The Formula One season is braced for a dramatic conclusion as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg go head-to-head for the title in Abu Dhabi.
Here’s a look at five talking points ahead of the so-called Duel in the Desert.
So, this is it. After nine months of gruelling action spread out over five continents and 20 races, either Rosberg or Hamilton will be crowned champion here in Abu Dhabi on Sunday evening. Rosberg, 12 points ahead of Hamilton, is the firm favourite. Indeed, Hamilton has already claimed that the odds on him stopping Rosberg from winning the title are “impossible”.
Rosberg has enjoyed a virtually trouble-free campaign – in comparison to the reliability woes suffered on the other side of the Mercedes garage – and knows a top-three finish will be enough to emulate his father Keke, the 1982 world champion. A certainty? Perhaps, given the supreme advantage enjoyed by Mercedes, but do not be surprised if there is one final twist in the tale. One collision, one mistake, or indeed one mechanical issue for Rosberg, could yet prove enough for Hamilton to complete one of the finest title fightbacks in F1 history.
Jenson Button, the 2009 world champion, has admitted he will find it hard to keep his emotions in check when he starts what is set to be his final F1 race. McLaren have an option on Button, who is making way for Stoffel Vandoorne next season, to return to the fold in 2018.
But the 36-year-old Englishman sounds like a man who is ready to bring the curtain down on a career which has yielded more than 300 starts, 15 victories, eight pole positions and one fairytale championship seven years ago. It has not been plain sailing for Button in recent seasons but the British driver will be a loss both on and off the track next year. Hopefully he gets the send-off he deserves this weekend.
One driver who is certain to call time on his career here is Felipe Massa. There was not a dry eye in the house as he crashed out of his final Brazilian Grand Prix earlier this month and the Williams driver, who came within one point of winning the title in 2008 before cheating death in a freak qualifying accident the following year, is braced for another tear-jerker in Abu Dhabi.
“It’s going to be an emotional one,” Massa warned. “I really hope the final, and 250th, race of my Formula One career can be a fantastic one. We will of course have a big party and hopefully we can celebrate with a great result.”
Off track, McLaren have wasted no time in replacing Ron Dennis – their long-standing boss who was ousted last week following a bitter boardroom dispute – after American businessman Zak Brown was appointed as executive director on Monday. Dennis, involved with the team for 36 years, was placed on gardening leave last week.
“I have massive admiration for what he [Dennis] and everyone in this team have built,” Brown told Motorsport.com. “He’s currently a shareholder and CEO. I spoke to him recently and as a shareholder he will have a big vested interest in our success.” Brown’s decision to join McLaren will be seen as somewhat of a coup for the British marque with Liberty Media, Formula One’s new owners, having cited the American for a role with them.
Bernie Ecclestone has been at his mischievous best this week. He threw the future of the Singapore Grand Prix into doubt after claiming the event’s organisers were no longer interested in hosting a race, only to then say he wants to strike a “long-term deal” with the city-state.
One Asian race which looks to be departing from the calendar, however, is Malaysia with government ministers seemingly not interested in extending their contract beyond 2018.