ABU Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Nov 23 – Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team will be aiming to end an already-triumphant season on a high while the chasing pack scrap for points, positions and prize money at this weekend’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Much more than pride will be at stake for the middle and lower order teams, as they seek to finish strongly and boost their 2018 budgets, in the twilight showdown at the Yas Marina circuit.
Hamilton has already wrapped up his fourth drivers’ world title and Mercedes their fourth consecutive constructors’ championship, but team chief Toto Wolff said the team are determined to win in Abu Dhabi for the fourth year in succession.
“Regardless of what stands in the trophy cabinets back at base, our focus is always on the next race and the next championship,” he said.
“Our goal in Abu Dhabi is quite simple: to give the best of ourselves, to extract the maximum from our ‘diva’ in her final race and to win.
“We saw promising pace in both Mexico and Brazil, circuits where we had expected to struggle more than we did, and this is a positive sign of the progress we have made in understanding our difficulties this year.
“But we have not been on the top step of the podium since winning in Austin and we are determined to change that in Abu Dhabi.”
Hamilton was the victor in Texas a month ago and, like his team boss, wants to end his season strongly with a 10th victory this year. “I’m going to give it everything in Abu Dhabi,” said the Briton, who has seen rivals Max Verstappen of Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari win the last two contests.
Vettel will also be keen to impress again and clinch second place behind Hamilton in the drivers’ championship. He goes into the weekend with a 22-point advantage ahead of Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
– Verstappen lauded –
And Verstappen, buoyed by high praise from Mercedes executive chairman Niki Lauda, will be a threat as he seeks a third win of the season. Three-time champion Lauda last week described the 20-year-old Dutchman as the best young driver to enter F1.
“In all my many years in motor racing, Max is the most fantastic young driver I’ve ever seen, no doubt,” said Lauda. “He impresses me – he is aggressive and fast. The only thing I would tell him is to keep his feet on the ground.”
While the championship is already decided, the leading drivers may well also be challenged by their team-mates Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo.
While they scrap at the front, it will lower down the field that some of the most ferocious battles are likely to take place.
The Toro Rosso, Renault and Haas teams are separated by six points, and an estimated payout of around $12 million (10.2 million euros), in sixth, seventh and eighth places in the championship.
Renault team boss Cyril Abiteboul, whose outfit are two ahead of Haas and four ahead of Toro Rosso, said: “This race is almost a championship in itself.”
As the tension eats up the midfielders, it will be an emotional release for Williams’ Felipe Massa again as he competes in his final race before retiring.
The 36-year-old Brazilian said: “I’m looking forward to it and plan to enjoy every moment, to finish my Formula One career on a high note.”
F1 may also bid farewell to the Sauber drivers Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson, tipped to be replaced next year, and to the McLaren-Honda partnership.
McLaren are to be powered by Renault next season while Honda will supply Toro Rosso.
The final race of 2017 may also prove the final event with fully open cockpits on the cars before next year’s planned introduction of a ‘halo’ closed cockpit protection system.