By Neil Leverett
- Curtain comes down on Formula 1 season in Abu Dhabi this weekend
- World Champion Lewis Hamilton will seek to sign off the year in style
- Felipe Massa steps into the driver’s seat for the final time at Yas Marina Circuit
ABU DHABI, UAE – As Round 20 brings down the curtain on the 2017 Formula One season, can Lewis Hamilton make a statement to potential rivals and will Felipe Massa go out in style in the desert?
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Hamilton seeks tenth win of season
The events of Mexico City last month now seem a distant memory after Lewis Hamilton secured his fourth World Drivers’ Championship in central America, as the teams roll into Abu Dhabi to hand out the silverware this weekend.
Having finished fourth in a stellar drive from the back of the grid in Brazil a fortnight ago, Sebastian Vettel’s fifth win of the F1 season saw the German return some form of respectability to the standings.
Four less victories than his British rival however, still sees Hamilton hold a 43-point lead in the rather academic finale to this season. The Briton, having stood on the top step of the podium nine times already this term will this weekend look to confirm his season-long dominance by recording a tenth win, which would remarkably draw up a ratio of winning 50% of races this season.
Since the race’s inauguration in Abu Dhabi for the now traditional – and spectacular – denouement to the calendar, Hamilton has won on Yas Marina on three separate occasions including last year’s contest. Despite Vettel having clocked the fastest time in practice, the Brit will want to close out the year as prospective rivals plot his downfall come March.
Massa set for emotional Abu Dhabi swansong
Whilst the awards are handed out in the desert, Felipe Massa is set to depart stage-left in his final race before retiring from motor racing.
The 36-year-old former Sauber and Ferrari driver will hang up his driving boots this weekend after more than 15 years in F1, only this time permanently after postponing his walk off into the sunset after Valtteri Bottas joined Mercedes.
Remembered as perhaps the most talented man to hail from Brazilian shores since Ayrton Senna, 2008 saw a season-long duel between Hamilton and Massa for the world title that went down the second-to-last corner of racing at Interlagos in what was set for Massa’s crowning as champion in front of his adoring home fans.
With his British rival in sixth, Hamilton passed Timo Glock on the final turns of the race into fifth place. With Massa crossing the line in first, Hamilton won the drivers’ title by a just a single point due to his last-minute overtake of the German. If he had tied points with Massa, by virtue of 6 victories to 5 in the season, Massa would have been crowned champion.
It was as close as Massa came to world title glory. A year later however his disappointment was put into stark context in Budapest when after a spring from Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn Mercedes car hit the Brazilian on the head in a high speed sector of the circuit, Massa crashed and hit a tyre barrier – hitting his head. The driver was in intensive care for a week, at one stage in critical condition.
Massa returned to F1 perhaps understandably having lost his edge but still retained his skills and remained a well-loved member of the paddock. As he walks off into the sunset this weekend with 11 wins and 41 podiums finishes – this time for good – there will be tears in the air for the charismatic man from Sao Paulo, as the chequered flag is poignantly waved on his time in F1.
Kubica set to step back into F1 limelight
If the season-closing race in Abu Dhabi is merely a procession of points this weekend, it marks a significant mental and physical milestone for Pole Robert Kubica.
With Massa stepping out of the driver’s cockpit, Williams are set to run the rule over the 32-year-old after Sunday’s race with Kubica eyeing a full-time return to the F1 circuit next season. After eight years away from the sport, Kubica will be evaluated to see if he is ready to return to the paddock in the coming months.
It comes almost seven years on from his horrific rally crash in February 2011, when the Polish driver suffering compound fractures to his right shoulder, elbow and arm – which was partially amputated. Kubica lost a lot of blood in the accident and was thought to be close to death. Like Massa, Kubica fully knows the jeopardy involved in Formula 1.
Impressing Williams in two tests alongside former reserve driver Paul Di Resta at Silverstone and the Hungaroring earlier this year, if he proves in Abu Dhabi in the more physically demanding 2017 cars, he could be signed as a race driver for 2018.
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix takes place this weekend at Yas Marina Circuit, with Sunday’s season-closing race at 1pm UK time.
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