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Formula 1 Preview: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Written by Marcus Woodhouse, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri

Credit: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The season finale is finally upon us. The 2023 season will come to an end under the lights of the Yas Marina Circuit, closing out yet another chapter of Formula 1 history. While Max Verstappen has left the rest of the field in the dust this year, we’ve certainly still been treated to a good deal of wild, crazy races, as well as intriguing and dramatic storylines up and down the grid. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the final race of the year.


Circuit Guide

Credit: Formula 1

The lights will blink out on Sunday at twilight, and our 20 drivers will charge off down the start-finish straight, flying round the first few turns. It won’t be long before they reach the memorable hairpin at Turn 5, the scene of Verstappen’s popular move on Lewis Hamilton, on the last lap of the 2021 season, to claim his first F1 title.


A colossal DRS (Drag Reduction System) assisted straight follows, before a heavy braking zone for the tricky kinks of turns six and seven, and then another DRS zone round the bend of turn eight. The rest of the circuit is quite tight and twisty, as the drivers will try to follow their rivals as closely as possible through the section, along the run to the chequered flag.


Weekend Format

Hosting the calendar’s only twilight race, the time difference from Abu Dhabi means a welcome return to regular, early afternoon timings for our European viewers.


Schedule (in BST)

Practice 1 - Friday, 9:30 am

Practice 2 - Friday, 13:00 pm

Practice 3 - Saturday, 10:30 am

Qualifying - Saturday, 14:00 pm

Race - Sunday, 13:00 pm


Weather Forecast

As is the case for most of our Middle Eastern Races, the only weather-related factor for the teams to really have to take into account is the blazing sun, with air temperatures set to soar over 25oC (77oF) for both qualifying and Sunday’s race.


Major Talking Points


  • Verstappen Victory Count - The Dutch driver could make third place his own in the all-time F1 wins list, improving on his current position shared with Sebastian Vettel, and you certainly wouldn’t want to bet against it happening this weekend.


  • Mercedes vs Ferrari - This gripping team battle has rocked back and forth since the summer break, but renewed momentum for the Prancing Horse has seen them close the gap to the Silver Arrows to a mere four points, so which team can claim the runner-up spot, and crucially the additional prize money?


  • Rookies’ Runout - FP1 (Free Practice 1) will be full of new faces again, as the teams fulfil their young driver obligations, and we will see rookies replace half the grid: Jake Dennis and Isack Hadjar (Red Bull), Pato O’Ward (McLaren), Zak O’Sullivan (Williams), Fred Vesti (Mercedes), Robert Shwartzman (Ferrari), Felipe Drugovich (Aston Martin), Jack Doohan (Alpine), Ollie Bearman (Haas), and Theo Pourchaire (Alfa Romeo).


The Yas Marina Circuit in Years Gone By

The Abu Dhabi GP back in 2012; Credit: Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Abu Dhabi has set the scene for some iconic title deciders, ever since its introduction to the calendar in 2009. The first of these was the four-way showdown of 2010, when Sebastian Vettel took full advantage of the struggles of his bitter rivals Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber, and overcame a significant points gap to claim his maiden championship.


2016 hosted the culmination of the rivalry between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, the German driver holding out to expertly and skilfully capitalise on a season of misfortune for his Mercedes teammate, taking his only championship before immediately retiring.


And finally, who could forget the crazy, controversial 2021 fight to the death, as late safety car drama led to one final lap to decide the title, which Verstappen wasted no time in taking full advantage of and achieving his first F1 title.


Last Race Recap

The Las Vegas Grand Prix was a spectacle in every sense of the word, but it really did not disappoint. The stars were out, and the show was at the forefront of everyone’s minds, but the racing was sublime as well.


The lead changed hands over and over, before Verstappen showed his class to cruise off into the distance, with a few laps remaining. Charles Leclerc pipped Sergio Perez for second place on the last lap, but the Mexican driver had done enough to secure the runner-up spot in the Driver Standings.


Drivers to Watch

Credit: Eric Alonso/Getty Images

Max Verstappen - Records to be Broken


He’s won the last three Abu Dhabi grands-prix. There’s another accolade for him to scoop up, and he will most likely make no mistake in securing the standalone spot of the third most wins in Formula 1.


Charles Leclerc - Surely a Win is Coming?


Verstappen has now taken the victory in 11 of Leclerc’s 23 pole positions, as the Monegasque driver maintains a woeful 17% conversion rate of poles to wins. Surely this qualifying form, Ferrari’s recent momentum, and the motivation of taking second in the Constructor Standings will lead him to best his rival in the last race of 2023?


The Rest of the Grid


Aston Martin and McLaren have reversed their respective form in the last couple of races, and the battle for P4 in the Constructor Standings has opened up again, so watch out for some fiery battles between all four drivers on Sunday. Meanwhile, P4 in the Driver Standings is hotly contested too, with only 12 points separating the quartet of Carlos Sainz, Alonso, Lando Norris, and Leclerc.


Marcus’ Predictions


It’s the last one of the season, so let’s go a little out there. I could see the battle of Aston Martin and McLaren taking centre stage on Sunday, with Fernando Alonso taking a shock victory, but a strong performance from both McLaren drivers just about keeping their rivals at arm’s length. Finally, I’m also going to predict another points finish for Logan Sargeant, ensuring his talents are employed for another season at least.


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