10 things to look out for at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Abu-DhabiAre you going to bother watching this weekend? Of course you are.

There are still few things on the gogglebox as wondrous as F1 cars racing under floodlights – and besides, you’ve known the championships were going the way of Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull since Spa.

And, thankfully, there’s plenty of narratives that have still to be resolved, most of them stemming from Mark Webber’s decision to quit the sport, sparking unprecedented movement in the driver’s market.

Here, then, are 10 stories to keep your eyes and ears open for this weekend.

1. Keep an eye out for McLaren this weekend. With but two fifth placed finishes this year the team is facing its worst season since 1968. The Woking outfit needs a fourth place to beat that, and is going all out for it this weekend. Both Jenson Button and Sergio Perez are running itsy-witsy rear wings to boost straight-line speed. And it’s working, Jenson especially has moaned all day about the grip, but he finished the day seventh, just behind Perez. The money is on them starting on the prime tyre (a medium this weekend) and running long at the start with the hope that straight line speed will make them very hard to pass. Can’t blame them for trying.

2. McLaren is safe in fifth place in the constructors, which won’t suit the bean counters in Woking. But the team seems resigned to ‘having a quiet one’ next year while it prepares for the return of Honda and possibly Alonso in 2015. Ferrari and Mercedes, meanwhile, are locked in battle for F1’s unofficial ‘Best of the Rest Tin Cup’. There’s not only pride in this, but money too. There are just four points in it, and three races to go. Mercedes had the advantage in practice today, but you know never to rule out Fernando Alonso: or, indeed, Felipe Massa, one of a few men driving for a future in F1.

3. Massa, it seems, could well be on his way to Williams, who will run Mercedes engines next year and are in the middle of a major restructuring. There’s a seat at Williams because Pastor Maldonado has done a deal to take his Venezuelan petrodollars elsewhere, the two parties having had enough of each other.

4. Maldonado’s backer PDVSA wants its logos on a Lotus, but Lotus would rather have Nico Hulkenberg alongside Romain Grosjean (fastest in FP1 this morning and looking mighty today until a brake disc broke). But that depends on the team completing a refinancing deal, which is apparently yet to go through.

5. Lotus’s money problems have created friction between the management and Kimi Räikkonen all year. When asked in Singapore why he had just signed for Ferrari, Kimi told the whole world it was because Lotus hadn’t paid him. And things have only got worse since, with the team calling him on the car phone in India to ‘get out of the ****ing way’ of Grosjean. Kimi was very unhappy about this and, apparently, thought about not turning up to race in Abu Dhabi. What is certain is that he turned up a day late and only just in time to be strapped in to his E21. If you thought Red Bull had a dysfunctional relationship with one its drivers, it has nothing in what’s going on at Lotus.

6. Ah, Mark Webber. What will go wrong with his car this weekend? He was his contractual two-tenths slower than Vettel in FP2 but otherwise continues to look like a man who is owed a Grand Prix win. Is there anyone out there who doesn’t want him to win on Sunday, in the US or in Brazil? If so please explain yourself in the space below.

7. As one ‘veteran’ retires from the front of the grid it seems we could be in for a rush of rookies in the middle and the back. Sky today were propagating the rumour that Kevin Magnussen, 21-year-old reigning Renault 3.5 World Series champ, is on his way to Marussia-Ferrari for 2014 and on talent alone. His father Jan raced for McLaren (a one-off) and Stewart GP in F1. Stewart became Jaguar which became Red Bull.

8. Magnussen, so the story goes will replace Max Chilton. Max, says the appendix to the story, will take his old man’s money to Caterham, which we are not sure is the frying pan or the fire here. In any case, expect Giedo van der Garde to make an extra effort this weekend after a couple of tricky races that have wiped the shine of his mid-season form.

9. Back to Nico Hulkenberg. If Maldonado does drive for Lotus, it seems The Hulk will make his way back to Force India. This will be a tragedy in more ways than one, meaning that Nico will still not be in car to match his talent. And it seems it will be Paul di Resta who will lose out. He may be a glum old sod, but it would be sad to see him go and the even-less-charismatic Adrian Sutil stay.

10. Lastly look out for moustaches. The McLarens are carrying the official Movember logo just above the McLaren tick on the nose. Jenson is busy fashioning his stubble in to what we hope will be a Graham Hill. Sergio Perez meanwhile is just wishing he could sport a full Mexican but the bum fluff just wont allow it. God knows what Sergey Sirotkin (18 and heading for Sauber) and Daniil Kvyat (19 and racing a Toro Rosso in 2014) will make of that.

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