F1: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Preview

Lewis HamiltonLewis Hamilton (pictured) just needs to finish second at this weekend’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to be crowned the 2014 Formula One Drivers’ Champion (Race: Sunday, 13:00 GMT, live on BBC & Sky Sports F1).

Nico Rosberg cut Hamilton’s championship advantage to 17 points by leading his teammate home to a Mercedes one-two in Brazil two weeks ago. The German driver qualified on pole position and led Hamilton from start to finish to secure his fifth victory of the year.

Behind them, Felipe Massa delighted his compatriots by coming home third for Williams. Jenson Button finished in a strong fourth place for McLaren, ahead of Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) and the Ferrari pair of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India), Kevin Magnussen (McLaren) and Valtteri Bottas (Williams) rounded out the top 10.

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Double points are on offer this weekend but are unlikely to prove decisive in the Constructors’ Championship, with large gaps separating the majority of the teams. However, pointless Caterham – who will race after raising the necessary funds to compete – and Sauber will both be seeking to pip the non-competing Marussia to 9th place in the standings.

The Circuit

The Yas Marina Circuit will play host to its sixth Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend. As in previous years, the race will be run on a day-night basis, with floodlights used to illuminate the track as the natural light fades. The circuit requires to medium-to-high downforce setup, with a relatively high number of slow-speed corners in addition to two long straights.

Current weather forecasts suggest that it will be a hot and sunny weekend in Abu Dhabi, with no chance of rain. Pirelli have chosen their soft and supersoft tyres for the event. The majority of drivers are likely to adopt a two-stop strategy.

Mercedes

Under the normal points system, Hamilton would only have had to finish sixth this weekend in order to win the championship. Instead, he now needs to finish second in order to seal his second drivers’ title. However, with Mercedes continuing to enjoy a clear pace advantage over the rest of the field, barring mechanical problems that should be very much doable.

Rosberg qualified and finished ahead of Hamilton at last year’s race at the Yas Marina Circuit and has beaten his teammate of the time on each of the four occasions he has finished in Abu Dhabi.

Hamilton also has a strong previous record at the circuit, including a win for McLaren in 2011. There is, however, no need for him to take any undue risks this weekend and he will likely be more than happy to follow Rosberg home to a one-two.

The Race

Only Monaco and Singapore feature more low-speed corners than Abu Dhabi and performance at those circuits is likely to prove instructive as to the order this weekend. Red Bull were the second quickest team at both events, filling out the second row of the grid on both occasions and having at least one driver finish on the podium in each of them.

Vettel finished second in Singapore and will be determined to secure himself a top-three finish on his final outing for Red Bull ahead of his move to Ferrari for next season. He is supremely quick at the Yas Marina Circuit, having won three of the five races there since the inaugural event in 2009, including a commanding victory last year.

Vettel can be fancied to finish on the podium this weekend.

Sergio Perez has had a solid first season at Force India following his move from McLaren and will be relatively confident of ending the season with his 12th points finish of the year. Force India showed strong pace in both Monaco (where Hulkenberg finished fifth) and Singapore (where they secured a double points finish) and have a good record in Abu Dhabi.

The team achieved a ninth place finish in 2012 and saw both of their cars finish in the points in the Grand Prix of 2011 and 2013. Perez himself has a decent record at the circuit, having qualified 11th, 11th and 9th and finished 11th, 15th and 9th in his three previous appearances. He also won the feature race in GP2 back in 2010.

Perez can be expected to end the year with a points finish in Abu Dhabi.

Jean-Eric Vergne has secured seven points finishes for Toro Rosso this season but still doesn’t know if he will be driving for them next year. The team have not been particularly quick at the Yas Marina Circuit in recent years, but their pace at the Monaco and Singapore Grands Prix earlier this season suggests they should be fairly rapid this weekend.

Vergne’s best finish of the year came in Singapore, where he qualified 12th and came through to finish sixth in the race. He also showed good speed in Monaco, qualifying seventh before retiring from the race with an exhaust failure. His teammate, Daniel Kyvat, also qualified in the top 10 at both events.

If things go his way, Vergne has a good chance of finishing in the points on Sunday.

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