The current Formula One championship has already been decided, but there is still a fierce competition between Mercedes and Ferrari for pride and a significant amount of prize money at the final race in Abu Dhabi. This has brought back the excitement and tension that was lost after Max Verstappen dominated the previous races.
Without a doubt, Verstappen from Red Bull, who has already clinched the title of top driver, will easily win another race at the Yas Marina Circuit. It is highly likely that his dominance throughout the season will continue with his 19th win out of 22 races, a record that may remain unbeatable.
However, the competition in the sport has been lacking at the top of the grid. This is about to change as the season reaches its exciting conclusion. Although Red Bull has already secured the team title, Mercedes and Ferrari are very close in the constructors’ championship standings, with only four points separating them after 21 races. This is an incredibly tight margin and exactly the kind of intense battle that was anticipated when the new regulations were introduced in 2022. However, Red Bull’s impressive performance and Adrian Newey’s innovative approach have made the rest of the teams seem like mere spectators.
Both teams are not aiming for second place, but the final race at Abu Dhabi, a dull and mediocre track, adds significance to this otherwise unimportant event in the desert.
Four racers – Lewis Hamilton and George Russell for Mercedes, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz for Ferrari – will be competing for every point, including the bonus for the fastest lap, which could be crucial.
The upcoming strategy discussions are expected to be just as intense as those in a championship-deciding race. Despite Ron Dennis’ note that second place is considered “the first of the losers,” there is still a lot at stake. The discrepancy in payout from Formula One’s estimated $1 billion prize fund for constructors is believed to be as high as $10 million between second and third place, with the former receiving $131 million and the latter receiving around $121 million. This is a significant amount that no team would overlook, especially when they are trying to close the gap to Red Bull for the following year.
The drivers comprehend this. Hamilton clearly stated that securing second place in the constructors’ championship was a higher priority for him than his individual placement in the drivers’ championship once he lost the title. He officially secured third place in Las Vegas. Other drivers, such as Russell, Leclerc, and Sainz, share his perspective.
Furthermore, this battle has been one of highs and lows. At the beginning, Mercedes was at a disadvantage with both Ferrari and Aston Martin setting a faster pace. However, Aston Martin’s initial speed was not sustainable as the season went on.
As Mercedes became more familiar with their vehicle, they surpassed Aston for second place at the Spanish Grand Prix. Meanwhile, Ferrari faced difficulties, particularly with excessive tire degradation, causing them to fall behind by 56 points by the Hungarian GP in July. However, the Scuderia managed to turn things around and make a strong comeback, highlighted by Sainz’s victory in Singapore, which was the only non-Red Bull win of the season.
Mercedes has been brought on board for this final event, but it’s uncertain who will have the upper hand at Yas Marina. While Ferrari showed impressive speed in the previous round in Las Vegas, that doesn’t guarantee success in Abu Dhabi. However, they are still expected to have an advantage. Their car has consistently shown strong acceleration out of slow corners throughout the season, giving them an edge on the straightaways during the first half of the track. This will be particularly beneficial at turn five’s hairpin and the chicane at six and seven.
However, Mercedes is expected to have an advantage in the second half of the lap due to their car’s strength in medium speed corners. The outcome of the race may ultimately be determined by tire wear, as both teams continue to struggle with accurately predicting their car’s performance at different tracks due to their narrow operating range.
Hamilton acknowledged the importance of qualifying after his practice session. He expressed his disappointment with the day, noting that they have struggled in qualifying sessions this year. He stated that their focus for tomorrow is to make it into Q3, but it will be a close competition.
Although it may not be the ultimate, championship-deciding conclusion, as the teams reflect on their losses and begin planning for a chance at Red Bull in the upcoming year, there is still potential for some excitement in the final race.
Initial signs showed that there was not much of a difference between them. Russell came out on top in the first practice, but Sainz crashed in the second session at turn three. When running resumed with limited time, Leclerc held the lead with Russell and Hamilton in sixth and eighth place.