Race starts at 5 pm in Abu Dhabi/9 pm in Malaysia

The final round of the 2017 Formula One World Championship, the 20th since starting the season in Melbourne in March, will start off at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi tonight. It seems symbolic that this last round will start just before sunset and continue as the light fades away into darkness.

Although both Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes AMG Petronas Racing Team have been confirmed as champions for 2017 again, it has not stopped them from giving their best even for this final round. Both Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will start from the front row, Bottas taking pole position after beating his teammate by 0.172 of a second during the qualifying session.

The circuit in Abu Dhabi is one of two F1 circuits in the Middle East and was built at the cost of US$1.32 billion although that is the total cost of the complex which includes the Ferrari World theme park and a hotel. Having a night race means it needs very good lighting and indeed, it is the largest permanent sports venue lighting project in the world.

The circuit very quickly established itself as a popular end-of-season destination from its first F1 race in 2009 and is also a favoured testing venue, regularly hosting a post-season test. This is partially because the facilities are excellent but also because the circuit offers a variety of challenges that test every aspect of car performance.

The 3 sectors of one lap of the 5.55-km circuit are quite different: the first features high-speed turns, the second has long straights, while the final sector around the marina is low-speed and highly technical. The cars also experience heavy braking demands but also need good traction out of the low-speed corners, tight chicanes and hairpin.

As is the case with the night race in Bahrain, the first and third practice sessions take place in full daylight. Their usefulness in preparing for twilight qualifying and a twilight race is limited, as track temperature changes fundamentally alter the car balance. Thus, much greater emphasis is placed on the second free practice session which shares a start time of 5 pm – half an hour before sunset – with both qualifying and the actual race.

The teams will have the three softest compounds available for this race as the circuit is relatively smooth and gentle on rubber. Last year, the top three finishers all made two stops, though Max Verstappen finished in fourth place on a one-stop strategy.

With both titles decided, attention moves to the minor placings with several fierce battles to be decided. In the Drivers’ Championship, second place is still unconfirmed, with Sebastian Vettel 22 points ahead of Valtteri Bottas. Fourth is also undecided, with Daniel Ricciardo 7 points ahead of Kimi Raikkonen. At the other end of the table, Marcus Ericsson, Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley will be keen to register a first point of the year.

In the Constructors’ Championship, the major interest lies with the midfield battle for sixth, seventh and eighth. Toro Rosso currently lead that fight with 53 points, to Renault’s 49 and Haas’ 47.

[Chips Yap]

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