Winner takes all: 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix what to watch for

Max Verstappen vs Lewis Hamilton comes down to this. 369.5 points apiece, who will win a thrilling 2021 championship fight?


Verstappen and Hamilton go head to head this weekend for the 2021 title

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So after 21 races it all comes down to the final round of an incredible 2021 Formula 1 season. Max Verstappen vs Lewis Hamilton will go down as one of the best title fights in F1 history but which driver will come out on top?

Hamilton will be riding the high of victory from Saudi Arabia while Verstappen and Red Bull will have had a week to lick wounds and return with a vengeance.

Controversy reigned supreme in Jeddah after several close calls and one major moment between the title-contending drivers which served to turn the heat of battle up to 11 ahead of the finale.

Mercedes and Red Bull have been at each other’s throats all year long and following the most controversial round of the season, the battle lines are drawn and the drivers are ready for a showdown in the desert.

Yas Marina has been changed since F1’s last visit a year ago for a race that Verstappen dominated from the front. Any repeat and he will become the first Dutch driver to be crowned world champion in F1.

If Hamilton can make it four wins in a row though, he will take the record for most successful F1 driver of all time in his own right and claim a record-breaking eighth drivers’ championship.

Of course, the elephant in the room is whether or not they will come to blows once again and decide the outcome of the title fight.

Here is what to watch out for during the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend.


A new Yas Marina

Adding to the title intrigue this weekend is the changes made to the Yas Marina Circuit ahead of this year’s final round.

Several corners have been adjusted since F1’s last visit with the hopes of generating better racing by allowing cars to follow one another much more easily than before.

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There are changes in the final two sectors of the circuit beginning with the reprofiled Turn 5 hairpin, doing away with the chicane that preceded it. The apex has been moved away from the grandstands and could lead to a new overtaking point on the circuit following the end of sector one.

The old three-part chicane at the beginning of sector three has been done away with in favour of a new Turn 9 hairpin. With a positive camber left-hander coming at the end of the second DRS zone, there is sure to be some overtaking action into there during Sunday’s race.

“It’s fantastically quick, it’s at the end of the DRS zone so I think if people are taking a bit of a chance and trying to get past one another, it’s going to separate the men from the boys, you’re going to see who’s brave,” Managing director of Mrk1 Consulting, Mark Hughes told Motor Sport.

Finally, Turns 12, 13, 14 and 15 have been opened up in order to allow the cars to follow one another better than in previous years.

Yas Marina officials hope that the changes will lead to an exciting finale that has sometimes been let down by a lack of on-track action.


Send off to the fastest F1 cars in history


It might take a while for next year’s cars to reach the same lap times as the outgoing generation

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

The 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will mark the end of the current generation of Formula 1 cars.

While the power units will be remaining the same for the upcoming few seasons, next year’s cars will look very different to the ones that line up on the grid in Abu Dhabi this weekend.

Since 2017, F1 engineers have pushed the limits with what is possible in terms of outright performance. Some of the all-time lap records have fallen to this generation of cars and they have produced some incredible qualifying laps over the years.

Though they look wider and much longer than many of the cars of old, the 2017-2021 car has set records and been involved in some of the fastest laps and races ever seen in the history of Formula 1.

As speeds climbed and climbed, the cars were pegged back this year via a reduction in the floor ahead of the rear tyres though it has set them back only slightly, nothing like the few seconds originally envisaged when the changes were agreed upon.

Designed after Bernie Ecclestone said F1 cars should be quicker, engineers certainly accomplished that aim. Can next year’s cars generate the same incredible speeds when the series returns to ground effect?


One lap vs race pace

Lewis Hamilton follows MAx Verstappen at the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Red Bull has opted for track position lately but has Saudi Arabia caused a rethink?

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There has been a familiar theme since the Mexico Grand Prix  at the front of the field as Red Bull and Mercedes fight for supremacy.

In Mexico City, Mercedes was the team to opt for one-lap pace over a race setup in order to gain track position over favourites Red Bull and the first step of the plan worked perfectly. It locked out the front row but that plan was immediately foiled by Turn 1 after Verstappen swept into the lead of the race and never looked back.

Since then, Red Bull has been the ones opting for a quicker lap on Saturday at the expense of overheating tyres on Sunday.

In Brazil, Verstappen was leading comfortably until a rapid Hamilton reached him to challenge and eventually steal away the win while in Qatar, Red Bull never got the chance to be ahead on the road, unable to protect a lead it never had after the Mercedes driver scampered away from pole to win.

Last weekend in Saudi Arabia, it compromised its race in order to secure track position over Hamilton and it looked like the plan was falling into place perfectly with Verstappen 0.4sec up on his personal best and set for pole.

A costly crash at the final corner though put his weekend on a path he couldn’t recover from, and now he heads into the finale level on points and to a circuit with two sectors dominated by straights and a rear-limited twisty final sector.

Red Bull should be better around the track it dominated during the 2020 finale, albeit on a now defunct layout.

Will the team opt for track position and attempt to hold off Hamilton again? Or has Jeddah prompted a change in tactics and a focus on the race day package?


The finale


Which name will be inscribed into the trophy after the chequered flag falls in Abu Dhabi?

Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

Max Verstappen: 369.5pts. Lewis Hamilton: 369.5pts.

Back to square one between the championship protagonists and it’s as we were 9 months ago in Bahrain with nothing to separate them.

While the scores are level, Verstappen technically leads the way by virtue of more race victories than his rival: nine wins to Hamilton’s eight. That factor could play a pivotal role in the championship decider if the pair fail to score, which is by no means out of the realms of possibility.

The Dutchman has seen his 19-point advantage evaporate over the previous three races after looking comfortable out in front. Since then, he has been driving on the aggressive side of things and leaving Hamilton with no choice but to concede in wheel-to-wheel battle.

In Brazil and Saudi Arabia, the Red Bull man has come under fire for his tactics and apparent willingness to put his rival in harms way when the two are on track together. Late-braking dives have forced Hamilton off on multiple occasions with the Mercedes driver always keeping the bigger picture in mind: any DNF and his title hopes are over.

Things have been civil between the pair all year despite the contentious moments but any good will appears to be out of the window after the controversial Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Verstappen’s driving earned him 15-seconds total of penalties as Hamilton survived to secure a crucial win. So who is the favourite heading into the finale? Verstappen holds a technical advantage but the momentum is unquestionably on the side of Hamilton.

Who will be the 2021 Formula 1 world champion?