By Abhishek Takle
ABU DHABI (Reuters) – Lewis Hamilton will be making a milestone 250th Formula One start as he seeks to sign off his championship-winning campaign in style in Sunday’s Abu Dhabi season-ender.
The Briton, who became only the second driver to win a sixth title at the U.S. Grand Prix earlier this month, is already the most successful driver at the floodlit Yas Marina track with four wins.
Another triumph in the dusk-to-night race would be a perfect finale for the 34-year-old, who can expect a more hard-fought battle next year from a younger generation hungry for the limelight.
“It’s inevitable that the youngsters are going to come through,” Hamilton said after the last race in Brazil, where he finished third but ended up seventh after a post-race penalty for tangling with Red Bull’s Thai rookie Alexander Albon.
The average age of the top three at Interlagos — Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly and McLaren’s Spaniard Carlos Sainz — was 23 years, eight months and 23 days and the sport’s youngest podium yet.
“I feel like I’m able to still kick it with these guys and so I’m excited for the future,” said Hamilton, who can also equal his own record of 33 successive points finishes on Sunday.
“Hopefully next year we’re going to have a serious three-way, four-way battle and that’s great for Formula One.”
Hamilton has won half of the season’s 20 races so far, propelling his team to an unprecedented sixth successive title double, but Brazil was a disappointing weekend with Valtteri Bottas retiring.
“The underperformance in Brazil means we head to Abu Dhabi with a point to prove,” said team boss Toto Wolff.
Ferrari’s 22-year-old Charles Leclerc has made his mark since the August break, winning twice and is set to end the season as the driver with most pole positions (seven so far).
Verstappen, also 22, took his third win of the campaign in Brazil and is fighting Leclerc for third overall.
If there is to be a challenge to Mercedes, who have won every race in Abu Dhabi since 2014, it looks more likely to come from Ferrari.
The Italian team have already secured second in the constructors’ standings but have never won in Abu Dhabi, a track located right next to their Ferrari World theme park.
Even if they have cleared the air between their drivers after Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel collided in Brazil, there is still likely to be plenty of tension as they too seek to finish on a positive note.
Abu Dhabi is also the place for farewells.
Nico Hulkenberg is leaving, at least for a season, after losing his Renault seat to 23-year-old Frenchman Esteban Ocon and Robert Kubica will bring down the curtain on his comeback with Williams.
Canadian reserve Nicholas Latifi is favorite for the seat.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Christian Radnedge)