Mercedes-Ferrari fight tops F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix storylines

An entire Formula 1 season comes down to this: 58 laps. One single race left to determine who finishes behind Red Bull in second place in the Constructors’ standings.

And just four points separate Mercedes and Red Bull.

That is the main talking point as the grid leaves Las Vegas behind and heads to Yas Marina for the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. After all the races, all the laps, and all the stops — both in the pits and across the globe — these two teams are separated by a razor-thin margin.

Now it is all to play for in Abu Dhabi.

“We now need to refocus ahead of Abu Dhabi. It’s a tight battle in the Constructors’ Championship and we hope to be able to deliver a strong result there,” said Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff following the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix in the team’s post-race report.

“It’s going to be an exciting battle with Ferrari for P2 in the Constructor’s Championship in Abu Dhabi,” added Mercedes Trackside Engineering Director Andrew Shovlin. “We’ll use the next few days to prepare for that. The points gap is small enough that it will, in all likelihood, come down to who scores the most next Sunday. Everything to play for!”

As for Ferrari, they head to Yas Marina with the wind at their back. Even with the penalty handed down to Carlos Sainz Jr. that dropped him to P12 at the start of the Las Vegas Grand Prix — after qualifying in P2 — Sainz fought back into the points to finish sixth. Pair that with Charles Leclerc’s second-place finish, and the team picked up 16 points on the Silver Arrows, inching to within just four points.

“I can’t wait to race in Abu Dhabi next week,” said Sainz following the Las Vegas Grand Prix. The fight for second is still on and we’ll do everything we can to take it!”

“We must keep the momentum going into Abu Dhabi, both drivers are doing a fantastic job and I believe we can catch Mercedes in Abu Dhabi,” added Team Principal Frederic Vasseur. “We won in Singapore when Red Bull was off the pace but this time we were fighting them right up to the final corner.”

Who might have the advantage in that fight?

We will tackle that question later this week.

The battle for fourth

The fight between Ferrari and Mercedes is not the only battle on the docket for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Because thanks to a double-points finish from Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso in Sin City, the fight for fourth is on as well.

McLaren, thanks to their stunning turnaround in the second half of the season, arrived in Las Vegas with a 21-point advantage over Aston Martin. But with Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri struggling to find pace during practice, and then failing to advance to Q2 during qualifying, the advantage shifted to Aston Martin, even with Stroll starting down in P19 Saturday night.

Then not only did Alonso finish in the points, as he started and finished in ninth, but perhaps the best drive of Stroll’s F1 career saw him pick up ten places on the opening lap, and come across the line in P5.

As for McLaren, Norris endured a hard shunt early in the race and did not finish. That crash required him to be examined at a nearby hospital, and thankfully for the driver he was given a clean bill of health. As for the rookie, Piastri managed to recover and get into the points with a tenth place finish, picking up a bonus point for the fastest lap of the race.

Still, those results saw Aston Martin trim their deficit down to just 11. Now, this battle for fourth is one the line at Yas Marina as well.

“We head to Abu Dhabi and will give it our all in the battle for fourth position in the Constructors’ Championship,” said Alonso after the Las Vegas Grand Prix.

As for McLaren, they seem more confident as the grid heads to Abu Dhabi. Before the Las Vegas Grand Prix, Piastri expressed to me some reservations about how the MCL60 would fare in Sin City.

Yas Marina Circuit, according to Team Principal Andrea Stella, might be a better fit for them.

“It’s been a tricky weekend in Vegas,” said Stella after the Las Vegas Grand Prix. “We now regroup, rest when we can, and prepare to go again in the season finale. We’re looking forward to a much smoother weekend in Abu Dhabi on a circuit that should be more favourable to our car.”

We will see how favorable in a few days.

Battle for seventh

That’s right, there is one more battle at stake in Abu Dhabi!

The battle for seventh in the Constructors’ between Williams, AlphaTauri, Alfa Romeo, and Haas.

Going into the Las Vegas Grand Prix, it looked as if Williams might put this fight to bed. After all, the setup in Las Vegas seemed to favor them — and the FW45 — given the straight-line speed the team has shown all season long.

That seemed to hold Friday during qualifying. Williams put both Alexander Albon and Logan Sargeant into Q3, and thanks to the penalty handed down to Sainz, the team locked out the third row, with Albon starting in P5, and Sargeant in P6.

However, Williams could not press that advantage on Saturday night. A combination of tire degradation issues, and a poorly-timed safety car that enabled their nearest competitors on the track to pit under favorable conditions, saw Sargeant, and then Albon, fall out of the points.

While Williams can take heart that their competition in the battle for seventh also left Las Vegas behind without scoring any points — meaning Williams still has a 7-point lead over AlphaTauri, a 12-point lead over Alfa Romeo, and a 16-point lead over Haas — they now head to a circuit which could be more favorable for their competition.

Can one of those three teams make up those gaps, or will Williams salt away P7 in Abu Dhabi?

Logan Sargeant’s future

When it comes to storylines off the track, this has been the biggest one during the second half of the season.

Sure, some may point to the ongoing palace intrigue at Red Bull, regarding Sergio Pérez’s future with the team. But the Red Bull driver — who just locked up P2 in the Drivers’ Championship with his third-place finish in Sin City — is under contract with the team for 2024.

In fact, 19 of the 20 current drivers have locked up their seat for next season.

The one who has not? Sargeant at Williams.

Some, like the undersigned writer, believed his qualifying effort in Las Vegas might have been enough for him to secure that spot. If you listen to what Williams Team Principal James Vowles said to Sargeant when he finished Q3, you might understand why.

“Really well done Logan, that’s how you build a weekend up. You were on equal footing, and you performed. Good job,” said Vowles as the team notified him of his Q3 finish.

That speaks to what Vowles said he was looking for from the rookie driver: Consistency. As noted above, the setup in Las Vegas seemed to favor Williams. That put them on the front foot, and gave Sargeant a chance to deliver a positive performance.

Which he did, on Friday night.

Had Sargeant struggled in qualifying, you can imagine how Vowles would have viewed that. Instead, the rookie put his FW45 into Q3 and qualified right behind Albon. Then, in the race itself, both drivers were caught out by an untimely safety car, and both drivers dealt with tire degradation issues.

So it would seem that Sargeant has done enough.

But we do not know for sure. And until we do, this will remain a huge storyline.

There is one Drivers’ Championship at stake in Abu Dhabi

This F1 season did not deliver the kind of championship fight many fans were hoping for, as Red Bull locked up the Constructors’ Championship earlier this season, as did Max Verstappen on the Drivers’ side.

But down a level, three drivers enter the final race weekend of the season mathematically alive for the F2 Drivers’ Championship.

Theo Pourchaire, Frederik Vesti, and Ayumu Iwasa are all still fighting for the F2 Drivers’ title. Pourchaire is in the lead, with 191 points on the season, followed by Vesti with 166, and Iwasa with 152.

The maximum amount of points a driver can take home over an F2 weekend is 39, due to the points available in both Sprint and the Feature Race, as well as bonus points based on qualifying, and posting the fastest lap in the Feature Race.

So, hypothetically, Iwasa could gain 39 points and pull into a tie with Pourchaire, provided Pourchaire does not gain a single point over the weekend. Then, with more wins this season, Iwasa would be the champion.

Provided Vesti does not pull ahead based on his own results.

So if you are itching to watch a proper title fight, you might want to watch some F2 this weekend.

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