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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Abu Dhabi GP qualifying lowdown: Mercedes and Ferrari set to duel for pole

A look ahead to Saturday's action at Yas Marina Circuit and why it will be Mercedes and Ferrari fighting it out for the front row on the grid

Valtteri Bottas and Mercedes were quickest on Friday at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix but face a tough challenge from Ferrari in qualifying. EPA 
Valtteri Bottas and Mercedes were quickest on Friday at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix but face a tough challenge from Ferrari in qualifying. EPA 

It is qualifying day on Saturday for the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Here is a lowdown on what to watch for as the 20 drivers battle to see who will take pole position for Sunday's 55-lap race.

Mercedes v Ferrari

The duel for pole position at 5.10pm should be a thriller. Only 0.333 seconds covered the top six in second practice on Friday as Mercedes-GP, Ferrari and Red Bull Racing all showed good pace.

Red Bull may be a factor in Sunday's race, with Max Verstappen in particular looking to have found a good rhythm around Yas Marina Circuit.

But qualifying normally becomes a Mercedes v Ferrari battle as both teams turn up their power units to the maximum for the final stages of qualifying, which gives them an edge over Red Bull.

Red Bull have only had two poles all season, and it would be a shock if they got a third one here.

World champion Lewis Hamilton, who was only fourth quickest on Friday, has taken 10 poles this season, and will likely start as favourite to take top spot.

Mercedes v Ferrari should make for a thrilling spectacle with the added interest that all four drivers look capable of challenging for pole.

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Finns on form

Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have usually led the charge at their respective Mercedes and Ferrari teams.

But it was their Finnish teammates, Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen, who took centre stage on Friday when both were faster than the man they share a garage with.

Bottas and Raikkonen have both won in Abu Dhabi so that is probably not too surprising.

Bottas topped the timesheets in practice and he will hope he can repeat that feat in qualifying to take his third pole of the season.

Raikkonen is having a great end to the season in his final races for Ferrari. He won for the first time in five years in the United States last month, was third in Mexico, and then third again in Brazil as he out-performed Vettel in a straight fight.

Hamilton and Vettel are usually strong on a Saturday, but they face a stiff fight from their Finnish rivals.

Russell's winning moment

George Russell went a long way towards securing the Formula 2 title on Friday when he took pole position.

The Briton only needs eighth in Saturday's feature race to claim the title and follow in the footsteps of past champions, which include current F1 drivers Hamilton, Charles Leclerc, Pierre Gasly, Romain Grosjean, Nico Hulkenberg and Stoffel Vandoorne.

Russell does not need to win the race, which starts at 6.40pm, but he might want to as it may be a while before he tastes victory again.

He is joining Williams for 2019 to race alongside Robert Kubica, but judging by their pace in practice in Abu Dhabi, he may be in for a tough time with his next employers.

Current drivers Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin were the slowest pair on track on Friday, 2.8 and 3.6 seconds off the pace of Bottas.