With 20 fascinating F1 races ticked off the calendar so far in 2018, the drivers will take to Abu Dhabi this weekend to make their last stand. While the Driver’s Championship and the Constructors title have been long since claimed, there’s still all to play for at the Yas Marina Circuit.
This track will host the season finale for the fifth consecutive year on Sunday. While some may view the 2018 iteration as something of an anti-climax, there’s no doubt that the competitors love the unique challenge that this track poses.
But once the floodlights have been lit and the chequered flag held high, which driver will have ended the 2018 F1 season with a win? We take a look…
The Drivers to Watch
Like most tracks on the F1 circuit, the recent history of the Yas Marina track has been dominated by the duelling duo of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. Although the circuit only debuted in 2009, six of the nine races held here have been dominated by Vettel and Hamilton, with both claiming three races each.
The duo have also taken five poles and led for 326 of the 495 (66%) laps completed during this time.
However, it’s seven races since Vettel last won an F1 Grand Prix, with his triumph at Spa in Belgium on August 26th now little more than a distant memory. On the other hand, newly crowned champion Hamilton has won five races during this time, further emphasizing the gulf that currently exists between the two drivers.
Make no mistake – Mercedes will also have the upper-hand here. The Silver Arrows are flying high after Brazil and are looking to become the first constructor ever to achieve five consecutive front-row lockouts at a single Grand Prix.
They’re also looking to achieve a fourth successive one-two finish at Abu Dhabi, which would tread new ground at an F1 track. As a result, both Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas (who took the chequered flag here last year) will be confident of ending the season with a win.
Conversely, Ferrari has never won in Dubai. Although the track is a happy hunting ground for Vettel, he won all his races here while driving for Red Bull.
In fact, Vettel’s three wins here may actually provide more comfort for the Red Bull side, who were the last team other than Mercedes to stand on top of the podium in Abu Dhabi. Lead driver Max Verstappen will also arrive in excellent form, and he’ll be keen to end with a win after being denied in Brazil last time out.
The Key F1 Statistics
While Hamilton may have already been declared as the 2018 F1 champion, he’s still chasing some big numbers as the season draws to a close. He’s looking to secure his 11th win of 2018, which would match his best ever total from 2014 (which was achieved from two less races).
He’ll also go in search of a 17th podium finish of the year, which would match his career-topping performances of 2015 and 2016.
As for his teammate Bottas, his last competitive win for Mercedes was achieved last year at Abu Dhabi. If he fails to repeat these heroics on Sunday, he’ll suffer the ignominy of being the first winless Mercedes driver ever in a turbo-hybrid season. Michael Schumacher was the last man to earn this dubious honour back in 2012.
The race is also likely to be a seminal one for Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo, who will make his last competitive appearance for the team in Abu Dhabi. The race will represent his 150th Grand Prix start and his 100th for red Bull, so we’re sure he’d love nothing more than to end this chapter with a win!
What About the Circuit and the Tyres?
Now a permanent fixture of the F1 calendar, this twilight circuit is located on the stunning Yas Island and is arguably a clear example of the ideal modern Formula One track design.
It’s also one of the quickest, with top speeds of 325 km/h and average speeds of 190 km/h on the straights. There are nine right turns and 12 challenging left turns, and it also has the unique feature of running in an anti-clockwise direction.
One of the sport’s longest and most demanding tracks, it’s tailormade for competitive racing and best suits teams that are able to balance speed, power and immense driving skill. This should favour Mercedes, particularly with Hamilton seeming capable of winning anywhere in the world right now.
This track, which has been designed by the renowned circuit architect Hermann Tilke, also boasts a spectacular waterfront setting that will appeal to fans from across the globe.
As for the tyres, Pirelli have opted for the three softest options in their range: the red-marked supersoft, purple-marked ultrasoft and the pink-marked hypersofts. This seems like a sensible and balanced selection, particularly as the surface at Yas Marina is relatively smooth and not too demanding on tyres.
However, drivers will need to cope with constantly changing temperatures over the course of the race, which starts in the late afternoon and will end under floodlights in the evening. With track temperatures set to considerably during this time, teams will be looking to adopt a one-stop strategy that optimises speed and performance throughout.
As ever, strategy will play a key role in the final outcome in Abu Dhabi, with Mercedes and Red Bull seemingly having the edge on Ferrari at present. At this stage the smart money’s on another win for Hamilton, but Bottas, Verstappen and Ricciardo will all fancy their chances of taking the chequered flag here.