The 5 Drivers Most in Need of a Big Performance at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistNovember 20, 2014

The 5 Drivers Most in Need of a Big Performance at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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    The 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is the final chance for Formula One's 20 drivers to lay down a marker heading into the winter.

    Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg's duel for the title will capture most of the headlines, but other men further down the grid face personal battles that are just as important.

    Kevin Magnussen has one final shot at showing he deserves to stay with McLaren. Jean-Eric Vergne's career is also under threat.

    Both need to produce impressive displays to convince their bosses to keep them.

    Three others, whose immediate future is secure, will also be hoping for a strong end to the season.

Honourable Mentions

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    Jenson Button has already done enough. If he does leave McLaren at the end of the season, it'll be for reasons other than current driving ability.

    Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez are out of their seats, and don't appear to have anywhere to go. In terms of their F1 future, it doesn't matter what they do this weekend.

    The same applies to Kamui Kobayashi and whomever Caterham decide to partner him with.

    The title rivals are also excluded.

Pastor Maldonado

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    The Lotus E22 has been a dreadful car. Romain Grosjean has largely looked too good for it; Pastor Maldonado has not.

    The Venezuelan brings a lot of sponsorship to the team from his country's state-owned oil company, PDVSA, so his seat is not under threat. Rather, it's his status within the team.

    Maldonado needs Lotus to regard him as a valuable asset on the track as well as in the end-of-year financial statements. The more they see him as a No. 2 to Grosjean, the less impact he will have on the direction of future car development.

    A second points finish of the year in Abu Dhabi, ahead of his French team-mate, would also be a great confidence boost heading into the winter.

Kimi Raikkonen

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    Expectations were high when Kimi Raikkonen returned to Ferrari after two hugely impressive years at Lotus. Unfortunately, the dream has turned into a bit of a nightmare.

    Fernando Alonso has dominated to such an extent that Raikkonen is no longer even mentioned in debates about the best driver in the sport.

    The Finn has a new multiple world champion joining him next season and could do with a boost heading into the winter. He needs to show himself and the team that he's still capable of operating close to the top of his game.

    Otherwise, all parties will enter 2015 with little in the way of expectation and enthusiasmand 2014 will happen all over again.

    Snatching 10th in the drivers' championship from Kevin Magnussen is an achievable target. But ideally, Raikkonen should aim to beat Alonso.

Kevin Magnussen

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    Kevin Magnussen is driving for his Formula One future.

    Once the Abu Dhabi dust has settled, McLaren will make a final decision on Fernando Alonso's team-mate. Either Magnussen or team-mate Jenson Button will get the boot.

    Being dropped at this stage would probably be the end for Magnussen as far as F1 is concerned. There are no other seats available and he has no major sponsor backing. It's McLaren or nothing, and if he is without a race drive in 2015 it's difficult to see a way back.

    The young Dane has one last chance to remind the team why he was given this opportunity in the first place.

    Beating Button in the race and holding on to 10th in the drivers' championship would do just nicely.

Jean-Eric Vergne

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    Jean-Eric Vergne might just be the unluckiest man in F1.

    The Toro Rosso veteran has seen two team-mates in successive years promoted to the front-running Red Bull team. Daniel Ricciardo got the nod for 2014, and Daniil Kvyat is moving up next season.

    Vergne? Far from moving up, he could be moving out.

    Four drivers are in the frame to partner Max Verstappen at Toro Rosso in 2015Vergne, Carlos Sainz Junior, Alex Lynn and Pierre Gasly.

    Lynn gets an opportunity to show what he can do in the GP3 support races, while Sainz's opportunity comes next week at the post-race test.

    Vergne needs to demonstrate why he's the best man for the job in Sunday's race. Handing Kvyat a comprehensive defeat as a parting gift would be a fine way to do that.

Sebastian Vettel

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    Four-time world champion, all-time great, superstar...guy who got beaten by a team-mate almost everyone had down as a comfortable, pliable No. 2.

    Sebastian Vettel hasn't had the best 2014, and the words Fernando Alonso spoke 12 months ago now seem eerily prophetic.

    While the German is not short of self-belief, his confidence has surely been knocked and he needs to go into the winter on a high. Knowing he's taking the most coveted seat in the sport will help, but a great result in Abu Dhabi would be the best possible springboard.

    It would also be nice to leave Red Bull, the team with whom he has won so much, having stood on the podium one final time.

    But a decent points finish, comfortably ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, would do.