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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix talking points: How Valtteri Bottas can beat Lewis Hamilton and why Max Verstappen still has a podium chance

The final race of the 2018 season takes place at Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday, with the action starting at 5.10pm

The 10th staging of the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix takes place on Sunday at 5.10pm at Yas Marina Circuit.

World champion Lewis Hamilton was the quickest driver in qualifying and he starts as favourite to clinch an 11th win in 2018 and a 73rd of his career.

Here are some things to watch for ahead of the action.

Mercedes duel

There was little to choose between Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas in qualifying on Saturday, 0.162 seconds to be precise, as the world champion's lap record of 1 minute, 34.794 seconds took pole.

Hamilton got quicker as the race weekend progressed and, having been slower then Bottas on Friday, stepped it up when it mattered.

If Hamilton leads out of Turn 1 then he could be very difficult to beat.

Bottas, who has not won since he triumphed in Abu Dhabi 12 months ago, has not finished ahead of his teammate in their two seasons together when he has trailed the Briton at the end of the first lap.

So getting ahead when the five red lights go out will be arguably Bottas's best chance. Only twice in the past nine races in Abu Dhabi, and not since 2012, has the man who led at the end of the first lap not gone on to win.

Other than the start, the other hope for Bottas will be to stay close to Hamilton and try to exploit a gap when they start to lap cars mid race.

Traffic can be a challenge at Yas Marina Circuit and if Bottas can keep Hamilton in range he will stay in the hunt.

Bottas gave up his best chance of victory in Russia last month to team orders as he slowed to allow Hamilton to aid his championship quest.

Hamilton now has that fifth title but returning the favour is unlikely on Sunday, simply as Mercedes hated doing it in Russia and Bottas has shown, certainly in public, no enthusiasm for wanting to be given first place in that manner.

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Read more

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Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Weekend - all the latest updates on and off the track

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Verstappen's charge

Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen starts in sixth but he may well be the man to watch in the opening laps.

He starts on Pirelli's Hypersoft compound, the softest of the three options available to the teams.

With the Mercedes drivers, the Ferrari pair of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, and his teammate Daniel Ricciardo all starting on the medium Ultrasoft tyre, the Dutchman should have a grip advantage in the opening laps.

His tyres may be faster wearing then his rivals, and he may be even be forced into a two-stopper, but if Verstappen can make up early ground he can still be a major threat to the podium.

Leclerc's comeback

Given he damaged his car, with his rear wing falling off after he crashed at Turn 19 in final practice, eighth in qualifying for Sauber was a terrific effort from Charles Leclerc.

A points finish is a realistic goal before the 21 year departs to Ferrari, with his first test for his new employers coming next week at Yas Marina.

"It has been a great year and I aim to finish it with a strong result."

End of an era

Leclerc is not the only driver who is departing their current employer after Sunday's race.

Twelve of the 20 drivers lining up at Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday will be in different surroundings, either in F1 or in another form of motorsport next season.

The most high-profile of these departures will be Fernando Alonso. The double world champion is leaving the sport, at least for now, and the McLaren driver starts 15th.

The F1 paddock paid tribute to the Spaniard with a party in his honour on Saturday night, and while a points finish looks a tall order, given the pace of his car compared to others, it would certainly be one of the most popular results of the day.