The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be one final chance for fans to see Formula 1 in a record-breaking season in many ways – even if Max Verstappen has been the one breaking most of them.
He goes into the final round having already scored more than enough points to have won the Constructors’ title by himself and more than double the tally of P2 man Sergio Perez.
But dig a little deeper and there’s a huge amount to play for heading into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend, with teams desperate to fight for every point come Sunday.
The tight fight for ‘Best of the Rest’ behind Red Bull
If we were having a title fight without Red Bull, Lewis Hamilton would be on the verge of taking the crown, 20 points clear of Fernando Alonso (we’ve done the maths and kept an alternative running total, don’t worry).
Alas, that is not the case in the real world, though there is a very tight battle for second place in the Constructors’ standings between Mercedes and Ferrari to get excited about.
The Scuderia closed the gap to Mercedes to only four points heading into the final weekend and, with millions of dollars in prize money on the line as well as professional pride, the teams will be up for the fight heading into Sunday.
Hamilton was never too fussed about chasing down Perez for that second place in the Drivers’ standings, but he hopes to do the work of his team justice by securing their place in the Championship that matters most to them.
“The one that I might be proud of is getting second for the team, just knowing how hard everyone’s worked back at the factory,” Hamilton told Channel 4.
“It’s been a tough two years for everybody, but the fact that we are fighting for second in the Championship is pretty amazing to recover in that way.”
The ‘Pride of Spain’ is up for grabs
How much Carlos Sainz and Fernando Alonso will pay attention to this particular squabble themselves remains to be seen, but Sainz actually overtook his compatriot in the standings in Las Vegas on countback – and they go into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix level on 200 points each.
They are two of four drivers, along with Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris, who are able to finish fourth in the Drivers’ standings come the chequered flag on Sunday.
And while the only position that matters to any of them is first, finishing with a flourish is in all of their interests.
Given the strength of the start Alonso had in 2023, he will want to finish as well as he can, and with Sainz being the only non-Red Bull winner so far this year both can argue their cases for having had excellent seasons – and finishing as the top Spaniard will be the icing on the cake.
The P7 Constructors’ fight will end – with huge financial implications
At the lower end of the standings, the good thing to see is that there has been no out-and-out backmarker all season long, making qualifying unpredictable and the racing exciting.
AlphaTauri have picked up their pace and the performances of Alex Albon in particular have put Williams in prime position for a big payday by sitting P7 in the Constructors’ Championship.
Every place in that table is worth millions to every team in prize money, with the smaller teams placing huge weight on where they finish – and if Williams can hold on, it would represent their highest finish in the table for six years.
They have a seven-point buffer to AlphaTauri, while Alfa Romeo and Haas are separated by four points in the battle at the bottom, so with a crazy race in Abu Dhabi it could be all to play for there.
The in-house driver battles at Ferrari and Alpine still need a winner
Sainz and Leclerc have already had a mention earlier on, but the closeness of their battle in the Drivers’ standings has gone somewhat under the radar this season – with the Spaniard 12 points ahead of Leclerc heading into the final round.
Now in their third season together at the Scuderia and level 1-1 in terms of who has finished ahead of who in the World Championship, this is something of a tie-breaker for now as they approach the final season of both of their current contracts with Ferrari.
Leclerc has dominated the qualifying battle, but the consistency Sainz has shown on race days, coupled with the admittedly bad luck faced by his team-mate, has seen him come into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix ahead.
Elsewhere, we’ve spoken about who will come out on top in the all-Spanish battle, but the fight to be the top-performing Frenchman on the grid has become an awful lot closer as well.
Esteban Ocon’s storming drive to P4 in Las Vegas put him only four points behind Alpine team-mate Pierre Gasly going into the final race of the season, and their year together as two French drivers at a French factory team – while not gone to plan from a competitiveness perspective – has certainly been entertaining to watch.
Many of us thought heading into the year that this would be one of the battles of the season on the grid and so it has proven to be, with a winner yet to be decided.
A final opportunity for teams and drivers to get leave 2023 with silverware
Lewis Hamilton said a few weeks ago that he has no plans on ending 2023 “empty-handed” after a first winless season of his career last year, but there is only one chance left for him to make it onto the top step in Abu Dhabi.
If neither he nor George Russell can topple Red Bull, it would represent the first time since 2011 that Mercedes have gone a full season without taking a victory – even though they have seven podiums to their name this year.
Charles Leclerc made it 12 poles in a row without converting it into a win last time out in Las Vegas too, as hard as he fought to keep Max Verstappen at bay and as brilliantly as he drove too.
Could a surprise be sprung or will the Red Bull/Verstappen juggernaut roll on one last time with one of the most dominant combinations in Formula 1 history? There’s only one way to find out.
One last chance to impress for Logan Sargeant
Only one seat remains unconfirmed for the 2024 grid and Logan Sargeant did his chances the world of good by qualifying a career-best P6 in Las Vegas last time out.
Having been out-qualified at every race and sprint this season, though, what better time than to avoid a whitewash than at the final race of the year and prove to James Vowles that he’s the right man for the job?
Vowles has been staunch in his defence of the American rookie as the season has gone on and he has appeared to have closed the gap to Albon of late, but with no shortage of out-of-work drivers undoubtedly knocking on the door of the Williams boss, finishing 2023 with a flourish is imperative to leave the best impression possible.