[F1 2017 NEWS] ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX: RACE PREVIEW

The United Arab Emirates’ capital of Abu Dhabi is a modern oasis on the shores of the Persian Gulf known for its stunning architecture – and thrilling events.

Including the season-opening Red Bull Air Race… the high-performance aerobatic planes swooping over Zayed Port.

…and the season-closing Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which is held at the futuristic Yas Marina Circuit – built for the inaugural event in 2009 at a reported cost of $1 billion US dollars.

The event is the only twilight Grand Prix on the F1 calendar, with the race getting underway at five PM local time, when the track is bathed in golden light - before night falls and the lights go on.

The desert heat will also be a test, especially in 2017’s faster F1 cars.

AUDIO QUOTE (English) PHIL YOUNG,
JENSON BUTTON’S FORMER PHYSIO:
“I think, with that, that will come down to experience and you’ll find that the more experienced drivers will cope better. That won’t be for everybody, but certainly from my experience that’s what seemed to happen.”

Last year’s event had everyone on the edge of their seats as the F1 world championship decider, Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg needing only a podium to clinch his maiden crown.

And he got it, despite his rival and then-teammate Lewis Hamilton slowing Rosberg into the chasing pack in an attempt to drop him out of contention – and snatch the title for himself.

SOUNDBITE (English) NICO ROSBERG,
2016 F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“I just went for it, I was committed –
and it was a really, really big battle with him [Lewis Hamilton], close racing, I managed to prevail. So that was extremely exciting.”

Incredibly, just five days after winning that world championship – Rosberg blindsided the sport by announcing his retirement, the German unwilling to again put in the additional commitment required to beat Hamilton.

SOUNDBITE (English) NICO ROSBERG,
2016 F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“This year was extremely tough because I put absolutely everything into it, I didn't leave a stone unturned.”

This year, while Mercedes and Hamilton have secured the world championships – the importance of an Abu Dhabi win cannot be underestimated, in building confidence to take into the off-season.

… especially for Ferrari and Red Bull Racing.

The battle between Hamilton and rival Sebastian Vettel continues with the pair fighting for top dog honours in the UAE, each on three wins. Rosberg and Kimi Räikkönen are the only other victors.

Qualifying is important at Yas Marina – with Räikkönen the only one to win in eight events from beyond the front row, his 2012 victory with Lotus from fourth on the grid.

… while it will be the final Grand Prix for Williams’ Felipe Massa, who will finally bow out from the sport after his 269th race start, for sixth on the all-time list behind Räikkönen, but ahead of Riccardo Patrese.

The diminutive Brazilian is one of the paddock’s great men, and returned to Williams this year to replace Valtteri Bottas – with the decision to cancel his retirement at the end of 2016 a straightforward one.

SOUNDBITE (English) FELIPE MASSA,
F1 DRIVER, WILLIAMS:
“My wife was really pushing me - together with my parents, and also the fans. The fans was sending me a lot of great messages so it was impossible to say no."

It will also be the last event for traditionally open cockpit cars, with controversial protection device Halo set to make its debut in Australia in 2018.

Regardless, Abu Dhabi closes out what has been a classic season, with the Mercedes-Ferrari battle a breath of fresh air after three years of Silver Arrows domination.

It’s time for the Grand Finale in the heat of the desert.