The final round of the 2021 Formula One World Championship takes place this weekend in Abu Dhabi, and the two sole contenders for the title go in on an equal footing.
Either Mercedes-Benz AMG's Lewis Hamilton or Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen will be crowned world champion on Sunday, with both drivers sitting on an equal 369.5 points.
While Hamilton is chasing a record eighth title, Verstappen is chasing his first. It means this year's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix should be an intense race, especially given the heated battles between Hamilton and Verstappen in the past few rounds.
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is an annual round and takes place each year at the Yas Marina Circuit. The Hermann Tilke-designed circuit is one of the newer locations on the calendar, having been opened in 2009, though there have been some changes made this year to improve the action.
Yas Marina Circuit, home of the Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
The chicane previously forming Turns 5 and 6 has been replaced with a straight. The following hairpin has also been brought forward and widened, enabling drivers to carry more speed into the upcoming straight. A long and slightly banked turn has been created to replace the series of tight corners that made up the previous Turns 11-14, and toward the end, the four tight corners that previously formed Turns 17-20 have all been opened up and made faster.
The changes have been designed to provide more overtaking opportunities, and should also increase speeds and loads through some corners. However, as the circuit will still be smooth, with average stress on the tires in terms of wear and degradation, Pirelli has decided to nominate its three softest compounds: the C3 as the P Zero White hard, C4 as the P Zero Yellow medium, and C5 as the P Zero Red soft.
The weather forecast calls for dry, warm conditions throughout the weekend. However, like other races in the Middle East, the Abu Dhabi race starts at twilight and runs into the night to avoid the heat of the day.
Going into tomorrow's qualifying session and Sunday's race, Hamilton and Verstappen have an equal 369.5 points in the 2021 Drivers' Championship, with Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas in third with 218 points. In the Constructors' Championship, Mercedes leads with 587.5 points versus the 559.5 of Red Bull and 307.5 of Ferrari. Last year's winner in Abu Dhabi was Verstappen driving for Red Bull.