© Getty Images

F1 title is in Rosberg’s hands at season-ending Abu Dhabi GP

Leave a comment

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) It seems simple for Nico Rosberg: Finishing in the top three at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix guarantees his first Formula One championship.

The German driver has pole position for the title thanks to a 12-point lead over Lewis Hamilton heading into Sunday’s showdown.

Even if Hamilton wins the race, Rosberg will clinch the bigger prize if he crosses the line third.

“Hopefully, the fans will get a great show to end the year,” said Rosberg, who is bidding to stop his Mercedes teammate from winning a third straight title and fourth overall.

Rosberg has been runner-up for the past two seasons, but the odds are stacked in his favor now.

If Hamilton finishes the race in second place, Rosberg needs only finish sixth, and if Hamilton places third, Rosberg needs eighth. Fourth place for Hamilton means Rosberg is champion regardless of where he places.

“(They) have been exceptional, and either one would make a worthy champion,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “After such a battle of endurance, the winner can say without doubt that they earned it.”

Both have won nine races each this year, and Hamilton has scooped up the past three to stay in contention.

Rosberg may be caught in two minds how to approach the race.

He does not need pole and can just sit behind Hamilton, knowing that the Mercedes car is easily fast enough to get him on the podium.

In fact, Rosberg has finished in the top three in 15 of 20 races this season, including the past eight.

But one notable factor may encourage him to race hard, rather than play it safe.

Fourth place in the championship is still up for grabs between Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, the 19-year-old Dutchman who has taken F1 by storm.

Vettel, a four-time F1 champion, is only five points ahead of Verstappen, whose relentless hunger to impose himself – not to mention his increasingly fraught relationship with Vettel – may indirectly impact on Rosberg.

If Rosberg chooses to protect third place, rather than chase down Hamilton, he could get caught up in a potential scrap between Vettel and Verstappen, who has been involved in incidents with Ferrari drivers Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.

“A small mistake during one of the many corner sequences can ruin a lap,” Verstappen said about the 5 1/2-kilometer (3 1/2-mile) Abu Dhabi circuit.

Missing out on the title would be especially demoralizing for Rosberg, considering he has been in a strong position for much of the season.

Last year, Hamilton won with three races to spare, but in 2014, the title went to the last race. However, Rosberg was only in it that year because of the double points rule in place for the last race. The hugely unpopular rule was quickly abolished.

Rosberg has failed to finish only one race this season, when he collided with Hamilton on the first lap of the Spanish GP in May, sending both drivers out of the race.

A similar incident would gift Rosberg the title, but Hamilton does not anticipate any cynical tactics from his teammate.

“I don’t go into the race expecting anything less than a fair fight,” Hamilton said. “I like to think higher of (Rosberg), and that wouldn’t be something he would do.”

Rosberg trailed Hamilton by 19 points heading into the summer break, but then turned the tables on Hamilton, who seemed to be drifting out of the reckoning only a few races ago.

Engine failure cost Hamilton a seemingly certain victory at the Malaysian GP.

Rosberg followed up that stroke of luck by padding out his advantage to 33 points with victory at the Japanese GP, where Hamilton finished third.

“I’m faced with pretty impossible odds,” said Hamilton, who has been hampered by engine problems. “But I can’t give up.”

Rosberg appears to have settled on a cautious approach for Sunday.

“I was joking that I would still be taking things one race at a time,” Rosberg said. “But, the more I think about it, that’s actually not as crazy as it sounds.”

He simply has too much to lose.

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).