Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen battle heading for thrilling finale in Abu Dhabi

British driver's superb Brazilian GP win means the UAE could be set to host the deciding race of an exciting - and bitter - season

The shock waves of Lewis Hamilton’s sensational victory in Brazil are still reverberating all the way across the world to Abu Dhabi.

And not least because it has dramatically increased the chances the most exciting — and bitter — championship in years will play out its very final chapter at Yas Marina in a month’s time.

A decisive factor could be the track itself not unlike Interlagos, which already has a reputation as a car breaker and driver frustrater.

Ask Fernando Alonso, stuck behind Russian also-ran Vitaly Petrov in 2010 for so long it wrecked his dreams of a third championship at the very last hurdle.

Or Hamilton who led the race in 2016, and indeed won, only to lose his crown to teammate Nico Rosberg who was second.

And that was before Yas united with F1 promoters Liberty to redraw crucial sections and inject turbo boost into lap times.

Seven bends have been redesigned to improve the racing. The point and squirt chicanes at either extreme have been ditched and replaced with wider circumference teardrop shaped hairpins.

At the southern end four corners have morphed into one single continuous banked hairpin 18 metres wide with lap times predicted to plummet by 10 seconds. The section that races under the track’s world famous hotel is now more flowing.

Yas has the same two DRS zones as Interlagos separated by a single chicane that was the setting for Hamilton’s race winning overtaking move.

But the remodelling triggered in February has also thrown in a giant unknown for F1 teams.

Their form depends on sophisticated computerised LIDAR surface scanners for their driver simulators which are so detailed they even pick up painted lines and grass.

A full circuit can take 80 hours to record. But teams have not had time to get them done since the track rebuild finished.

Teams have already contacted the circuit for the layout so their reserve drivers can spend countless hours thrashing around in the simulator looking for the slightest edge — as part of the sophisticated F1 AI war going on behind the scenes.

Then there is the engine battle. The Honda power plant used by Verstappen is less powerful when new but degrades less over it’s life.

In two gruelling races time Hamilton’s Mercedes may not still be capable of the awesome speeds it demonstrated in Brazil because it fades more quickly.

As for tyre wear, in Brazil expectations were flipped on their head yet again in a topsy turvy season.

Hamilton was overwhelming favourite three races ago in Austin and yet Verstappen won. Brazil appeared to favour the Dutchman but he was blown away by a Mercedes which had started last.

Pirelli, who supply tyres to the entire grid, revealed to The National only on Monday they have yet to receive race simulations from the teams to do their own analysis because of the track has changed.

Even so, a spokesman said speeds will inevitably go up because of the redesign but they are confident their three softest (and fastest) compounds will suit the conditions.

Interestingly, the same trio of tyres were used at Monaco, Azerbaijan and Russia. Both combatants dropped out in Azerbaijan but Verstappen won the other two.

Yas Marina Circuit renovations

Does that mean Red Bull will be favourites? Well, it’s difficult to tell. Mercedes struggle with their rear tyres and Red Bull the fronts.

As for the lessons from history: Verstappen won last year but Hamilton was returning early from a covid infection. Prior to that Mercedes had won every one of the previous six events.

And perhaps Saturday is now more important than Sunday. The last six Yas GPs have been won by the man who snared pole. But only twice in the last six has the Abu Dhabi winner been the champion.

Then there is the high grip track surface, British Graywacke aggregate, the same surface used in Bahrain where Hamilton won in March.

And so the statistics twist and turn in favour of one then the other.

Like Brazil two fast sectors in Yas favour Mercedes’ power but bookend a twisting middle sector more to Red Bull’s liking.

Only in South America it did not. Hamilton gained three-tenths in the first and third sections and then another tenth in the second where he was supposed to lose out.

Will it be the same in the marina section here in Yas?

And then there are the plummeting temperatures as the sun sets 20 minutes after the start of the twilight race — creating another handling headache for drivers of such temperamental thoroughbreds.

Above all, though, there is also the looming chance of a third collision between the two combatants. Unless Hamilton wins the next two races in Qatar and Saudi Arabia that would make his Dutch rival champion.

Updated: November 16th 2021, 3:32 AM
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