Hamilton given hero's welcome and other talking points ahead of the Abu Dhabi GP

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After 19 races over eight gruelling months, Formula One heads to the Middle East for the concluding grand prix of the season.

Abu Dhabi‘s Yas Marina Circuit is the stage for the final round – and here, Press Association Sport looks at five key talking points ahead of Sunday’s race.

HAMILTON GIVEN HERO’S WELCOME

Lewis Hamilton was afforded a champion’s welcome when he returned to the Mercedes factory for the first time since sealing his fourth championship.

The 1,000-strong staff at the team’s Northamptonshire headquarters in Brackley and Brixworth – who are all at least £10,000 richer following the team’s bonuses for clinching another constructors’ championship – provided Hamilton with a guard of honour to celebrate him seeing off Sebastian Vettel to the title with three rounds to spare.

“This a very emotional day, and I was not expecting this,” Hamilton said. “It is something that I will never forget.”

The British driver will bid to see out his championship-winning campaign with his 10th victory of the year before heading to France for the prize-giving gala which will be staged at the Palace of Versailles next Friday.

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have had a lot to celebrate.

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have had a lot to celebrate.

CAN VETTEL CLOSE OUT RUNNER-UP SPOT?

With both the team and driver championships already settled, there is largely only pride to play for in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

For Vettel however, who led this year’s championship battle until the 13th round of the season, the German will be hoping to save face by securing second place in the standings.

Following his win at the most recent Brazilian Grand Prix – his first since July – Vettel moved 23 points clear of Valtteri Bottas meaning he needs to finish only ninth on Sunday to guarantee the runner-up spot.

Bottas has won two races this year, compared with team-mate Hamilton’s nine, and the Mercedes driver admitted he wanted a greater haul of victories following his move from Williams.

“It has been a tough year,” Bottas said. “I was definitely hoping for more.”

Vettel should wrap up second spot ahead of Bottas this weekend.

Vettel should wrap up second spot ahead of Bottas this weekend.

KUBICA GIVEN ANOTHER CHANCE TO IMPRESS

Robert Kubica will be handed his third run-out with Williams at next week’s tyre test in Abu Dhabi.

The British team are still to reveal their driver line-up for 2018, with Kubica in the frame alongside Daniil Kvyat, Pascal Wehrlein and Britain’s Paul di Resta.

Should Williams call on Kubica to partner Canadian Lance Stroll then it will cap one of the most remarkable comebacks in sporting history following the Pole’s horrific rally crash back in 2011.

Indeed it was this very race, seven years ago, in which Kubica last turned a wheel of a Formula One racing car in anger.

Williams, who will finish a lowly fifth in this year’s constructors’ championship, are due to make an announcement after the season finale.

Kubica returns to the track with a spot at Williams for 2018 up for grabs.

Kubica returns to the track with a spot at Williams for 2018 up for grabs.

ALONSO IN BAHRAIN AHEAD OF LE MANS SHOT

Double world champion Fernando Alonso has ramped up his preparations for January’s Daytona 24 Hours race after competing in two tests ahead of the sportscar event.

Alonso, 36, completed more than 100 laps at a World Endurance Champion rookie test in Bahrain last Sunday before getting acquainted to the LMP2 Ligier at a further test in Aragon on Tuesday.

“Obviously, we are on a really tight schedule between now and Daytona, but it was nice to jump in the car for the first time,” Alonso said.

“I’m happy with everything. The car felt great and the team were fantastic.”

Alonso’s sportscar debut at Daytona will come ahead of his likely Le Mans debut next summer as he continues his pursuit of motor racing’s Triple Crown.

Alonso is ramping up preparations for Daytona's 24 Hours race in January.

Alonso is ramping up preparations for Daytona’s 24 Hours race in January.

BOY GEORGE HANDED FORCE INDIA SLOT

George Russell, the streaky teenager from King’s Lynn, Norfolk, is to be given another shot by Force India in opening practice on Friday.

The 19-year-old, who made his grand prix weekend debut in Brazil where he finished a commendable 12th, will take part in the first session in place of Esteban Ocon.

Meanwhile, Lando Norris, the soon-to-be McLaren reserve driver, will make his Formula Two debut this weekend for Campos Racing.

Englishman Norris, 18, was due to take part in a tyre test for McLaren in Brazil last week, but the test was cancelled amid security fears.

Young George Russell gets another chance to impress for Force India.

Young George Russell gets another chance to impress for Force India.

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Sebastian Vettel wins Brazilian GP as Lewis Hamilton finishes fourth

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Sebastian Vettel.

Sebastian Vettel bounced back from his world championship disappointment in fine style on Sunday when he won a sunlit Brazilian Grand Prix for Ferrari.

The four-time champion took the lead at the start and, apart from a period after his pit-stop, controlled an incident-packed race to finish 2.8 seconds ahead of pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes.

Another Finn Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 champion, resisted late challenges from newly-crowned four-time champion Lewis Hamilton to hang on to third ahead of the second Mercedes driver, who had started the race from the pit lane.

Dutchman Max Verstappen came home fifth ahead of his Red Bull team-mate Australian Daniel Ricciardo and retirement-bound local hero Felipe Massa, a rousing seventh for Williams in his final home city race.

The Brazilian emerged triumphant in his own private scrap to the line with two-time champion Fernando Alonso of McLaren Honda, who finished eighth.

Mexican Sergio Perez finished ninth for Force India and German Nico Hulkenberg 10th for Renault.

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Valtteri Bottas takes Brazilian GP pole as Lewis Hamilton crashes out

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Valtteri Bottas secured the third pole position of his career on Saturday after his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton had crashed in the opening minutes of an incident-filled qualifying session for Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix.

The Finn clocked a best lap time of one minute and 8.322 seconds in the final seconds to outpace his nearest rival four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari by 0.038 seconds.

Hamilton, who clinched his fourth title in Mexico two weeks ago, lost control and hit the barriers on his first flying lap after only two minutes.

He was unhurt and is expected to start the race from the back of the grid.

“I’m okay. It happened really quickly. I tend to just look at it as challenges are what makes life interesting and overcoming them makes life meaningful,” Hamilton told Sky Sports.

“I just need to take whatever bubble of negativity comes from that experience and move forwards and try and grow from it.

“It’s very unusual from me but it shows we are all human and things happen.”

Hamilton’s crash and Bottas’s pole completed a roller-coaster Saturday for the world champion Mercedes team after it was revealed some of their staff had been robbed at gunpoint late Friday as they left the Interlagos circuit.

Bottas said he felt a responsibility to the team after Hamilton’s shock early exit.

“It feels good,” said Bottas, who also took pole at the Azerbaijan and Austrian Grands Prix earlier this season.

“I am still a bit shaken, but it is a good feeling. It was a nice lap, but it was close with Sebastian (Vettel).
“It was a shame that Lewis is out, a shame for us, but I stood up for the team and it is good to start from pole position here.”

Another Finn Kimi Raikkonen qualified third in the second Ferrari ahead of Max Verstappen and his Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who faces a grid penalty for the race.

Sergio Perez was sixth for Force India ahead of resurgent two-time champion Fernando Alonso of McLaren Honda, Nico Hulkenberg and his Renault team-mate Carlos Sainz.

Retirement-bound local hero Felipe Massa of Williams was 10th.

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