Motor Sports

Red Bull's rivals still have something to play for

LONDON: Max Verstappen and Red Bull can wrap up Formula One's most one-sided season with a final record-extending flourish in Abu Dhabi this weekend as Mercedes and Ferrari battle to be best of the rest.

The 22nd round of the season -- the equal longest until next year's 24 -- ends at floodlit Yas Marina on Sunday after an American leg that culminated in a gruelling Las Vegas spectacular last weekend.

There will be some farewells, although fewer than usual, and plenty of looking forward with hope to a more competitive future after a year in which Red Bull have won everywhere bar Singapore.

Verstappen, who secured his third championship with six grands prix to spare, will be hoping to check out with an unprecedented 19th win of the season and Red Bull's 21st of the campaign.

That would leave the Dutch 26-year-old, who has won in Abu Dhabi for the past three years and is on a roll of six successive victories, solo third in the all-time list of winners with a career 54.

Only Lewis Hamilton (103) and Michael Schumacher (91) have won more.

Red Bull retained their constructors' crown long ago and are also sure of a one-two finish in the drivers' standings for the first time after Sergio Perez finished third in Las Vegas last weekend.

That leaves the spotlight on the battle for second place between Mercedes and Ferrari, separated by just four points, and McLaren's fight to stay fourth with Aston Martin only 11 points behind.

"We have a good understanding of our car and we know it won't be as competitive in Abu Dhabi as it was in Las Vegas," said Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur, who had Charles Leclerc finish second from pole position in Nevada.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff was expecting a closer fight: "They (Ferrari) have shown good form recently, but we know we haven't maximised our performance in the past few races."

Spaniards Carlos Sainz and Fernando Alonso, for Ferrari and Aston Martin, are level on 200 points with the former fourth thanks to his win in Singapore.

McLaren's Lando Norris is only five points adrift and hoping to end his season a career high fourth overall.

At the bottom, only 16 points separate last-placed Haas from Williams in seventh. The latter are just seven clear of AlphaTauri while Haas are four behind Alfa Romeo.

Farewells will be said to Alfa Romeo, the title sponsor of Swiss-based Sauber who are due to become the Audi works team from 2026, and to AlphaTauri's long-serving team principal Franz Tost.

"Franz Tost has been the only F1 team boss I've worked with. I feel I've been fighting for him this year, and I really want to beat Williams for him in his last race as team principal. I appreciate what he has done," said Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda.

The only driver yet to be confirmed for 2024 is Williams' Logan Sargeant, who will be equally determined to end the year on a high.

Friday's first practice will have a different look as teams fulfil their obligations to give track time to aspiring youngsters.

Both Red Bull drivers will sit out that session, with Formula E champion Jake Dennis and French F2 prospect Isack Hadjar replacing them. Briton Zak O'Sullivan will make his Grand Prix weekend debut at Williams. — REUTERS

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