2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix race preview: The sun sets on F1 in 2019by Jake Williams-Smith on 27th November 2019
Yas Marina hosts the final round of the 2019 Formula 1 championship. Who will end the season on a high note? Our team-by-team race preview
The curtain falls on the 2019 season at Yas Marina Photo: Motorsport Images
A thriller in Brazil means Abu Dhabi has a tough act to follow as the finale of the 2019 Formula 1 season arrives.
Sunset to moonrise, the Yas Marina Circuit always provides a stunning backdrop as the curtain comes down on a season, but who will be standing on top ahead of a vital winter break?
Mercedes’ nightmare in Brazil was bad, Ferrari’s was catastrophic. Will Lewis Hamilton be able to repeat his 2018 victory and take another step closer to the all-time win record? Who will have the final say in 2019 at Ferrari after the breaking point of Interlagos? Or will Red Bull fire off another message of intent ahead of next season?
Here is the team-by-team preview of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
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Mercedes will be looking to bounce back from a poor Brazilian GP Photo: Motorsport Images
Toto Wolff returns to the Mercedes garage after a disaster in Brazil for the team in his absence.
No doubt multiple debriefs will have taken place ahead of Abu Dhabi after the team suffered its worst result since the German Grand Prix earlier in the year.
The Mercedes team boss pointed to team errors being a crucial factor in its underperformance.
"Brazil was a disappointing race for us; we did not have the fastest car on track and we lost a lot of points owing to our own mistakes," he said.
"We analysed what went wrong, both in terms of our reliability and our decisions during the race, to make sure we don't repeat them.
"It was a good learning experience for the entire team and something that will make us stronger in the long run.
"The underperformance in Brazil means we head to Abu Dhabi with a point to prove. Yas Marina has been a good circuit for us in the last years and we'll push hard to continue in the same way.
"We're looking forward to the fight because we know that in Formula One, you're only as good as your last result."
Lewis Hamilton took victory last year at Yas Marina, and he will be looking to put his clash with Alexander Albon behind him while Valtteri Bottas will have an uphill struggle, a new power unit will see him start at the rear of the field.
The gloves (and wheels) are off at Ferrari Photo: Motorsport Images
Mattia Binotto, the team principal, didn't apportion blame in the immediate aftermath but, behind closed doors, could there have been a decisive decision made in the battle to be number one at Ferrari?
2019 has been a disappointing season for the team, with Ferrari's president, John Elkann speaking about his "anger" over the Brazilian episode and adding: "The only thing that counts is that Ferrari wins. It has been an extraordinary season for the poles, but they have not been converted into victories."
Binotto will be eager to respond with a good showing at the final race of the year.
"There were highs and lows: the first part of the season did not go the way we wanted, but I certainly value the way we all stood together, rolled up our sleeves and fought back," he said.
"Particularly noteworthy was the way we reacted after the summer break, with three race wins in a row and a run of six consecutive poles positions, as well as our win in Monza.
"Of course finishing second will never be good enough for Ferrari and we are looking ahead to a very intense winter to keep building as a group.
This weekend, we will try to give them the best possible result with which to finish the season.”
Honda scored its first 1-2 finish since the 1991 Japanese GP Photo: Motorsport Images
It would be fair to say that Red Bull’s drivers were going through contrasting emotions after the immediate conclusion of the Brazilian Grand Prix.
While Max Verstappen took his third race win of the season, Alex Albon lost out on a first F1 podium after contact with Hamilton.
The Dutchman is keen to end the season on a high and believes that, despite taking only three wins in 2019, it has been a positive year for the team.
"After a great weekend in Brazil, the Team is in good spirits to have one final go at it in Abu Dhabi," he said. "We move from a flowing track like Interlagos to a tight and twisty circuit at Yas Marina where the car needs to be set up in a completely different way to Brazil in order to get the best out of it.
"Looking back I think we can be pleased with our season this year, which is our first with Honda, and hopefully we can end it on a high this weekend before everyone breaks up for Christmas and New Year."
After Pierre Gasly out-dragged Hamilton’s Mercedes to the line for second in Brazil, it will be interesting to see how the Honda power unit stacks up against rivals at sea level and with two long straights to contend with.
McLaren's first podium since the 2014 Australian GP Photo: Motorsport Images
Carlos Sainz scored his first podium in Formula 1 but was made to wait for the third-place trophy amid race stewards’ investigations elsewhere.
It was McLaren’s first podium since 2014, a gap of 2,072 days and 118 races.
After the highs of Brazil, Sainz could now secure sixth in the drivers’ championship, which would put the cherry on top of his finest season in F1 yet.
“After an incredible race and result in Brazil, it was amazing to take the trophy back to the factory and share the achievement with the whole team,” he said.
“I’m aiming to end the season on a high and there is still a lot to fight for in the last race. I’m fighting to finish sixth in the Drivers’ Championship and, even though it´s not going to be easy, we have prepared thoroughly for the weekend and I have confidence we can have a good race.”
Nico Hülkenberg's final F1 race? Photo: Motorsport Images
In what is likely to be his final F1 weekend, Nico Hülkenberg will be hoping for a far better ending to the season than he experienced 12 months ago.
While “hanging like a cow” will not be on the agenda, securing fifth in the constructors’ championship for Renault is, in what will be the German's final appearance with the team.
“It’s been three memorable years for me at Renault," he said. "There have been highs and lows, but I’ve enjoyed my time as a driver here. We’ve had some great results and some ‘nearly’ moments, all of which I’ll remember for a very long time. I’d like to thank everyone at the team including my engineers and mechanics for all their effort over the last 61 races. We have one more to go and we’ll be giving it our all for the best possible result."
The team’s strong performances in Canada and Monza could indicate a positive result being on the cards once more with the two DRS straights rewarding power.
Gasly celebrates his P2 in Brazil with Toro Rosso Photo: Motorsport Images
After a whirlwind Brazilian Grand Prix, Pierre Gasly’s podium was a huge feel-good story in the paddock after a difficult season for the Frenchman.
Gasly beat Hamilton to second - the team’s best result since Sebastian Vettel’s 2008 victory with the team at Monza - and teed up a huge final weekend for him.
Currently level on 95 points with Sainz and sitting sixth in the championship, Gasly said the final race would be crucial not only for his own championship, but for 2020 and beyond for Toro Rosso too.
"We want to finish as high as possible in the Constructors’ Championship, I’m also in with a chance of ending up as the best driver from outside the top three teams in the Drivers’ classification," he said. We want to end the season in a good way, not just for our pride, but also because where you finish in the championship has an impact on our development work and our performance level for next season.
"Our championship fight adds to the excitement this weekend, although I can imagine that ‘exciting’ might not be the right word to describe how Franz feels about it!"
Racing Point could clinch seventh in the constructors' standings Photo: Motorsport Images
Perez insisted the team would need to perform better after a disappointing result at Interlagos last time out.
“It’s important we end the season on a high in Abu Dhabi," he said. "It’s been a long year and there is still a lot at stake. Brazil didn’t go well for us – even though we scored points – and we need to come back strong this weekend."
“It’s been a transitional year for the team and optimism for 2020 is high," team principal Otmar Szafnauer added.
"But for now, the focus is on scoring points this weekend. Reclaiming sixth place in the Championship will be a big task – but we all want to end 2019 on a positive note and will keep fighting until the very end.”
Fourth and fifth was a season-best result for Alfa Romeo Photo: Motorsport Images
A season-best finish of fourth and fifth for Alfa Romeo netted the team the solid points haul it thoroughly deserved in Brazil.
The result put the team 10 points off Racing Point in the fight for seventh in the constructors’ standings.
Ahead of the season finale, team principal Frédéric Vasseur insisted that the points deficit to Toro Rosso was still surmountable.
"We arrive in Abu Dhabi still buzzing from the great result from the last race. It will be important to channel these good spirits into a positive energy for this final event of the season, one where there is so much at stake.
"Battle for seventh place in the championship aside, we still need to aim for a good result this weekend.
"It will be important to finish the season well to carry this momentum into the winter months and onto 2020."
Haas hopes 2020 will be a stark contrast to its miserable 2019 campaign Photo: Motorsport Images
Haas enjoyed a strong qualifying but once again slipped backwards in the race, something the team said it could not understand.
No points and a reliability issue for Romain Grosjean was a disappointing way to end a promising weekend.
After the team's nightmare 2019, team principal Guenther Steiner admitted that he had made a mistake in not listening to feedback from his drivers early enough, and that served as one of the many important lessons for the team going into next season,
"One thing I would do is to just do something different after we introduced the upgrade in Barcelona. I would listen a little bit more to the drivers and be a little bit more self-critical.
"I would say there is a silver lining. We started to react during the summer break to work on the 2020 car – to try to avoid the mistakes we’ve made this year. We don’t want to repeat them. We’re just moving forward, analysing and working hard on the 2020 car."
A final F1 outing for Robert Kubica Photo: Motorsport Images
The team will no doubt be glad to see the back of a torrid 2019 season, but one final test remains for them in Abu Dhabi.
"Abu Dhabi is quite a difficult track, but we will try to optimise the car the best we can for the last race of the season.
"It will be my final Grand Prix with Williams, and so I would like to put everything together for the boys and for the team."
Senior race engineer Dave Robson explained just what challenges the teams and drivers will face in Abu Dhabi.
"The Yas Marina circuit has become the traditional venue for the season’s final race, and it offers a good blend of corners, separated by two long DRS straights.
"The third sector is challenging, especially in qualifying when the tyres can begin to struggle. Pirelli have provided their softest compounds for this event, a combination last seen in Singapore, and a significant contrast to the selection in Interlagos.
"The C5 ‘street circuit’ tyre should offer good grip in qualifying but getting the most out of it for the full 5.6km lap could be the biggest challenge facing the drivers and engineers this weekend."