2014 F1 championship showdown preview: Lewis Hamilton

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Driver: Lewis Hamilton
Age: 29
F1 Debut: Australia 2007
Starts: 147
Wins: 32
Pole Positions: 38
Podiums: 69
Championships: 1 (2008)
2014 Record: 10 wins, 334 points (1st)

ABU DHABI – Widely regarded as one of the greatest drivers of his generation – if not one of the all-time greats in F1 – Lewis Hamilton immediately caught the attention of the sport when he made his debut in 2007 for McLaren, having been nurtured by the team from his karting days. Alongside defending champion Fernando Alonso, many predicted a baptism of fire for the new starlet.

Arguably though, Hamilton should have won the title in his debut season. He only lost out by one point after bad luck in the last two races of the season, with Kimi Raikkonen finishing as the eventual champion. It was a defeat that did not take the sheen off an incredible debut season, though.

Hamilton bounced back in 2008 as McLaren team leader when Alonso left for Renault, and clinched his maiden world title in Brazil in dramatic fashion, taking the position he needed to be champion at the last corner on the last lap of the last race of the year. At 23, he appeared to have the world at his feet.

2009 was a less fruitful year, though, as the seismic change in the regulations left the old guard of McLaren and Ferrari trailing in the wake of Brawn and Red Bull. Nevertheless, Hamilton rallied to win two races and finish fifth in the championship behind the drivers at the leading teams.

Red Bull was the team to beat in 2010, but Hamilton still got in the thick of the championship fight along with Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso. However, four retirements meant that he could not sustain the challenge, falling 16 points short at the end of the year. 2011 was much the same as Vettel and Red Bull crushed the season, leaving Lewis a distant sixth.

After a strong start to the 2012 season, Hamilton’s title challenge faded in the second half of the year, but his on-track activities were not the main focus. Instead, it was the question about his future that needed to be answered: would he stay at McLaren or accept a big money move to Mercedes? He ultimately decided that a change was needed, and signed a deal with Mercedes for 2013 as Michael Schumacher’s replacement.

Hamilton quickly settled in with the Silver Arrows, finishing on the podium in just his second race for the team. Although the season yielded just one win – the Hungarian GP, which Hamilton called a “miracle” – it laid the foundations for the team’s title bid in 2014.

And boy, has Mercedes delivered on its promise this year.

With 10 wins, Hamilton has been the dominant driver in Formula 1 this season, and is arguably the driver that deserves this championship the most. On all but two of those occasions, he has led home teammate and championship rival Nico Rosberg, with both drivers enjoying the benefits of the car that is by far the quickest in F1 this year. Mercedes has been untouchable.

What has let Hamilton down this year is his luck. Retirements in Australia, Canada and Belgium saw three great chances to win pass him by, while technical problems in qualifying for the German and Hungarian Grands Prix left him at the back of the grid – yet he rallied to P3 in both races.

The bitter fight with Rosberg boiled over at Spa. The German driver was angry after Hamilton had ignored team orders to let him past at the Hungarian Grand Prix, and refused to pull out of a move heading around the outside of Les Combes on the second lap of the race. Contact was made, causing damage that ultimately caused Hamilton to retire. Rosberg was disciplined internally for his part in the incident, but by finishing second, the damage to Hamilton’s title hopes was done.

And yet Lewis still fought back. Five straight wins from Italy to Austin gave him a 24-point lead over Rosberg, which was reduced to 17 when Nico won in Brazil.

In Abu Dhabi, a top two finish would be enough for Hamilton to win his second world title. However, the hunger that he possesses will drive him beyond that – he will be gunning to beat Nico Rosberg on Sunday and win for an 11th time this year.

Although there is a great deal of pressure on Hamilton, the destiny of the 2014 championship is in his hands. If he finishes second, he is champion – Rosberg’s win, double points applied, still won’t be enough. It’s a safety net that the Briton will undoubtedly feel comfortable to have.

He has constantly said that this feels like he is going for his first title, and in many ways, it is understandable. With Mercedes, he has changed a lot as a person, appearing to be more at ease than he was towards the end of his time with McLaren.

One thing remains constant though: his desire to be the best. And if Hamilton does win the title on Sunday, he will surely have established himself as one of the greatest drivers in the history of Formula 1.

Oliver Askew: ‘I was starting to lose confidence’ after ‘hardest hit I’ve had’

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Oliver Askew knew something was medically wrong in the days after concussion-like symptoms began from “the hardest hit I’ve ever had” in the Indianapolis 500. He’d been evaluated and cleared to race after the Aug. 23 crash, but he just didn’t feel right.

The IndyCar rookie told The Associated Press on Thursday he has been experiencing dizziness, sleeping difficulties, irritability, headaches and confusion since he crashed in the Aug. 23 race. He continued to race in four more events as he tried to “play through it” until friends and family encouraged him to seek medical treatment.

He since has been diagnosed with a concussion and is working on a recovery plan with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s sports medicine concussion program, the same place NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. received care after concussions in 2012 and ’16. Askew will not compete in next weekend’s doubleheader on the road course at Indianapolis, and Arrow McLaren SP will put three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the No. 7 Chevrolet.

“This is all I’ve worked for,” the 23-year-old told AP. “I don’t come from money, and I’ve worked my way up and have finally gotten my shot in a good car. And then all of a sudden, the results just weren’t there in a car I knew should be performing. And I just didn’t feel like myself, you know?

“So initially I felt like I needed to stay in the car and continue to improve. And then I didn’t feel like I could do that with my condition and what was going on. I was starting to lose confidence in myself.”

Earnhardt praised Askew for going to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Micky Collins.

“Oliver is in the best hands when it comes to taking care of this problem and getting back on the racetrack. It was very smart of him to get in front of Micky so that he could understand the seriousness of the situation and begin the process of getting well,” Earnhardt said. “You can absolutely heal from this but not without taking the step of getting help. Often that’s the most difficult step.”

Athletes often hide injuries to continue competing, and even Earnhardt admittedly masked concussions during his driving career. Askew didn’t know what was wrong with him but was frightened to get out of the car.

He is a paid driver who brings no sponsorship money to the team (but did bring a $1 million scholarship for winning last year’s Indy Lights championship), and owner Sam Schmidt holds the option on his contract.

As he tried to race on, his performance suffered. Askew had finished third and sixth at Iowa — the previous two races before Indianapolis. After the crash, he was part of a multicar accident the next week at Gateway and has not finished higher than 14th in the four races since Indy.

A year after winning seven Indy Lights races, Askew has fallen from 12th to 18th in the standings and slipped considerably off the pace. He said he struggled in team debriefs, had difficulty giving feedback and has gone through a personality change that was noticeable to those close to Askew.

Spire Sports + Entertainment, which represents Askew and was among those who pushed the driver to see a doctor, noted Arrow McLaren SP did not reveal that Askew was suffering from a concussion in its Thursday announcement he would miss next week’s race.

“Oliver clearly demonstrated his talent until Lap 91 of the Indianapolis 500, and I hope this does not become another case study of why athletes do not tell their teams they are injured,” said agent Jeff Dickerson. “The reason they do that is because more often times than not they are replaced. In motorsports, there is always somebody to replace you, and whether it was Dale Jr. or Oliver Askew, there is always another driver available.

“I hope this is not a barrier to progress for other drivers — especially young drivers afraid of losing their job — to notify their teams they are hurt. I hope the team proves me wrong because the good news is, the kid has had a head injury for the past month and has still run 14th in IndyCar.”

After finally seeking medical treatment, Askew said he was relieved to learn there was something wrong. He said doctors told him the injury has a “100% recovery rate” and he believes he will be able to race in the IndyCar season finale next month at St. Petersburg. He’s been rehabilitating with exercises and tasks that strain the brain such as deliberately going to grocery stores and the airport.

“Honestly, you know, if I had not gone to see medical professionals I would probably stay in the car,” Askew said. “But now after hearing what’s wrong and that it could get worse, God forbid I have another hit, I know I did the right thing. I think I can be an example for young drivers now in stepping up and saying something is wrong, I need to have this checked out.”