All eyes on Lap 1

Remarkably after 21 races, Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton are level on points going into this weekend’s season finale in Abu Dhabi

The balance of power has ebbed and flowed throughout the season, and now, the destination of this year’s title is finally going to be decided this weekend at the Yas Marina Circuit. 

After F1’s run of races in the Americas, it looked certain that Verstappen would become the first non-Mercedes driver to be world champion since Sebastian Vettel in 2013. 

Hamilton’s disqualification after qualifying at Interlagos made Verstappen the clear favourite, but no.

In adversity, Hamilton always seems to find a second wind - producing some of his best performances in recent years to win the last three consecutive races. 

Due to Verstappen having more wins this season, Hamilton knows he has to beat the Dutchman on track to win a record-breaking title.

The interesting part is that Verstappen knows that a race-ending collision with his rival - with both drivers failing to finish - then he’d take the title. 

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F1 has had its fair share of title deciders being decided by controversial collisions with most famously, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna coming to blows at Suzuka in 1989 and 1990. 

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has insisted that he wants to win the title on track, rather than in the stewards’ office, while Mercedes’ Toto Wolff has already expressed concerns about the growing tension between F1’s two protagonists after an incident-filled Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

2021 will go down as one of F1’s greatest-ever seasons and perhaps there’s another twist to come on Sunday.

The battles elsewhere

It’s only natural that all attention is on the battle between Verstappen and Hamilton for the championship, but there are still several other battles that still need to be decided.

Mercedes has a strong lead in the constructors’ championship after Sergio Perez’s retirement in Jeddah. 

It’s 28 points clear with a maximum of 44 on the table, meaning it would need to score just 17 points to be sure of an eighth constructors’ title in a row.

Ferrari has third all-but-secured as it leads McLaren by 38.5 points, while Alpine should remain in fifth - 30 ahead of AlphaTauri.

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Williams is 11 points ahead of Alfa Romeo, so the Swiss-based outfit would need a dramatic race to overcome that points deficit. 

In the drivers’ championship, Charles Leclerc moved ahead of Lando Norris in the fight for fifth - it wasn’t that long ago when Norris was ahead of Bottas and Perez for fifth.

Leclerc is four points ahead of Norris, who in turn is 4.5 ahead of Carlos Sainz.

Goodbye to a legend

Kimi Raikkonen bows out of F1 at the end of this weekend, bringing to an end a 20-year career in the pinnacle of motorsport.

Making his debut in 2001 for Sauber, Raikkonen quickly established himself as one of the sport’s most talented drivers as just two years later he nearly beat Michael Schumacher to the 2003 title.

He was unfortunate to miss out on the 2005 title due to reliability, but as McLaren imploded in 2007, the Finn capitalised to win the title for Ferrari - remarkably, he’s still Ferrari’s most recent drivers’ champion.

While the Iceman’s form dipped on his return after two years out rallying, Raikkonen remained one of F1’s most popular drivers, still capable of delivering a fine performance on race day. 

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Honda’s time in F1 as an engine manufacturer comes to an end officially this weekend, with the Japanese manufacturer still supporting Red Bull as the power unit technology is transferred into 2022.

It’s a shame given that Honda finally got it right in delivering a race-winning power unit, putting the baron years with McLaren in 2015-2017 well behind them.

Bottas’ Mercedes career comes to an end, while George Russell will say goodbye to Williams before making the move up to Mercedes.

It will be an emotional weekend, even for the Finns.

Will Yas Marina’s dramatic changes work?

Since making its debut on the F1 calendar in 2009, the Abu Dhabi GP has often been a subdued affair with overtaking very difficult despite its two long straights in the middle sector of the circuit.

For 2021, the circuit has undergone dramatic changes in a bid to spice up the show. 

The changes include the removal of the Turn 5/6 chicane and the subsequent hairpin being opened up and brought forward, while Turns 11-14 have been converted into a 180 degree banked corner.

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Finally, at the hotel section, the corners have been opened up significantly to make it faster and more flowing. 

As a result, Pirelli predicts that lap times will be approximately 14 seconds quicker this year. 

Will the track changes make for a more exciting race? Time will tell.