The Formula 1 Race You Need to Watch

Why this Year's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is so Historic

Photo by Cristiano Barni ATPImages/Getty Images

As a hectic year for all draws to a close, motorsports fans around the world eagerly await the final race of the 2021 Formula 1 season. The vast majority of Formula 1’s hybrid era has been defined by the Mercedes-AMG Petronas team’s domination of the sport, handily winning the last seven constructor’s and driver’s titles. The team’s reign of terror has lead to frustration among fans, with many claiming the sport is getting stale and lacking in competition as Lewis Hamilton wins year after year.

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Photo by Peter Van Egmond/Getty Images

This season, however, has been nothing short of a spectacle. Red Bull Racing has finally brought a team that can rival Mercedes, bolstered by the addition of Sergio Perez as their second driver. Dutch wunderkind Max Verstappen has put up an incredible performance for Red Bull as he vies for his first driver’s championship against seven time champion Lewis Hamilton, leading the Brit by one win with a total of 9 wins. Mercedes leads the constructor's championship by a healthy margin of 28 points. Verstappen and Hamilton have been back and forth all season, with the penultimate grand prix resulting in a remarkably uncommon result: Both drivers are even in the point standings to determine the winner of the championship, each with 369.5 points after 21 races.

The only occasion before this season that two drivers in contention for the driver’s championship had an equal standing in the points was in 1974, when Emerson Fittipaldi and Clay Regazzoni each had 52 points leading up to the United States Grand Prix. Furthermore, the constructor’s championship was determined by the last race of that season, leading to the only precedent for this season’s circumstances in the entire history of Formula 1, where both championships will be decided in the final race.

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Photo by Bernard Cahier/Getty Images

Recent championships have been decided by the last race, although the drivers competing for the title did not have equal standings. A good example of this is 2016, where intense season of back and forth competition resulted in Mercedes teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton deciding the season's victor in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The last time the constructor’s championship was determined by the season finale was in 2008, when Ferrari clinched the title in the 18th race of the season over Mclaren.

This brings us to the Yas Marina circuit in the United Arab Emirates for the 13th Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with everything on the line. Since 2014, Red Bull has only won once at the track, with a victory last year in 2020. Unfortunately, winning last year hardly guarantees a win this year, as the circuit has undergone some major changes since the season prior, effectively making it a new track. 

Key changes include: Eliminating the chicane and widening the hairpin at Turn 7; removing the four sharp corners at Turns 11, 12, 13 and 14 to be replaced by one long banked turn; and opening up the radius of four corners (Turns 17, 18, 19 and 20) to create a faster flowing section of the track. All of these changes are intended to make for closer racing with more overtakes, adding even more ambiguity to this year’s race for the title. 

Qualifying is always important in Formula 1, however at Yas Marina it has proved to be paramount. For the past five years, since 2015, the pole-sitter (top qualifier) has gone on to win every race at the circuit. Moreover, the race has only been won once by someone not in the front row (Kimi Raikkonen in 2012), meaning that if Mercedes or Red Bull can clinch a front row lockout, they have a high chance of winning. This makes the supporting roles of Mercedes and Red Bull’s second drivers Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez extremely significant, as their performances will help dictate team strategy over the course of the race. 

If Verstappen and Hamilton qualify true to form, we can expect to see a heated race between the two as they lap the circuit well ahead of the rest of the field. If either driver fails to finish, the title will be awarded to the other. If both fail to finish the race, Max Verstappen will be awarded the championship as he holds a greater total of wins. If Hamilton wins the championship he will cement himself as the most successful driver of all time and be the first to win eight driver’s championships. If Verstappen wins, it would be his first championship and his 18th podium this season--the most ever achieved in a single season. With a massive regulation overhaul in store for 2022, the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix isn’t just the end to an exciting season; it is the capstone of an entire era of Formula 1.

As an avid fan of the sport I know I will be tuning in all weekend to watch the race unfold. Watch the race on Sunday at 8:00 a.m. ET and pop into our Discord to chat Formula 1.

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