Jet-lagged F1 circus ready for final showdown | The Express Tribune


Just five days after winning in Las Vegas, Max Verstappen will climb into his Red Bull for the final time this year on Friday when he begins his bid for another record-extending triumph at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Like the rest of a weary Formula One circus, the three-time world champion will be fatigued and probably struggling with jet lag following a 12-hour time difference switch after four consecutive races in the Americas.

Verstappen’s win on ‘Sin City’s’ neon-lit street circuit was his 18th in 21 races this season and the 53rd of his career.

It brought him level with four-time champion Sebastian Vettel in the record books and only Michael Schumacher on 91 wins and Lewis Hamilton on 103 lie ahead.

With team-mate Sergio Perez finishing third, behind Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, the outcome in Nevada confirmed Red Bull’s first one-two finish in the drivers’ championship ahead of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, the team having won the constructors’ title by more than 400 points to claim a memorable double.

It is the first time since 2015 that the top three places in the drivers’ title race have been settled before the season finale.

The fact that no other team has yet claimed 400 points – compared to Red Bull’s current total of 822 – expresses clearly that advantage they have built this year.

As a result, most attention at the Yas Marina circuit will be on the scraps among the also-rans with Mercedes defending second place in the teams’ title race on 392 points against Ferrari on 388, with McLaren in a similar fight with Aston Martin for fourth.

For the teams, the finishing positions are worth millions in prize money while, in the drivers’ contest, it is all about personal ambition and pride with Formula One’s two Spanish drivers, Carlos Sainz of Ferrari, and his compatriot two-time champion Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin, locked together on 200 points.

Sainz has the decisive advantage of one race win this season, but both could be vulnerable to the efforts of McLaren’s Lando Norris, sixth on 195, and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, seventh on 188, if they fail to perform or finish.

For Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff, it is a critical race weekend.

“Ferrari have closed the gap in the constructors’ to just four points and we’re ready to give it our all in Abu Dhabi to come out on top,” he said, having noted that his team’s inconsistency and bad luck with incidents undid them in Las Vegas.

“They have shown good form recently, but we know we haven’t maximised our performance in the past few races. It will be a close fight and hopefully we can finish the season with a strong performance and on the front foot.”

On form, Sunday’s race under lights will see Verstappen start as favourite at a circuit where he has won each race since 2020 when his maiden Yas Marina triumph ended six consecutive victories by Mercedes, four of them by Hamilton who may relish this weekend’s action.

The seven-time champion will miss opening practice on Friday, however, when the team give junior driver Frederik Vesti his car, a second appearance in practice for the Dane having replaced George Russell in Mexico’s FP1 as part of the mandatory obligation of teams to give rookies an opportunity.

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