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Abu Dhabi GP: Mercedes and Ferrari in fight to finish in F1 finale as Max Verstappen eyes final flourish

Four points between two F1 giants in the battle for second, a fast Lando Norris out of position after a costly qualifying error, and another Verstappen-Leclerc front row; watch the Abu Dhabi GP live on Sky Sports F1 at 1pm on Sunday, with build-up from 11.30am

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Sky F1's Anthony Davidson analyses Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc's performances in qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Formula 1 will race for the final time in 2023 in Sunday’s Abu Dhabi GP with Max Verstappen chasing more records and Mercedes and Ferrari locked in a lucrative duel for second place in the standings that could still go either way.

Verstappen took his fourth consecutive pole at the Yas Marina Circuit despite set-up struggles in practice and, although he may be favourite to win for a remarkable record-extending 19th time this year, there will be numerous battles for pride and prize-money at play through the field in a race that starts at 1pm, live on Sky Sports F1.

The world champion will have Ferrari's Charles Leclerc alongside him on the front row, just seven days after the pair got very close off the line in Las Vegas.

For Leclerc though, he will also be looking over his shoulder as Ferrari are looking to overhaul their four-point deficit to Mercedes in the battle for second in the Constructors' Championship.

In addition to the sporting pride of beating a key rival, F1 teams receive end-of-season prize money based on their finishing position in the teams' standings. Although the exact split is confidential, the difference between each place is thought to be in the region of $10m (£8m).

Ferrari or Mercedes for 2023's runner-up?

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Ferrari's Charles Leclerc is determined to help his team secure second spot in the constructors' standings.

The Ferrari and Mercedes fight is perfectly set up as Leclerc starts second and George Russell is only a couple of places behind in fourth.

McLaren's Oscar Piastri starts between them.

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However, poor qualifying performances from Carlos Sainz and Lewis Hamilton leave them in 16th and 11th respectively. For both drivers, avoiding the carnage in the midfield during the early part of the race will be priority No 1 as they aim to make up ground and help their respective teams in the fight for second.

"Everything is possible. Nobody can predict what will happen, but I think the pace is there," Ferrari team principal Frederic Vasseur told Sky Sports F1.

"Let's see… It's clear that we will need to score with two cars. We will be aggressive with Carlos on the strategy for sure, and let's see what can happen."

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Mercedes' Toto Wolff and driver George Russell reflect on a successful Qualifying session after securing P4 ahead of the Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi.

Russell, who thought more than the second row may have been on offer for him in wake of strong pace he had shown up to qualifying, is confident Mercedes are in good shape for the race distance and "will have good pace over the McLaren and over Charles".

"Of course, we need to finish ahead of Ferrari in the Constructors' Championship, but in these situations, and especially when I've fought for championships in my younger years, you have just got to treat it like any other race," said Russell, chasing just his second podium finish of a tricky year.

"You always go out to achieve the best result possible and, if that's what we do, we'll finish ahead of Ferrari. Lewis had a tricky session but he's still in P11, he'll move forward. Carlos will move forward too I'm sure. We are in a good position, I feel pretty relaxed, just exited for the final race of the season."

What about McLaren? How others can interfere with the battle

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McLaren's Oscar Piastri says he's tried to make the most of his opportunities in an impressive rookie season in the sport.

The McLaren pair of Piastri and Lando Norris, who felt he threw away the chance of pole with an error on his final Q3 lap, are set to be in the middle of the Leclerc and Russell battle.

Piastri starts from third and Norris in fifth, knowing they can afford to be more aggressive than the Ferrari and Mercedes drivers, even if they too know McLaren are not yet absolutely secure in their own constructors' position of fourth.

McLaren have the option to split the strategy with both drivers too and it would not be a surprise to see at least one of them on the podium by the end of the 58 laps in Abu Dhabi with the MCL60 consistent all weekend so far.

"Very hard to know, no one's really done any long running, so difficult to know, but I think we can be confident," said Piastri.

"It's probably the biggest unknown we've had going into the race this season, especially on a normal weekend, so we'll have to wait and see."

Abu Dhabi GP provisional starting grid

1) Max Verstappen, Red Bull 2) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
3) Oscar Piastri, McLaren 4) George Russell, Mercedes
5) Lando Norris, McLaren 6) Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri
7) Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin 8) Nico Hulkenberg, Haas
9) Sergio Perez, Red Bull 10) Pierre Gasly, Alpine
11) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes 12) Esteban Ocon, Alpine
13) Lance Stroll, Aston Martin 14) Alex Albon, Williams
15) Daniel Ricciardo, AlphaTauri 16) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
17) Kevin Magnussen, Haas 18) Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo
19) Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo 20) Logan Sargeant, Williams

Abu Dhabi unpredictability expected after Friday's delays

Friday's second practice session was the only other time before qualifying where the drivers were able to get some laps under their belt in the twilight conditions which will be represented in the race on Sunday.

Sainz's big crash at Turn Three meant the barriers needed to be repaired and Nico Hulkenberg had an off too, so the teams lost half of the 60 scheduled minutes.

No long runs were completed under the lights, so whether it's a one or two-stop strategy is anyone's guess. It's likely the teams will push for a one-stop due to the significant time lost in the slow Abu Dhabi pit lane.

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Sky F1's Ted Kravitz reflects on all the big talking points from the final qualifying of the season in Abu Dhabi.

But, Ferrari and Mercedes may play some games to try and take advantage of any late Safety Cars or Virtual Safety Cars, particularly if they are trailing in the live championship standings.

"The only thing that matters to me is that we challenge the Mercedes and that we take the second place in the constructors', because in the drivers', honestly finishing fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh - I don't care," said Leclerc.

"But the second in the constructors' would be nice. We just need to beat the Mercedes, but of course if there is an opportunity to beat Max tomorrow, I'll take it.

"However, on a track with hot conditions like this, I expect us to struggle a little bit more than what we saw in Las Vegas in race pace. But let's see, we've been good with the tyre management in Vegas in very different conditions. In FP3, I had quite a good feeling during the race simulations, so I hope we can reproduce that tomorrow."

What else is at stake in Sunday's finale?

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David Croft takes us behind the scenes to the F1 commentary box ahead of P2 in the Abu Dhabi GP.

In the Constructors' Championship...

Only champions Red Bull and sixth-placed Alpine are absolutely guaranteed to finish in the places they start the race

In addition to Mercedes' fight with Ferrari over second, fourth-placed McLaren are 11 points ahead of Aston Martin and the teams' respective qualifying results (McLaren: third and fifth; Aston Martin: seventh and 13th) has further stacked the odds in the Woking team's favour.

Williams have looked well set for seventh - which would be their best placing since 2017 - but eighth-placed AlphaTauri have given themselves a chance to overhaul them with Yuki Tsunoda up in sixth on Sunday's grid. AlphaTauri need to outscore Williams by seven points to take seventh at the last in team boss Franz Tost's final race in F1.

AlphaTauri in turn have a useful five-point cushion over ninth-placed Alfa Romeo, whose advantage over last-placed Haas - who have scored just a solitary point in the last 12 events - is four points. Haas start with Nico Hulkenberg in eighth place on the grid, although race pace has been their Achilles' heel all year.

Constructors' Championship ahead of Abu Dhabi GP

Team Points
1) Red Bull 822
2) Mercedes 392
3) Ferrari 388
4) McLaren 284
5) Aston Martin 273
6) Alpine 120
7) Williams 28
8) AlphaTauri 21
9) Alfa Romeo 16
10) Haas 12

In the Drivers' Championship...

The top-three positions are locked in after the results of Vegas confirmed Sergio Perez as the runner-up to Verstappen ahead of Hamilton.

Behind third? Well, with no prize money or prizes on offer, it is all about competitive and personal pride - and there is certainly plenty of that about on the F1 grid.

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Carlos Sainz says traffic played a part in his Q1 exit, but admits he and his team must ultimately accept responsibility.

Spaniards Sainz and Fernando Alonso are tied on 200 points in fourth and fifth places respectively, with the Ferrari driver officially ahead of his Aston Martin countryman by virtue of his race win in Singapore. But Sainz starts back in 16th with Alonso seventh.

McLaren's Norris - whose hitherto best career F1 championship placing is sixth - is only five points back with Leclerc 12 points adrift of his Ferrari team-mate's fourth place.

Intra-team bragging rights, meanwhile, will be at stake for 11th and 12th places where Alpine team-mate Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon are separated by just four points after the latter's fine drive to fourth in Las Vegas.

Every full-time driver has already scored points this year too, something that doesn't always happen in a season.

Verstappen looking to add to records

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Max Verstappen jokes that Helmut Marko should learn his lesson after the Red Bull boss bet against him taking pole in Abu Dhabi.

Verstappen has statistically had the most dominant season in F1 ever, with the most wins, podiums and points. He broke Sebastian Vettel's 10-year record of most consecutive wins with his 10th triumph in a row at Monza and he's on another remarkable run of six victories coming into Abu Dhabi.

A 19th win of 2023 on Sunday would mean he sets a winning percentage of 86.36 per cent this year, having already beaten Alberto Ascari's record of 75 per cent from 1952, when the Italian won six out of eight races.

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A look back at the multiple records Max Verstappen has broken in a sensational year for the three-time world champion.

Another lesser-known streak Verstappen is on is the most consecutive pole position to race win conversions. The Dutchman's current streak started at the 2022 Dutch Grand Prix and he's done it 15 times since, three more than Michael Schumacher's 12 conversions from 2003 and 2004. Sunday now gives him a chance to make it 16.

He has only failed to finish on the podium once this year - with fifth at the Singapore Grand Prix - and he will surpass Vettel's 53 career wins if he's victorious for a final time in 2023. Only Schumacher (91) and Hamilton (103) have stood on the top step of the podium more than that.

Sky Sports F1's live Abu Dhabi GP schedule

Sunday November 26

  • 9.10am: F2 Feature Race
  • 11.30pm: Grand Prix Sunday Abu Dhabi GP build-up
  • 3pm: Chequered Flag: Abu Dhabi GP reaction
  • 4pm: Ted's Notebook

After the thrills of Las Vegas, Formula 1 heads to Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina Circuit for the 2023 season finale and another stunning spectacle under the lights. Watch the Abu Dhabi weekend live on Sky Sports F1, with lights out on Sunday at 1pm. Stream F1 on Sky Sports with NOW

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