After nine gruelling months, 19 races and 1,037 race laps the Formula 1 circus has reached the deserts of Abu Dhabi and it’s final stop of its globe-trotting calendar.
For the sixth time in nine years the battle for the all important drivers title goes down to the wire, to be fought out after one of the most intense inter-team battles in the history of the sport.
Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, team-mates at Mercedes, friends and rivals since childhood will battle it out for the accolade and all under the cloud of the new double points rule.
For the first time tomorrow the top 10 drivers will be awarded double points, adding a kick to a title race that has been one of the most enthralling in years.
In their Silver Arrows the two men have crushed the field this season, winning all but three races and in the process having some of the most intense team-mate battles since the glory days of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna.
Indeed Mercedes will hope their drivers will add to the record set at the Brazilian Grand Prix of 11 one-two finishes in a single season, beating the famous 1988 season where the two men Rosberg and Hamilton are compared to most — Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna — destroyed the field.
Formula One is most alive whenever a title race goes down to the final race. Pressure, nerves, mistakes and machinery all go together to add to the intensity.
Both drivers however, were doing their best to downplay the anxiety and fears involved in participating in a weekend like this.
“I come into the weekend trying to win the race, like always. So nothing changes there,” Hamilton said. “In terms of the pressure, I don’t really feel anything.”
“It’s an intense weekend,” Rosberg said. “I wouldn’t use the word pressure. Lewis is a great competitor and it will hopefully be a great end to the season. I’m here to try to win the race and I need a bit of help from Lewis that he doesn’t finish second.”
It’s a shame that the final race and indeed the season as a whole may be remembered for the imposition of the double points rule that is likely to be never used again.
Yet for all the criticism the regulation has garnered it has turned this last race into a real competition.
Without double points Hamilton, who holds a 17-point lead, would only need to finish sixth, a relatively straightforward task considering just how much quicker his Mercedes has been this year compared to his nearest rivals.
It’s still remains a simple equation for the man from Stevenage; beat Rosberg and you will be champion.
In that respect it’s a seminal race for Hamilton. Should he win his second title in a ferocious and convincing way he will instantly become an F1 great. However a choke or mistake of any kind will add to a rather unwanted reputation when it comes to winning a championship. The 29-year-old has an unsteady record when it comes to title deciders. His debut season back in 2007 ended in disappointment after some zealous overdriving and gearbox issues cost him a crown he should never have lost. The following year saw lady luck shine on him and his McLaren, winning the title in the last corner thanks to Timo Glock’s failure to change tyres in the wet conditions gifting the Brit the point he needed to claim the title.
Hamilton has been the better driver all season; indeed he is only the third driver to win 10 races in a season, joining Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel. No driver has ever won so many and not taken the title. Surprisingly, Rosberg has had the better record in qualifying, an impressive feat given Hamilton had never before been out qualified over a season by a team-mate. But it has been race craft that has given Hamilton the advantage despite having had the worst of the unreliability and bad luck at Mercedes this season.
Hamilton has twice overtaken Rosberg on track to win a race, while Rosberg has not managed it at all.
And in spite of having the superior qualifying record, Rosberg has only finished ahead of his team-mate twice when they both started on the front row. In Monaco and last time out in Brazil where the German convincingly saw off Hamilton.
Rosberg will most likely have to achieve something he has failed to do all season to clinch the title, win back-to-back races.
The most fascinating facet of this championship battle is the relationship the pair have and just how much it has altered in the past year. 1Fifteen years ago they were karting team-mates, living together in Italy. They slept in the same room where they would talk about their goals, ambitions and aspirations of one day racing in Formula One. Now as championship rivals their relationship can be best described as difficult.
Monaco proved to be the toughest weekend for their friendship as an angry Hamilton famously said “we are not friends” following Rosberg’s ‘mistake’ that sent him down the Mirabeau escape road on his final qualifying lap.
Hamilton refused to believe it as an error and felt angry Mercedes didn’t punish the German for what he felt was a deliberate attempt to stop him from having a shot at pole.
A grudge began then and eventually played out in the real turning point of this year’s championship in Belgium. On lap two Rosberg tried to pass Hamilton but instead clipped his back tyre in what was a very clumsy and silly move. “Nico just hit me,” Hamilton said over the radio, as he came to terms with another retirement. Rosberg went on to finish second and in the process open up his biggest lead of the season, 29 points.
But that was the only positive he could take as he faced a storm once he returned to the pits. Team boss Toto Wolff was furious with Rosberg after the race, calling the move “absolutely unacceptable”.
The team reprimanded Rosberg for what Hamilton would reveal was a deliberate move.
“We just had a meeting about it and he basically said he did it on purpose,” said Hamilton. “He said he could have avoided it, but he didn’t want to. He basically said, ‘I did it to prove a point.’”
Prove a point it did, from that moment on Hamilton was a changed man. Five wins in a row, two of them involving him passing Rosberg. The ultimate humiliation and retribution.
Rosberg seemed to have lost confidence, whether it was in the team or his own abilities. Gone was the 29 point lead, now a 17 point deficit. But with that fightback performance in Brazil it appears Rosberg is back to his best just in time. You can’t help but feel the way this year has ebbed and flowed that we’re due one more twist or perhaps one more coming together.
Double points is sure to add a new pressure but either way this tense finale in a season of epic battles is not one to be missed.
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