The 2018 Formula One season comes to a close at this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (Race: 8:10am ET Sunday).
All of the major battles have already been settled prior to the final race of the year. Lewis Hamilton has been crowned drivers’ champion for the fourth time in five seasons, while his Mercedes team have won their fifth consecutive constructors’ championship.
That latter contest was finalized in Brazil two weeks ago, where victory for Hamilton and a fifth-place finish for his teammate Valtteri Bottas were sufficient to see Mercedes open up an unassailable 67-point advantage over Ferrari, whose cars came home third and sixth in the hands of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel respectively.
Mercedes can be expected to end the year on a further high this weekend at a Grand Prix they have dominated in recent years. The German marque have won all four of the races at the Yas Marina circuit since the switch to V6 power units in 2014 and have secured one-two finishes in each of the last three. They have locked out the front row in qualifying every time.
It was Bottas who took victory last year, but it is Hamilton who is more likely to do so this time around. He has simply been a level above his teammate all season and looks well-placed to add to his haul of three winner’s trophies in Abu Dhabi with another on Sunday.
Max Verstappen had been on course to secure victory for Red Bull in Brazil before an unnecessary scrap with a lapped Esteban Ocon spun him off and allowed Hamilton into the lead. Verstappen recovered to finish second and give himself a chance of overhauling Bottas for fourth in the drivers’ championship. His teammate Daniel Ricciardo finished sixth.
Lower down the field, there are still some contests open. Kevin Magnussen (Haas) and Sergio Perez (Force India) both closed minimally on Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg in the battle to be best of the rest in the drivers’ championship by coming home ninth and 10th respectively in Brazil. Hulkenberg does, though, still hold a nine-point cushion over Perez in that race.
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix has also always been an event at which Hulkenberg has gone well. He finished sixth for Force India in 2014, seventh in both 2015 and 2016, and then secured another sixth-place finish for Renault at last year’s race.
The top three teams have only once filled out the top six positions at the Yas Marina circuit over the course of the last four years. Hulkenberg will therefore fancy his chances of ending a solid season for him and his team with another strong race there on Sunday.
Renault have all but sealed fourth in the constructors’ championship despite Haas edging four points closer with Romain Grosjean’s eighth-place finish in Brazil. The gap stands at 24 points, which would require Haas to bring their cars home third and fifth – the best result of their F1 project to date – and hope Renault fail to score.
Things are a bit tighter down in sixth, seventh and eighth. Sauber continued their strong end-of-season form with a seventh-place finish for Charles Leclerc in Brazil that saw them close to within six points of Force India in seventh. McLaren are only a further 14 points up the road – a relatively perilous margin given they’ve only scored four in the last five races, and particularly so in light of Force India’s strong past results at the Yas Marina circuit.
The Silverstone-based team have attained double points finishes in Abu Dhabi in each of the last five years and in six of the last seven. It is a track that just always seems to suit their package. They have every right to believe themselves capable of achieving a repeat performance this weekend given that across both of their guises this season (pre and post-takeover), they have already secured seven such finishes.
Perez and Ocon, the latter of whom will drive his final race for the team after two years there, can be trusted to lead Force India to a good points haul on Sunday.