After all of the delays, chaos, drama and intrigue, the 2020 Formula 1 season will draw to a close later than any other season bar one.
Valtteri Bottas will have a chance to reassert himself at the team, having ultimately disappointed against his temporary team-mate, while Alexander Albon remains under pressure after another tough weekend.
Racing Point holds a 10 point advantage over McLaren on 194, with Renault trailing both on 172. The prize money at stake is crucial with the team’s development of the all-new 2022 generation of cars ongoing.
Here’s what to watch out for during the 2020 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend.
If Hamilton is absent once more, Russell and Jack Aitken might get another chance to deputise at Mercedes and Williams respectively. In Bahrain, Russell looked comfortable in the lead until his Williams replacement had a spin and brought out the safety car that changed the entire complexion of the race.
Aitken’s spin that knocked his front wing off was the high-profile point of an otherwise solid weekend as far as debuts with an uncompetitive team go. He was shaded by Nicholas Latifi in qualifying by just under one-tenth of a second to line up 18th.
Russell’s Saturday performance raised expectations ahead of the race, after he fractionally missed out on pole position, and he did not disappoint once the lights were out.
Around a longer circuit, there is more time to be won and lost so any qualifying battle might pale in comparison to the Sakhir showdown, but there’s still the question of who would emerge on top; Russell was victorious around the Yas Marina Circuit in his F2 championship-winning season.
Bottas has one victory to his name around the circuit since joining Mercedes which came back in 2017. He has failed to take pole and has not featured on the podium in Abu Dhabi since that win though.
It might be closer than he might like once again on Sunday night should Russell be the one in the W11 alongside him.
It was a fairytale for Perez last weekend. Set to depart F1 following this weekend’s race, the Mexican finally stood atop the podium a grand prix winner.
With team-mate Lance Stroll next to him, it represented a seismic shift in fortunes for Racing Point after the fiery expiration of Perez’s podium hopes the week before in Bahrain.
McLaren had been the real winners there, jumping up to third but it was a short-lived spell, with the 1-3 finish elevating the pink panthers back on top in the fight for third place in the constructors’ standings.
The decision to pit both cars, despite the virtual safety car being withdrawn, cost the team dearly versus its championship rival and the margin for error in the final race of the season is now non-existent.
Renault isn’t out of the reckoning just yet either. A little further back in fifth place, the French team is 22 points behind Racing Point in the standings so will need some fortune to go its way to overhaul those ahead in the final race.
Daniel Ricciardo said that Perez should not have been allowed to emerge victorious on a chaotic night in Bahrain and that rivals had let him off. There can be no repeat this weekend if anyone is to clear Racing Point at the last hurdle.
Abu Dhabi will mark the final F1 races for Kevin Magnussen and Perez as things stand. Romain Grosjean’s farewell will have to wait a little longer, with Mercedes prepared to offer the Frenchman closure on his F1 career in a private test in the future — if it’s not possible with Haas.
Magnussen has already confirmed he is off to contest the 2021 IMSA season with the Chip Ganassi Cadillac team but Perez’s future is a little more unclear. He has been linked with the second Red Bull seat and his victory in Bahrain piles the pressure on the team to give the 30-year-old a drive for ’21.
However, the team has stated that it wants to give Albon every opportunity to justify his place in the team next season, despite this year’s woes, and there has been no concrete evidence that Perez is likely to take over from Albon for next year.
It may also be the end of Daniil Kvyat’s time in F1. Honda junior driver Yuki Tsunoda has already been confirmed as taking part in the post-season Abu Dhabi test for AlphaTauri. Having finished third in the F2 championship this year, the Japanese driver has qualified for an F1 superlicence.
All four drivers without confirmed seats for next year have scored podium finishes during their F1 careers and at one point or another were considered to be capable of going on to achieve great things.
Magnussen’s debut podium in Australia back in 2014 set expectations high. Grosjean’s stint with Lotus showed his potential in a race-winning car in the early 2010s and Kvyat may have been unfairly dismissed at Red Bull in favour of Max Verstappen, but has shown he is no slouch alongside Pierre Gasly as of late.
Perez’s win last weekend just underlined his credentials and reminded everyone that his time post-McLaren 2013 has been consistently great and that he arguably deserves another call up to a top team.
Has Leclerc learned his lesson?
Sebastian Vettel made his feelings clear over team radio during the first Bahrain race that he felt Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc had been far too aggressive on the opening lap, diving down his inside and seizing a position against him.
While that might have sounded like sour grapes to some, his subsequent lap one display at the Sakhir Grand Prix only added weight to the four-time world champion’s words. An aggressive Leclerc dive down the inside of Perez backfired, pitched the eventual race winner into a spin, and caused himself race-ending damage.
For his part in the crash, Leclerc has been slapped with a three-place grid penalty for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, leaving him with a lot of work to do on Sunday night around a circuit that is hardly known for its overtaking opportunities.
The last time Leclerc started down the order around a circuit that presented a tough task to overtake? Monaco last season and that ended in tears, or a cloud of fury as the Monégasque driver might have been a little tempestuous in his efforts to make progress through the order.
Will we see similar scenes to Bahrain or has he taken recent events on board?
“I am not putting the blame on anyone else, if anyone is to blame, it’s me,” he said post-race. “Of course I am disappointed and it will be good to be back in the car in just a few days so that I can put this race behind me.”
His words after the race suggest so, but it will be interesting to keep an eye on the faster of the two Ferrari drivers attempts to get through the field, especially on the opening lap.