Twenty-one races have gone by, and the fight for glory is back to square one ahead of F1’s Abu Dhabi showdown. The stakes are high so let’s warm-up for one last time.
The Yas Marina Circuit at Abu Dhabi welcomes a significant layout change ahead of this historical weekend for all F1 fans. The chicane after turn 4 is now removed, and F1 drivers will be flat out for 100m longer before the main straight. The new hairpin of turn 5 is now a slightly faster corner than its predecessor. The biggest change is at turns 11-14. One sweeping left-hander has replaced the old double-chicanes complex. The new turn 9 is now at fifth gear instead of third. The final sector receives minor changes with the radius of turn 12 to 15. The four corners are now faster than last year. Turn 15, the penultimate quick-left of the circuit is now flat out.
They also replaced the curbs ahead of this event. The changes include removing the green AstroTurf and extending the red-white curb. The most notable technical factor is how soft the tires are. Pirelli brought their softest tire compound range to Abu Dhabi, the C3, C4, and C5. Pirelli are still confident that it is the correct decision, despite the punishing new curbs and rising concerns of punctures. This could have huge implications on the title as Mercedes seems to have an edge with tire conservation. As we had seen in Jeddah, Verstappen’s medium tires degraded after just ten laps. Or was that just the difference between the hard and medium compound in Saudi Arabia?
Winner Takes All at Abu Dhabi
As the pair are now equal on points, there is no speculation or math before this race. It is simple. The winner takes all. If Verstappen and Hamilton fail to score points in this race, Verstappen will take the crown on countback. If Hamilton finishes 9th and Verstappen finishes 10th with the fastest lap, or vice versa, Verstappen will still win on countback. But the latter is very unlikely, considering the pace advantage they both have over the rest. Red Bull dominated last year while Mercedes dominated the 2019 edition, thus making it difficult to make any judgment. However, with how the last three races have shaped up, we can see a clear advantage for Mercedes, with their top speed and race pace over Red Bull. After wins in Brazil, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the momentum is certainly with the defending champions. Even better for the German squad, removing two chicanes means Red Bull lost their slow-speed corner advantage. Sergio Perez will also have a lot to do to make up the 28-point deficit due to his retirement in Jeddah. Advantage Mercedes in the Constructor’s Championship, with Christian Horner conceding they’ll need a ‘miracle‘ to win from here.
How are the drivers feeling?
Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton were ‘randomly’ assigned for the same media session on Thursday. Both drivers are calm, composed, and ready for the monumental race ahead of them. They answer questions with expected answers, as usual. After Jeddah, there are many talks about how it can end with a collision. Both drivers refuse, at least publicly, to countenance the speculation for that situation. We have seen before in Jeddah, the stake does take its toll on the drivers. The race in Jeddah shows a considerable amount of desperation in how both teams and drivers conduct. All we can hope for is a feisty but clean race for the title. The aftermath even saw Sky Sports’ Martin Brundle say Verstappen needs to be careful about his ‘legacy‘ after the Saudi Arabian GP ‘tactics.’
A repeat of Suzuka 1990?
Race director Michael Masi, who is also under a lot of pressure, has clearly warned drivers of a possible points deduction for any unsporting conduct. Hamilton responds that the stewards did not take similar precautions in 2021, unlike Abu Dhabi. Verstappen said that he understands the Sporting Code. He knows that it won’t be any different this time and will focus on his race. Team Principal Christian Horner and Senior advisor Helmut Marko have been vocal about how the FIA treats each team differently. They talk about how the stewards treat Red Bull and Mercedes differently. But all the talks are now irrelevant as drivers will go into this race on equal points. The two gladiators are ready for their fight, and so are we at the Colosseum.
When to tune in?
The race will be shown free by Dutch TV Ziggo Sport and UK’s Channel 4. For every other broadcaster, it will be the usual service. Tune in for:
Friday, December 10
F2 Practice: 08:05-08:50
F2 Qualifying: 14:30-15:00
Saturday, December 11
F2 Race 1: 08:20-09:10
F2 Race 2: 14:45-15:35
Sunday, December 12
F2 Feature Race: 09:00-10:05
(All in GMT time)
Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images