Formula One concludes its calendar Sunday at the Yas Marina Circuit, and while the drivers' and constructors' titles have already been decided, there is still plenty left to figure out when the lights go green at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Yas will decide who finishes second to Red Bull Racing as Mercedes and Ferrari battle for the honor with only four points separating the two.
Two or three weeks ago, Mercedes looked to be in good position to claim first runner-up, but Ferrari has come on strong of late and appears poised to beat Mercedes for second. Behind those two, McLaren will be looking to keep Aston Martin behind them and claim fourth in the standings. Alpine looks to have sixth locked up, but Williams will be hoping to leave Abu Dhabi seventh in the standings while AlphaTauri (only seven points adrift of Williams) approaches Yas knowing its car is well suited to the circuit.
And don't think Max Verstappen has nothing to drive for, either. One more win and Verstappen will move into third place for career wins, breaking the deadlock he has with Sebastian Vettel at 53. Verstappen remains a fair chunk behind second-place Michael Schumacher (91) and first-place Lewis Hamilton (103).
"It's quite a crazy number, but we've also had a crazy, crazy year," Verstappen told formula1.com of a season in which he had a .857-winning percentage, a full 10-percent better than the previous record by Alberto Ascari set in 1952.
Of course, the silly season has already started in Formula One, with Hamilton and Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner engaging in a "he approached me first" exchange. Hamilton stated Horner approached him earlier in the season about switching teams, while Horner said one of Hamilton's representatives approached him about the possibility. Asked about it, Hamilton told formula1.com: "I've not approached Christian; I haven't spoken to Christian for years and no one from my team has. … However, he had reached out to me about meeting up at the end of the season, and I was like, 'I hope you are well; I wish you all the best, congratulations on an amazing season so far, and I hope that I am able to compete with you in the near future.'"
Exactly what sort of shenanigans someone is trying to start is anyone's guess, as Red Bull has Sergio Perez under contract for 2024 and Liam Lawson, who opened eyes when pressed into service due to Daniel Ricciardo's injury, waiting in the wings.
Waiting in the wings is also what Pato O'Ward will be doing at McLaren. The IndyCar driver will juggle his duties in that series with a reserve driver role in Formula One next season. He is not a stranger to the grid having participated in the young drivers test and the first free practice during last year's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with McLaren. O'Ward will share reservist duties with Ryo Hirakawa, who partnered to win the Hypercar class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year for Toyota Gazoo Racing with Sebastien Buemi and Brendon Hartley.
How to watch the Formula One Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi
- Date: Sunday, Nov. 26
- Location: 3.281 mile (5.281 kilometer), 16-turn Yas Marina Circuit, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
- Time: 8 a.m. ET
- TV: ESPN
- Stream: fubo (try for free)
What to watch for
Despite changes to the track between the 2021 and 2022 seasons, accomplishing a pass is still not that easy to do at Yas. We witnessed at The Strip Circuit in Las Vegas how long straights can help make the racing more exciting by setting up a "who can outbrake who" situation, or a "who can can get more momentum" scenario as the cars get to the twisty bits. While Yas has a very long back straight (that is similar to Vegas in that it has a slight kink) the cars are normally so strung out by that point on the track that they are just doing a full-out blast by themselves.
And those corners are medium-to-slow speed ones, making Yas a bit of a technical track where the balance of the car is going to have a big say in how fast a lap is going to be. Temperatures will be warmer than Las Vegas with lows in the 60s and highs up in the 80s, so keeping heat in the tires should not prove a problem. Besides, the teams have raced at Yas many, many times before, so they have data on how to best attack the track, and Pirelli will likely have picked out the tire compounds they are bringing at the beginning of the season. The surface at Yas does not tear the tires up, so degradation will not be a concern. There are high-braking loads, but that is apparently not enough to dissuade Pirelli from bringing some of the softest rubber in their range for the weekend, with the C3 White being the hardest compound the teams will have available, followed by the C4 Yellow (medium) and the C5 Red (soft), the same as they brought for 2022's season-ender.
That puts the first set of pitstops for the race between Laps 17-22. Verstappen won last year's racing starting on the "reds" and swapping out to the "yellows" on a one-stopper last season, and there's little reason to think that won't be the formula most of the teams use again Sunday.
As an aside, Pirelli and some of the drivers will also stick around Yas for an extra week to get work in on the 2024 compounds.