Both the drivers' and Constructors' Championship may have been decided in favour of Jenson Button and Brawn GP two weeks ago, but there is still plenty of reason to expect the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to provide a worthy end to a dramatic and unpredictable season.
The battle for second in the world championship between Rubens Barrichello and Sebastian Vettel (the latter has a two-point advantage) is for little more than a consolation prize, but most interesting will be to see Button unleashed from driving in what Ross Brawn described as "conservative mode" in qualifying. Remember Fernando Alonso's dominant win in China after clinching the 2005 title? That's what Button will be hoping to do, in the process answering the critics who claim that he backed into the title only though having a dominant car in the early stages of the season.
Although some have raised doubts about the "soul" of the money-no-object Yas Marina circuit, no-one can question the effort that has been put into a new facility that raises the bar for what is expected of a state-of-the-art track. Gimmicky run-off areas under grandstands and top class hotels built over the track are all well and good, but the real fascination of this weekend will be discovering how good the 5.5km circuit is for racing.
There's also the added challenge of this being the first world championship race to run into darkness. The track is floodlit, but running under lights in twilight will be a new experience for drivers and fans alike.
1. Barrichello vs Vettel
The destiny of second place in the championship is likely to be decided as much by whether the Red Bull or the Brawn is best-suited to the track as by the drivers themselves. Brawn has gone well on street tracks this year, winning in Monaco and Valencia, although since the Red Bull introduced its Singapore upgrade package it has the potential to be fastest at almost any type of circuit. But Yas Marina is largely slow and medium corners, which could give Barrichello every opportunity to end the season as runner-up.
2. Ferrari vs McLaren
Finishing third in the Constructors' Championship would represent a great "save" for either of last year's title protagonists after disastrous starts to the season. With just one point separating the two, much will depend on the performances of Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton. The latter is a potential winner, but it's hard to see Raikkonen managing much better than a solid points finish - that adds up to advantage McLaren.
Fernando Alonso © LAT
3. Farewell drives
Raikkonen will start his final race for Ferrari, while Alonso bids farewell to Renault after driving for the team in six out of the last seven seasons. Also saying goodbye to their current employers are Robert Kubica and, more than likely, both Heikki Kovalainen and Rubens Barrichello. All will want to depart on a high note, while Kovalainen in particular will be keen to boost his chances of landing a decent seat for next year by bettering his fourth-place best finish of the season.
4. The fight for sixth
Finishing sixth in the Constructors' Championship wasn't what Williams, Renault or BMW Sauber had in mind when the season started, but that's as good as it will get for any of the three. The trio are covered by 8.5 points, with Williams having the edge, and although there's little difference in terms of professional pride between sixth and eight, there is a difference financially that is well worth earning with a good weekend in Abu Dhabi.
5. Rosberg's last chance
The last five races have yielded just five points for Nico Rosberg, one of the stars of the middle of the season. The Williams FW31 is clearly worthy of notching up a podium finish, and as Rosberg was a potential winner in Singapore before overcooking it exiting the pit-lane there is a good chance that he could be in the mix this weekend. What better way to sign off his Williams career than with the team's first podium of the season...or even first win in five years.
Kazuki Nakajima's key points
"As we haven't driven the circuit yet, it's difficult to give an accurate breakdown of the track but our simulator has provided us with some really invaluable data.
"It looks like set-up will veer towards a medium to high downforce configuration to cope with the long straight (which will require good top speeds) and tight corners which we expect to see on a street circuit. Good grip levels for balance and to cope with the sand will also be crucial.
"One of the most interesting things for me is that we will drive under a hotel which I can't wait to experience."
This weekend's race will be Abu Dhabi's first step into grand prix racing. Work started on building the track and surrounding facilities in February 2007, and a huge effort has been made to get the track finished in time in recent months.
It is the second world championship round to be held in the middle east, joining Bahrain on the calendar, making it the first race at this level to be held in the United Arab Emirates.
From the forum
"Definitely Brawn or McLaren. The track is very similar to Valencia in both length and corner composition. They both have 4 high speed points, lots of 2nd gear corners and only a couple of high speed kinks. Plenty of easy recharge zones for the KERS on the McLaren and the heat should suit the Brawn."
"The ridiculous amount of slow corners and short straights reminds me of Singapore, so I guess it should be a McLaren track. On the other hand, it shouldn't be half as bumpy and hard to ride, which should favour Red Bull, who were already very strong at Singapore."
"Lights to flag win for Hamilton, will be a shock if he loses, low speed corners will suit him and there is straights for his KERS."
|Join the debate: Forum Abu Dhabi preview|
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