F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2021: The Big Finale
The world wanted some drama for the last race of the Grand Prix 2021 season, and they’re sure going to get it – and then some. Although it wasn’t the smoothest of wins, Lewis Hamilton nevertheless managed to pull out a victory in Saudi Arabia. Max Verstappen finished second, which means that we haven’t seen something in Formula One since 1974: Two drivers are tied on points with one race left.
Hamilton and Verstappen are both sitting on 369.5 points, which means the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will decide the 2021 F1 championship once and for all. Fans of the sport couldn’t have asked for a more exciting finish, as all eyes will be on Red Bulls’ Verstappen and Mercedes’ Hamilton to discover who will be crowned this season’s Formula One champion.
Recap of Saudi Arabia Grand Prix
That was one heck of a race.
Hamilton’s Saudi Arabia victory was full of controversy and drama, much like we anticipated. With Hamilton grabbing pole position from Saturday’s qualifying, Mercedes’ star driver bolted out of the gates sharply and led at the start of the race, but two red-flag stoppages almost ruined the evening.
In Formula One, a red flag is waved and the race is momentarily stopped if there’s a major crash and debris is scattered all over the track. The remaining drivers will line up back on the grid in their current positions and the race starts again (although the number of laps doesn’t go back to zero). This happened twice during the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix, which meant Hamilton’s hot start was essentially wiped out.
One of the most exciting and heated moments in the race came on Lap 36, when Hamilton endeavoured a move to pass Verstappen, but the Red Bull driver braked too late, ran off the track and regained the lead (essentially cutting corners). Verstappen was told to give back the first place, and on lap 37, the Dutchman braked slowly with Hamilton right behind him, resulting in the Mercedes car taking slight front-wing damage.
Predictably, this caused a fair bit of alarm. Again, Hamilton attempted to move past Verstappen on lap 42, but the Red Bull driver unceremoniously pushed Hamilton wide and carried on the race. The F1 stewards decided to deliver Verstappen a five-second time penalty.
Nevertheless, Hamilton and Verstappen continued to duel back and forth the entire race, with the British star finally overtaking Verstappen on lap 43 for the lead and eventually grabbing the race win. With both drivers now tied on points and showcasing a great dislike for each other, things are incredibly thrilling for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix finale.
Hamilton had plenty to say about Verstappen’s unique tactics during the race in Saudi Arabia, stating that the Red Bull driver looks reckless and dangerous. “I’ve raced a lot of drivers in 28 years. I’ve come across a lot of different characters and there’s a few at the top which are kind of over the limit. The rules kind of don’t apply, they don’t think of the rules,” said Hamilton. “[Verstappen is] over the limit, for sure. I’ve avoided collisions on so many occasions with the guy and I don’t always mind being the one that does that, because you live to fight another day. Which I did.”
Verstappen, in his defence, also had many thoughts on what transpired on the track, as he claimed to be treated unfairly by the F1 stewards. “I’m just trying to race and this sport lately is more about penalties than racing. For me this is not Formula 1,” said Verstappen. “I find it interesting that I am the one who gets the penalty when both of us ran outside of the white lines. I think lately we’re talking more about white lines and penalties than actually proper Formula 1 racing and that’s, I think, a little bit of a shame.”
Venue, time, where to watch the F1 in Abu Dhabi
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend can be seen on Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event in the UK. The race takes place on the Yas Marina circuit and the entire schedule is as follows in GMT:
The Yas Marina circuit
The Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi has been part of the F1 calendar since 2009. The track is 5.2 km long and will have 58 laps. The best chance to see the F1 cars at their fastest will be the 1.2 km straight, but there’s also a fantastic run through turn 11 into 12 that will force drivers to brake hard and steer with pinpoint accuracy through the corner.
Due to the hot climate, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will start around sunset and will slowly turn into a night race, with the track lit up by hundreds of floodlights.
Will the F1 Abu Dhabi track benefit Mercedes or Red Bull?
One major part about the Yas Marina circuit to consider is that it won’t be exactly the same track from last year. Some layout changes have taken place on the circuit for the first time since 2009, with the alterations mostly focusing on restructuring and resurfacing several corners of the Abu Dhabi track.
Circuit designer Jarno Zaffelli has made modifications that have shortened the overall track and reduced the corners from 21 to 16. Zaffelli has explained that the changes were primarily centred on improving the entertainment of F1 by allowing better speed and more overtaking areas, while also ensuring safety was at an all-time high. Simulations have displayed that lap times will be reduced by roughly 13 seconds, meaning an average lap should take around one minute and 23 seconds.
While Red Bull may have performed better on the Yas Marina circuit in 2020, the team and indeed every other driver will have to readjust to the new modifications. This means that predictions might be a bit more difficult this year, but it’s generally considered that the 1.2 km straight will still aid Mercedes’ incredible power, while Red Bull may well perform better on the final sector’s tight turns.
It’s expected that turns one, five, nine, and 11 will be the most competitive zones where wheel-to-wheel racing can showcase some exciting overtaking. Overall, the track might just cater towards Mercedes and Hamilton, but the advantage is paper-thin.
Much like the newly built track in Saudi Arabia, a new or at least updated circuit will certainly provide an opportunity to see a lot of surprises. Sure, there are dozens of practice sessions and simulations before the drivers take the track for the race, but when all 20 cars are vying for the top spot, expect the unexpected.
Who wins the last Grand Prix in 2021?
That’s the biggest question of the year for F1 fans. With Hamilton winning the last three races, it’s an easy choice to pick Mercedes again to grab the chequered flag and take not just the race, but the F1 championship as well. Still, one can’t count out Verstappen just yet, as he did win last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and is currently driving as hard and fast as humanly possible.
One thing’s for sure, we simply hope this is a pure and simple race – no checking of rulebooks, no time penalties, and no crashes and red flags. We just want two drivers to give it everything they’ve got and push themselves and the car to the absolute limit in a good old-fashioned race.
Like every contest, qualifying will play a major part in the result, but don’t discount the performances of the teams’ second drivers to help their respective number one win the F1 Abu Dhabi race. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) and Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) may not be in championship contention, but their position in the race is vital, nevertheless.
If a choice has to be made for who will win at the Yas Marina circuit, we’re going with Hamilton to take the race and his eighth championship title (Hamilton is tied for the most titles with Michael Schumacher at seven). Verstappen will have plenty more chances to grab his first championship and Red Bull is only going to get better and faster. Expect Britain’s Lewis Hamilton to finish first in Abu Dhabi and become the most successful F1 driver of all time.
Author: Joe Garland