In a role-reversal of last season, it is Mercedes who currently occupy the runners-up spot behind runaway F1 champions Red Bull, but only by the slenderest of margins.
A resurgent Ferrari are breathing down Mercedes’ necks and are just four points adrift as they head into the Yas Marina finale looking to overhaul their main rivals, having outscored them by 16 points last time out in Las Vegas.
The difference in position is thought to be worth around £8m ($10m).
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc ended an eventful Friday practice fastest, while his teammate Carlos Sainz wrecked his car in a heavy crash during FP2.
Asked what is at stake, F1 commentator David Croft said: “Pride, absolutely. Ron Dennis, the old McLaren boss, was famous for saying that ‘second is the first of the losers’.
“But I think, in a season where Red Bull have dominated and been so consistent with it, that pride for P2 is to show the best recovery, or the best of the rest. It takes on more importance this year.
“Ferrari believe that Mercedes may be better suited to this track than they are. They might have pace over one lap but they believe Mercedes have better race pace.
"The four-point difference will go right down to the wire.
“Wouldn’t it be great, on the last lap, to see an overtake for a team to get second-place! I remember Norris did it for McLaren further down the championship order.
He continued: “Was it pride that was holding Mercedes back when, last year, they should have switched the development of the car and changed the concept sooner? I think it might have been.
“Their recovery has been superb this year. If they could finish second, it is a huge boost going into next year for team and drivers. For the drivers to have faith in the team, and for the team to realise they still have winning potential.
“But they will probably end up with no wins this season. For Hamilton to go two seasons without a win? Unheard of.”
Ferrari team boss Fred Vasseur said ahead of the season finale that he believes the momentum is with his side in the battle to secure second.
Assessing Ferrari’s chances, fellow Sky pundit Naomi Schiff said: “Their Achilles’ heel is that they don’t have enough pace on the Sunday, rather than having too much on Saturday.
“They’ve been working towards that, it seems a little better than last season. I don’t think they are quite there yet. They are still more dominant on Saturdays. It is a concern for them."