ABU DHABI – After eighteen races, the 2014 Formula 1 world championship has come down to the final round of the year in Abu Dhabi. It’s the sport’s equivalent of game seven – the decider. Lewis Hamilton versus Nico Rosberg, for one last time in this sensational year of racing.
Heading into the final grand prix of the year with a 17-point lead, Hamilton certainly has the upper hand. All he has to do is finish second in Abu Dhabi to be crowned world champion for a second time.
However, on Saturday, Rosberg tipped the scales back in his favor by bagging his eleventh pole position of the season, leaving Hamilton second on the grid. All the German can do today is win. In reality, the fate of the title is out of his hands – it is Lewis who will decide the outcome.
Hamilton looked set to claim pole position in qualifying yesterday after topping FP1, FP2, Q1 and Q2 in Abu Dhabi, threatening to deal yet another blow to Rosberg’s slim hopes of a first world title. In the final shootout for pole though, it was Lewis who cracked under the pressure, making small mistakes on his hot laps to end up second on the grid. These wobbles may give a glimmer of hope to Rosberg, who spoke about the pressure Hamilton is under after the session yesterday.
“Of course, pressure is one of the hopes I have,” Rosberg said. “If Lewis feels the pressure and makes a mistake as a result, that’s the sort of opportunity that I’m looking for and trying to push for.
“I push flat out, all the time to try and keep the level extremely high and that’s all I can do really – go for the win and keep the pressure on.”
And that is all Nico can do today. This is not a ‘winner takes all’ fight, but with our title protagonists starting on the front row of the grid, we are left with a mouth-watering prospect. This is the first time since 2000 that we head into the title decider with the contenders P1 and P2 on the grid, when Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen enjoyed an epic duel at Suzuka. Let us hope that a similar race unfolds this weekend.
The shadow of double points does loom large in Abu Dhabi, but the hope is that it does not overshadow the title race. Up to now, it has not had any impact on proceedings as the title race would have gone to the final race of the year anyway. However, if Rosberg were to win the championship by virtue of the ‘gimmick’ (as John Surtees called it at the beginning of the year), it would raise a few questions about the validity of the win. Would it be a hollow victory?
Nico certainly would be a worthy champion, but there are similarities with his father’s title victory in 1982. Despite winning just one race all year, Keke Rosberg clinched the title in Las Vegas at the final race, finishing five points clear of Didier Pironi, who had not raced in the final four races of the year due to a career-ending injury. Nico has won half as many races as Lewis this year, but with ten second-place finishes to his name, he has been consistent.
The 1988 championship is regarded as a classic due to the intense fight between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost at McLaren. Senna won the title, but it was only by virtue of the dropped score rule. Had every result counted, Prost would have won it, 105 points to 94. Was Senna an unworthy champion? Certainly not. Nico should not be held in the same regard if he does come out on top today.
The other Senna/Prost comparison will come on the run down to the first corner today. In both 1989 and 1990, the championship was decided by a crash between the title contenders, meaning all was settled by turn one. Lewis was quoted at Monaco as saying that he could do something similar to Senna on the run down to the first corner, but it was never a serious threat – at least we hope not. Although both drivers will want to make a point and rattle their rival today, it must all be kept clean, for the sake of the championship and the sport.
Even with double points, Hamilton heads into the race as the big favorite thanks to Mercedes’ enormous pace advantage over the rest of the field. Although Williams did run the Silver Arrows close in qualifying, hinging Rosberg’s hopes on either Valtteri Bottas or Felipe Massa finishing ahead of Hamilton in the race is risky. In Russia, Bottas nearly scored pole, but was well down in the race on both Mercedes drivers. The same is likely to happen in Abu Dhabi. It’s difficult to see Lewis, under normal conditions, finishing third. Of course though, you can never say never…
Hamilton has long stated that he won’t be changing his attitude for the race – that is, winning is everything – but if second place is enough for him, he must take what is on offer. Trailing Nico home in a processional race may not be the championship finale we want, but it could be what we are left with.
That said, this championship fight has been one of the most intriguing in years – there could yet be one more kick in the tail as the sun sets in Abu Dhabi.
Lewis and Nico, we wish you the very best of luck. Thank you for being the stars of our show in 2014.