the season, marking the first race Hamilton has won after claiming a world championship with races to spare.
He now has the chance to equal his personal best record of eleven wins in a season, an achievement he managed back in 2014.
Mercedes have sensational form here; they’re aiming to become the first team to achieve five consecutive front-row lockouts at the same venue, along with taking four consecutive one-two finishes at the same circuit, which would be another record.
His task may be made tougher by the fact that his power unit apparently only just survived the Brazilian Grand Prix, and engine damage may force him to run either an older, higher-mileage power unit, or restrict the performance of his current unit.
Despite this, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has said that sealing the constructors’ championship with one round to spare means that Mercedes can now “go for broke” in Abu Dhabi:
“The championship pressure is off, so we can look at this as one race where we can really go for broke. Our Silver Arrow has won 10 races so far this season and we all want to add one more to that score – especially Valtteri, who has lost out on wins this season through bad luck and team orders. We know, too, that it will be a tough battle because both Red Bull and Ferrari will have the same target of taking good momentum into the winter.
“We have taken four wins in a row at Yas Marina, although it’s a track with a lot of slow and medium speed corners. We’ve made some good steps forward when it comes to our car’s performance on similar tracks, so we’re confident that we can perform strongly in Abu Dhabi as well, and end this incredible 2018 season on a high.”
Final push for constructors’ championship places
With Haas’ push to pass Renault for fourth place fizzling out (they’re 24 points adrift), the closest contest in the constructors’ battle is for seventh place.
Force India’s quest to haul themselves back up the rankings has faltered in recent races, and they now find themselves at risk of falling back behind the in-form Sauber team, who are just six points behind.
Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was a tad unlucky not to convert his best-ever qualifying session into points in Brazil, but a seventh place for Charles Leclerc put the Swiss team nine points clear of Toro Rosso and within one good team result of taking Force India for seventh.
Alonso’s final race in Formula One
Two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso will take to the track for his final Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi, over seventeen years after making his debut for Minardi back in 2001.
Whilst some aspects of his career will be remembered with a “what if…”, the sport will lose one of it’s toughest competitors as he concentrates on other motor sport ventures.
He will run a special livery for his final F1 appearance, but association with McLaren will continue in the Indy 500 next year, with Alonso suggesting that he and the team will take on other motor sport challenges in the future.
“Abu Dhabi will certainly be very emotional race for me, as it will be the end of a long and happy 17 years in Formula 1. The time has come for me to move on, but I’m looking forward to ending the season – and my F1 career – on a positive note,” said Alonso.
“I’m also pleased that my relationship with McLaren will continue with the Indy 500, and there will be more new challenges together. There are very exciting things ahead, and I’m enthusiastic for what the future will bring. For now, I’m not ruling anything out.”
Ricciardo makes his 100th-and-final appearance for Red Bull
The season finale in Abu Dhabi also marks the final race for Daniel Ricciardo in Red Bull overalls, before making the switch to Renault in 2019. This also coincides with his 100th appearance for the team.
During his time at Red Bull, the Australian achieved seven wins and three pole positions, the most popular of which came from a memorable weekend at this year’s Monaco Grand Prix, where he secured a pole position before going on to take victory, erasing the memory of his 2016 Monaco GP heartbreak.
“Abu Dhabi marks the end of five years with the team and 10 years with Red Bull itself,” said Ricciardo ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
“I’m sure it’s going to be emotional afterwards, especially when I cross the line for the last time with the team. But I’m going there guns a-blazing, showing a lot of love. Hopefully the love shows me back and I can spray some fake champagne on Sunday, which would be a fitting farewell.”
By: Luke Murphy
All images: Motorsport Images
What are your predictions for the season finale? Can Bottas or Verstappen take third place in the championship from Raikkonen? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.