Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Nurburgring, 2020

Will Hamilton return? Will Schumacher impress? Eight Abu Dhabi GP talking points

2020 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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Yas Marina hasn’t always provided excitement but following two dramatic races there are many storylines of interest at the season finale.

Russell or Hamilton?

The first and biggest question for the race weekend ahead is the obvious one – who will drive for Mercedes?

Having first tested positive for Covid-19 on November 30th and missed the Sakhir Grand Prix as a result, Lewis Hamilton reappeared on social media last Tuesday to reveal he had begun training again and intends to return this weekend.

Official word is expected soon on whether he has had the necessary negative Covid-19 test and will return. None will be more eager to learn whether he will be back than George Russell, who did an outstanding job as his substitute last weekend. Jack Aitken, who took Russell’s place at Williams, will also be keen to learn if his services are required again.

The absolute latest Hamilton can return to the cockpit is 5pm on Saturday evening for the qualifying session, though Mercedes would no doubt want to field someone else in his place for practice if he can’t come back before then.

Mick Schumacher’s debut for his 2021 team

Mick Schumacher, Haas, Bahrain International Circuit, 2020
Hopefully Schumacher will actually get to run in practice this time
Haas have expended more of their public relations efforts than they would have liked on their other new driver for the 2021 F1 season already this week but an easier story to sell by far is Mick Schumacher’s grand prix weekend debut for the team.

Schumacher had been set to run in first practice for Alfa Romeo at the Eifel Grand Prix, with Callum Ilott due to drive for Haas in the same session. However, heavy fog prevented the medical helicopter taking off and although the session was technically started, cars remained confined to the pit lane for its entirety, and neither driver got a single lap in.

Now Schumacher’s been given a second chance to have a practice run and the weather should surely be much better at Yas Marina. Having sealed the Formula 2 title last weekend and with the post-season Abu Dhabi test ahead of him, this is a special moment in his progression to Formula 1.

Farewells from F1

One driver has already confirmed they will leave Formula 1 after this race. Kevin Magnussen will drive his final Grand Prix for Haas at Yas Marina, before shifting to an IMSA sports car campaign for 2022. He has been in Formula 1 since 2014, although he sat out 2015 as McLaren’s reserve, and will leave the sport after 120 grand prix entries.

Magnussen’s Haas team mate Romain Grosjean had hoped to return for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, following his horrifying crash in Bahrain. However he has returned to Switzerland with his family following medical advice, but he might still get a last hurrah in a Mercedes next year.

Daniil Kvyat’a future hangs in the balance. Given his recent words he seems resigned to losing his seat to Formula 2 rookie of the year Yuki Tsunoda.

Another F1 farewell for Kvyat is likely
The most notable potential exit, however, is last weekend’s race winner: Sergio Perez has no confirmed 2021 drive and despite hints he is in contention for the second Red Bull seat, the team remain firm that they will decide between him and Alexander Albon post-season. A grand prix win seems a convincing argument, unless Albon can somehow counter that this weekend.

But another driver who impressed in Abu Dhabi – Russell – is the subject of rumours that Red Bull could make an audacious swoop for the Mercedes junior driver.

Finally, we will also say goodbye to two team names. It’s the last race for Renault before they become Alpine, and the Racing Point name will be replaced by Aston Martin at the Silverstone-based squad for next season.

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Runners-up medal

Verstappen could still pinch second from Bottas
It seems almost impossible to believe, especially after Max Verstappen exited the last grand prix at turn four of lap one, but Valtteri Bottas is still not safe in second place in the drivers’ standings.

Verstappen trails him by 16 points – a sizeable gap but not insurmountable, especially as Bottas has taken just eight points from the last three races. If Red Bull can take advantage of any more mistakes from the world champions and Verstappen avoid another disastrous early retirement, then he could still harass the Mercedes driver down to third.

Bottas has suffered one official retirement, at the Eifel Grand Prix, and one limp home outside the points with a blown tyre at Silverstone, while Verstappen has had five no-scores due to collisions or technical failures. Bar Turkey, all his finishes have been inside the top three.

Qualifying showdown

McLaren pair Carlos Sainz Jnr and Lando Norris are neck-and-neck in the qualifying battle. It’s 8-8 between them, and Yas Marina should decide a fight which was also tied at the end of last season.

Perhaps slightly more surprisingly, Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi are also equal in their qualifying battle at Alfa Romeo. Both have only made Q3 once but Raikkonen just has the edge on Q2 appearances, with three to Giovinazzi’s two. They’re also on four points apiece, despite two more retirements for Giovinazzi than Raikkonen so this is the last chance for either to claim off-season bragging rights.

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‘Young driver’ opportunities

Fernando Alonso, Renault, Imola, 2020
Alonso will be on-track before and after the race
Fernando Alonso, being given as much running as possible before his 2021 Formula 1 return, will be doing demo runs in a Renault R25. It’s a car he should be reasonably familiar with, as he won his first world drivers’ championship in it 15 years ago.

There will be no crowd present at Yas Marina to see the demo runs but it will supply Alonso with yet more track time ahead of stepping into the 2020 Renault car for the post-race test. This has attracted controversy, as the test was originally intended for young drivers only, but Alonso is now due to be joined by Robert Kubica and Sebastien Buemi as well.

Moving day

Carlos Sainz Jnr, McLaren, Imola, 2020
Sainz will leave McLaren for Ferrari
Sainz and Norris have proven an entertaining pairing off-track and, most crucially, an effective pairing on the track as well over their past two seasons for McLaren. The team has returned to the top of the midfield and is in contention for third place in the constructors’ title still. Sainz’s McLaren performances have bolstered his reputation, and a promotion to Ferrari next year is his reward.

It comes at the expense of Sebastian Vettel, whose six-year Ferrari stint ends without the crowning glory of a championship. He and team mate Charles Leclerc have not always had an easy relationship on the track, but this season Vettel’s biggest struggle has been with the car, which he declared himself “no longer friends” with at Sakhir. It would be a significant ask for his time at Ferrari to end on a high, having achieved just one podium this year, in Turkey.

Daniel Ricciardo is also moving on, from Renault, to take the seat vacated by Sainz. Given Renault’s resurgence this season, he has been asked many times in recent months whether now is the right time to leave.

Third place contention continues

Perez’s win boosted Racing Point’s bid for third
The stakes won’t be as high as usual in the fight for third, fourth and fifth in the constructors’ championship. With F1’s earnings reduced by the pandemic, Racing Point, McLaren and Renault are scrapping over a difference of around $7 million, whereas in a normal season it might have been twice that or more. Nonetheless, every penny counts, and there’s no small matter of pride at stake too.

Even Sainz is amazed that Racing Point have not sealed third place in the constructors’ championship given their superior pace and, last time out, a grand prix win

McLaren entered Sakhir in the lead, but were not as competitive on the outer circuit as Racing Point and left the weekend 10 points behind. Despite a podium and fifth place, Renault lurk a distant 22 points adrift, needing a big haul to surpass the team they successfully protested at the start of the year. But Racing Point’s form is so variable it’s far from certain they’ve got a lock on the number three spot.

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Over to you

What do you expect from the final race of 2020? And what will you miss about this year’s championship? Have your say below.

Plus, don’t forget to enter your predictions for this weekend’s race. It’s your last chance to win a copy of F1 2020 in the competition this year. You can edit your predictions until the start of qualifying here:

2020 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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Author information

Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a motorsport and automotive journalist with a particular interest in hybrid systems, electrification, batteries and new fuel technologies....

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38 comments on “Will Hamilton return? Will Schumacher impress? Eight Abu Dhabi GP talking points”

  1. Jr is the product of unlimited money and connections. We’ve seen this before. He’ll make a solid midfield driver.

    1. spot on.

    2. Coventry Climax
      10th December 2020, 12:37

      There’s a few more “jr’s”: Carlos Sainz the younger, Kevin Magnussen, Max Verstappen, Christian Fittipaldi (irrelevant order). But it’s clear you mean Mick, son of Michael, and I absolutely agree with your comment here.
      However, your use of the very “jr”, implicitly referring to Mick and giving him ‘status’, explains exactly why he’s being brought into F1.
      I don’t worry about it too much though. I don’t think he will last, but even if it turns out he shows talent he has succesfully hidden thusfar, that’s fine.

      1. Coventry Climax
        10th December 2020, 12:47

        Although Christian Fittipaldi is a ‘jr’, he’s not in F1. Should have been Pietro Fittipaldi, my mistake.

  2. I expect some angry team principals if asked about the young driver test.

  3. Alonso is doing a ‘demo run’ in a 15 year old car when there are no fans at all? Who’s he doing it for? The marshals? Is it just Renault giving him a ‘treat’? He owns an R25 anyway. It seems a bit odd to ship a car to the middle east and drive it about in the desert with nobody around.

    1. @bernasaurus Indeed. A waste of time and fuel to an extent.

    2. Track time at similar speeds maybe? Getting his eye in? Working on comms, starts, pit stops and so on.

    3. I wrote this comment, what a waste of electricity, computing power and my life.

    4. Hey, I sure won’t complain! That’s one of the most awesome looking cars ever. It’ll be great to see it on track with the advancement of TV broadcast since 2005. Heck, back then they weren’t even broadcasting in widescreen let alone HD/4K!

  4. Red bull going for Russel that rumour is the most impossible i ever heard. The amount of money to get him from Williams AND the from the Mercedes family must be huge and people forget I don’t think Russell doesn’t want to go to Red Bull.

    1. Yeah and why would George sac his changes at a Mercedes drive just to prevent another single year of languishing in the back when he’s already done two years of this and is hyped to replace Bottas? Best he could expect is roughly Max’s results I think and that’s not gonna entice him to walk from a seat in the W13.

      1. It probably helps Russell’s bid for early promotion to the works Mercedes team if another top team is interested in his services. Part of the reason Verstappen was suddenly promoted to Red Bull was because he’d started talking to other teams. So Russell may not seriously be contemplating a move to Red Bull, but making others think he’s serious is not the worst idea in the world.

        1. I don’t see him at Red Bull, full stop. I’m not sure where this rumor cropped up from, perhaps it’s Red Bull baiting him in order to stir up some bad blood within the Mercedes lineup? Russell is smart enough to not take this kind of bait as it would put a wedge in the relationship with Mercedes, a team who have choice of driver up-and-down the grid, they need only make a murmur and drivers will be banging down their door.

    2. Indeed.

      Red Bull has Max. Ferrari has Charles. Mercedes has George.

      The 3 heavyweight teams have their superstars of the near future sorted. Nothing is going to change on this until 2023/2024

      1. Don’t forget McLaren has Norris.
        I think he is also a future star.

  5. I suspect Racing Point will clutch 3rd in the constructors’ championship but I truly hope Mclaren steal the place. Racing Point will probably do better with limited grip at Yas Marina than Mclaren.

    1. @ryanoceros McLaren were pretty mighty in low-grip conditions in Portimao (especially the first few laps) and in race conditions in Turkey.

    2. I hope you’re right.

      I can’t help but feel that Racing Point have cheated their way to whatever position they finally get.

      Anyway, whatever the overall standings, it’s good to see that McLaren are working their way through the field. Hopefully the Mercedes engine will make next year even more positive.

  6. I expect RP to keep 3rd, although the last two races show how quickly things can change in F1, so not a given.
    Runner-up in the WDC, I couldn’t care less.
    Farewells, Grosjean doesn’t get his since his time racing in F1 came to an end in Bahrain 1. Magnussen’s time (for now) will, of course, also come to an end, and so will Kvyat’s as it’s only a matter of time before Tsunoda gets formally announced, 99% guaranteed.
    Mercedes: I hope Russell to get another chance, but should Hamilton return, so be it. He’s a regular driver in the team, after all.

    1. Runner up is actually interesting, however mercedes has been not only the faster car but also the more reliable one, otherwise verstappen would be in another position.

      I’d say it’s going to bottas again, when it comes to these situations at the end of the year I don’t remember a time where verstappen gained the place at the last time, and to do that he basically needs bottas to retire.

      1. @esploratore I agree, although I meant that finishing positions in the driver standing below the first aren’t as relevant as the lower positions in the constructors, hence, why I don’t care as much.

  7. Time to look at stars and strugglers of 2020 then. I would say most disappointing this year imho and vs expectations would be Bottas, Ocon and Vettel (although technically Vettel does not belong there because I did expect this from him). They didn’t even deliver close to their expectation. Bottas despite only one retirement still not done to claim 2nd place is, well at the least disappointing given the material he has. Very instrumental to Merc however, I am just judging from a spectators view here and vs expectations. Stars Lewis and Max. Not surprisingly but nevertheless they showed again to be in a world of their own. Russell good runner up, as well as Leclerc if we forgive him his sometimes poor judgement of first laps with full fuel and cold brakes.

    Top tier
    Lewis
    Max – new Senna
    Russell – new Mansell
    Charles – new Prost

    Mid tier
    Checo
    Carlos
    Ricciardo
    Gasly
    Lando

    Low tier – didnt bother to rank, all are encouraged to leave, except ofcourse Kimi :-)
    Raikkonen
    Albon
    Stroll
    Bottas
    Ocon
    Giovinazzi
    Grosjean
    Magnussen
    Kvyat
    Vettel
    Latifi

    1. Leclerc is a tad too crazy to be a Prost. Ricciardo is top tier. I’d fuse mid with bottom.

    2. Bit early for this isn’t it..?

      But yes, I think this year more than others drivers can clearly be separated into the good (the top 9) or the bad (the bottom 11). Hulkenberg could be said to make the good a top 10.

      Hard to pick the order of the top 10.
      Lewis and Max at the top clearly, but in which order. There’s good arguments for either.
      Leclerc, Ricciardo, Checo, Sainz and Gasly have all had great seasons with the odd poor showing thrown in here or there (Sainz more than the others but often due to poor luck).
      I think Lando will be 9th out of the top 9.
      Which leaves Russell, who has had a ‘good’ year, mostly on Saturdays, but when given his one opportunity he produced one of the drives of the season. How much do you judge his whole season in light of that one race, is hard to tell.

    3. Bottas has disappointed at times but, in addition to the incidents listed in the article, there were also two races (Silverstone-2 and Imola) where Hamilton was allowed to leapfrog him by being given a superior strategy. If he’d finished ahead of Hamilton on both occasions (admittedly Imola is uncertain as he had also picked up damage) he would have netted an extra 10 points and been pretty much home and hosed already, even accounting for his mistakes and relative lack of pace.

      1. @red-andy it is worth noting that, in the case of Bottas in Imola, Red Bull did later state that the decision to pit Max when they did so was with the intention of disrupting Mercedes’s original strategy for Bottas.

        They knew that the strategy that Hamilton ran, which was a longer stint on the medium tyres, was the one that Bottas was meant to run as well – but they also knew from monitoring the radio transmissions between Bottas and the team that Bottas’s car was damaged and he was therefore struggling a bit for performance.

        Pitting Max early was their plan to give themselves two chances of picking off Bottas with Max, as they knew Mercedes would have to react immediately to their pit stop. Pitting early would give them the chance to try to undercut Bottas on fresh tyres; if that didn’t work, as Mercedes would have to pit Bottas in response, the reduced mechanical grip from the harder tyres meant that Bottas would be slower through the final corners and give Max a chance to make a pass into the first corner, as well as increasing the chance of Bottas making a mistake if he was having to push so hard under pressure from Max.

        As we saw in the race, the latter of those two scenarios was what played out in the end. In the case of Imola, Mercedes didn’t particularly want to put Bottas onto that strategy, but were forced into due to Red Bull’s tactics – so, you could argue it was more of a case of a rival taking advantage of Bottas’s damage to force him into a sub-optimal strategy, with Hamilton sticking to Mercedes’s original plans for that race.

    4. Coventry Climax
      10th December 2020, 12:25

      Irrelevant to your list, with which I more or less agree, but I have a question for you, although it applies to many others here and it’s been nagging me for some time already:
      Why “Lewis, Max, Russell, ….” instead of “Lewis, Max, George, ….”?
      There’s an inconsistent mix of first and last names, for no reason. At least none that I can find.
      Care to explain?

      1. I noticed that as well. Certainly not a world impacting issue, but it did bug me for a split second.

        1. Yeah that’s a pet peeve of mine as well.
          But it is a handy way of rooting out the Hamilton fans when every driver has their surname except for ‘Lewis’.

    5. I wouldn’t call some current drivers the “new something”. They are themselves, and the past legends are themselves.

    6. Bottas is high up in the mid group. In reality he’d beat Leclerc too though with Leclerc crashing out as often as he does plus having sub optimal performances as often as he has.

    7. I will take Checo to the top tier for this season. Will also pull up Giovanaazi to the middle tier. He has shown decent improvement this season and is tied in qualifying to Kimi.

  8. Lewis just hates seeing another driver match him blow by blow in that Mercedes car.
    If Russell drives it again he will excel again. Agonising, I know, Lewis and his fans.

    1. Thats the opposite of what hes said, hes always said he wants more competition in and out of the team. How about you read up a but more before mouthing off?

      1. Meh…its Rodber. Lewis is his obsession. It’s a tough time for him. Mouthing off is his release.
        Chin up Rodber! Lewis will retire in a few years. 🇬🇧

        1. Not really, DeanR. Just seeking after a more fair appraisal of Lewis that’s all.

          1. It doesn’t come across as you wanting “a fair appraisal” – the tone of your original post makes it come across as you deliberately trying to provoke trouble.

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