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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix talking points: Vettel could hand Ferrari elusive win at Yas Marina Circuit

World champion Hamilton will look to sign off with victory No 10 of 2017 and fans on Abu Dhabi Hill shoul dkeep an eye out for flying Alonso

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel celebrates winning the Brazilian Grand Prix. Will the German do the same at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday? Paulo Whitaker / Reuters
Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel celebrates winning the Brazilian Grand Prix. Will the German do the same at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday? Paulo Whitaker / Reuters

The Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi has left us with many memorable moments in its eight years of racing. But one thing it has yet to witness is a win at Yas Marina Circuit for Formula One’s most successful team.

Ferrari are the marquee name in Formula One, winners of 16 constructors’ championships, 15 drivers’ titles, and 229 grands prix, but the prancing horse has never prevailed in the UAE.

Sunday may represent their best chance yet to break that duck with Sebastian Vettel a strong contender to take the chequered flag.

The Italian team have had their strongest year in F1 in a decade as Vettel pushed Mercedes-GP’s Lewis Hamilton for large part of this season's championship race.

Yes, Hamilton has already wrapped up his fourth title, but it was not because of a lack of pace from Ferrari.

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Vettel’s comfortable win in Brazil two weeks ago was a reminder of what he can do when he has a trouble-free weekend.

Mechanical unreliability and driver error, particularly in Singapore, were terminal to Ferrari and Vettel's hopes, but the fact is still the German has won five races, and probably should have had won at least three more.

When you consider that Ferrari had only won five races combined in the previous four years, this year highlights their rapid progress.

The short first sector, and then the sweeps and turns in the final sector of Yas Marina Circuit, should suit the SF70H chassis, and Vettel, a three-time winner here in the past with Red Bull Racing, should be in real contention to give Ferrari their first Abu Dhabi success.

Lewis Hamilton salutes the crowd after winning the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, although his victory was not enough for him to retain his drivers' championship title. Mohammad Al Shaikh / AFP
Lewis Hamilton salutes the crowd after winning the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, although his victory was not enough for him to retain his drivers' championship title. Mohammad Al Shaikh / AFP

Hamilton won last year’s race going as slow as possible in an attempt to keep then Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in range of the chasing pack, needing the German to finish outside the podium places if he was to be crowned world champion.

There will be no repeat of that futile effort this year with Hamilton having already been crowned champion in Mexico.

But he will be going flat out on Sunday to try and prevent Ferrari and Red Bull winning and carrying confidence over into winter testing.

Hamilton has won nine times this season, but even he will acknowledge some of those were fortuitous given the misfortune of Vettel and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen at times.

Hamilton goes well in Abu Dhabi; he shares the record for most wins at Yas Marina at three with Vettel, and also has taken pole position three times.

A dominant display this weekend will not hide the fact it has been a much harder year for him and Mercedes, but it would be a reminder they are still the top dogs and that Ferrari and Red Bull are going to have to go some to defeat them in 2018.

Daniel Ricciardo, left, and Red Bull Racing teammate Dutch Max Verstappen collide on the first lap of the Hungarian Grand Prix. Andrej Isakovic / AFP
Daniel Ricciardo, left, and Red Bull Racing teammate Dutch Max Verstappen collide on the first lap of the Hungarian Grand Prix. Andrej Isakovic / AFP

The inter-team rivalry at Red Bull has provided a fascinating subplot this year.

Things almost boiled over in Hungary in July when Daniel Ricciardo reacted furiously to teammate Max Verstappen colliding with him, but team principal Christian Horner, demonstrating outstanding diplomacy skills, smoothed things out.

But, Ricciardo, 28, is the one who needs to make a point this weekend after being out-shone by Verstappen in the second half of the season.

The Australian will finish above Verstappen, 20, in the drivers’ standings, but he has not finished ahead of the Dutchman since the Singapore Grand Prix five races ago, and he has only out-qualified him once in the past 10 races.

Verstappen has won recently in Malaysia and Mexico, and Ricciardo desperately needs to get the better of his younger rival this weekend to take some momentum into 2018.

McLaren's Fernando Alonso of Spain during a practice session at the 2017 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. Toru Hanai / Reuters
McLaren's Fernando Alonso of Spain during a practice session at the 2017 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. Toru Hanai / Reuters

He will not be challenging for the podium this weekend, barring a lot of bad luck hitting his rivals, but Fernando Alonso should be a man to watch in Abu Dhabi, particularly on Saturday in qualifying.

The double world champion’s talents have been limited by a McLaren outfit that is hamstrung by an underpowered Honda engine.

The two long straights at Yas Marina will hurt him and McLaren too much to be competitive, but that will only motivate him to make up the shortfall elsewhere on the circuit.

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In Brazil two weeks ago he finished eighth on a track that traditionally requires a lot of horsepower. But Alonso made up for it in the twisty middle section at Interlagos and he should be spectacular through Section 1 on Saturday.

Spectators watching on Abu Dhabi Hill should be in for a treat as the Spaniard tries to carry as much speed as possible out of the fast right-hander of Turn 3 on the downhill approach to the chicane.