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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Race start crucial for Vettel at Abu Dhabi GP on Sunday

Graham Caygill, our man at Yas Marina Circuit, on three things to watch out for on raceday

Sebastian Vettel will need to overtake the Mercedes-GP cars in the first lap in order to have a chance of winning the race. Clive Mason / Getty Images
Sebastian Vettel will need to overtake the Mercedes-GP cars in the first lap in order to have a chance of winning the race. Clive Mason / Getty Images

Vettel's chance

Sebastian Vettel's best hope of winning at Yas Marina Circuit for a fourth time is at the start.

If he ends up behind both Mercedes-GP cars of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton when the first lap is over, it is going to be hard for him to make up ground on track.

The Ferraris were slower on the two long straights then the Mercedes cars, so it will be hard for Vettel to get close enough to overtake.

If he could, say, leapfrog Hamilton at the start and pressure Bottas, it would at least give him a chance of passing him in the pit stops with an earlier stop.

Trying to jump two Mercedes cars in the pit stop window would be very difficult, but one is very do-able.

Vettel will be confident he can get it done at the start. He passed Bottas for the lead in Brazil two weeks ago into Turn 1, and he did the same to Hamilton in the United States.

He does not have to lead this time around, though that would be a bonus, but gaining one position will boost his chances of a sixth win in 2017 massively.

Strategy options

An one-stop race is expected by Pirelli's racing manager Mario Isola on Sunday, with Lap 22 of 55 the optimum time for the drivers to change tyres.

But he did say he believed drivers could pit as early as Lap 15 or as late as Lap 30, so that does give options for teams running a shorter or longer first stint to get track position if they are stuck behind a slower car.

The undercut, where a driver pits before another car in front of him, and benefits from being on fresh tyres by going fast immediately, could well come into play during the race as a result.

Force Inda's Sergio Perez will likely be battling hard with Nico Hulkenberg on Sunday. Mark Thompson / Getty Images
Force Inda's Sergio Perez will likely be battling hard with Nico Hulkenberg on Sunday. Mark Thompson / Getty Images

Hulkenberg v Force Indias

As has been the case all season, the Mercedes-GP, Ferraris and Red Bull Racing cars were in a class of their own in qualifying.

Nico Hulkenberg was superb in qualifying to be best of the rest in his Renault as he was seventh.

His challenge will be staying ahead of the Force Indias of Sebastian Perez and Esteban Ocon during the race, and their tussle to be the best finisher outside the top three teams should be fascinating.

Seventh may be the best they can do, unless any of the top six hit trouble mechanically or make contact with other cars.

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