Last season, the F1 community approached the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with a great anticipation. It was the final race of the season, and four drivers were in contention for the title.
This season, however, it is the penultimate race, the drivers' championship was wrapped up a month ago, and there is a feeling that the whole paddock is slowly winding down towards the end of the season, dreaming of winters spent on beaches in tropical lands.
But let us go back to last season. Recall that the smart money was on one of two drivers to take the crown: Fernando Alonso or Mark Webber. Sebastian Vettel took pole position (a phrase that has been typed rather a lot this season), but the German still did not look particularly likely to take the championship that Saturday evening, mainly because he was fifteen points behind Alonso, who had qualified in third.
Yet, as we all know, the race was a disaster for both of the championship leaders. After early pit stops, Alonso spent the rest of the race stuck behind Vitaly Petrov, unable to pass the Russian who impressed onlookers with his display of defensive driver. Webber was stuck behind this battle, and the pair eventually finished seventh and eighth. Vettel won the race, and led the standings for the first time all year. The rest, as they say, is history.
Looking back on that race in the cold light of day, however, and one could not consider it a classic by any means. True, some of us found it quite amusing to see Alonso stuck behind Petrov lap after lap, especially given the team-order incident that had taken place earlier that season in Germany, but it was a race with hardly any overtaking towards the front of the field and an easy win for Vettel.
'Race with hardly any overtaking?', 'Easy win for Vettel?' – these phrases would almost perfectly describe the European Grand Prix from earlier this season. Does that mean that this weekend's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be a tedious, uncompetitive affair that we should just not bother with, just like the race in Valencia back in June?
If the Yas Marina circuit gave us a re-run of last year's race, then the answer to the previous question would be a convincing 'yes'. Without the championship excitement surrounding the event last season, it would probably have been regarded as a disappointing anti-climax to a great year of racing.
This season, the racing in Abu Dhabi should be better. We have Pirelli tyres, KERS and – love it or hate it – DRS, all of which should give us something to talk about by the end of the race.
And if it doesn't, we can perhaps look forward to Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa knocking one another off the road again, or see how the tough battle for that all-important sixth place in the constructors' championship pans out between Force India, Sauber and Toro Rosso, or maybe we can just wait to hear how HRT boss Colin Kolles puts a positive spin on qualifying when his cars inevitably end up on the back row of the grid again.
Alternatively, one can admire the scenery. The Yas Marina circuit is undoubtedly one of the most ostentatious demonstrations of wealth anywhere in sport. The futuristic hotel that sits in the centre of the track, covered with pretty lights, takes centre stage on this purpose-built island, and there is the huge Ferrari-World theme park nearby. It all looks pretty spectacular during the day but, as the race is run on Sunday, darkness will begin to fall, and the whole place looks pretty spectacular.
It has been a long season. Fatigue is most definitely setting in. October gave us UK fans two back-to-back early-morning races, and now, even when there is relatively little left to fight for, still the races keep coming. This preview is the 698th article written about Formula 1 on this site since our Australian Grand Prix preview on the 21st March (although not all of them originated from this keyboard, luckily). However, we have come this far, it has been a great season despite the dominance of Sebastian Vettel, and Abu Dhabi could well put on a decent race to match the spectacular settings.
- Qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix begins at 13:00 GMT on Saturday with the race starting at the same time on Sunday.
- Reports and reactions from Abu Dhabi will be available here on thecheckeredflag.co.uk throughout the weekend