Mercedes duo braced for desert jeopardy

Source:Agencies Published: 2014-11-21 5:03:02

‘Abu Double’ to culminate F1 season

Nico Rosberg of Mercedes leads teammate Lewis Hamilton during the Brazilian Grand Prix on November 9 in Sao Paulo. Photo: CFP

 Lewis Hamilton goes into Sunday's "double jeopardy" season-ending showdown at Abu Dhabi knowing he is one race away from his dream of a second world title, or a nightmare end to Formula One's duel in the desert.

The 29-year-old Briton leads his Mercedes teammate and one time teenage friend German Nico Rosberg by 17 points, a situation that is certain to deliver a Mercedes team driver as the drivers' champion for the first time since 1955.

But it is also one that leaves the final outcome open to a myriad of permutations.

In any normal year, Hamilton could take the title with a top-six finish in his supreme Mercedes car, no matter what Rosberg manages to achieve.

This season, however, thanks to the introduction of double points for the ­final race, the Englishman could be given another taste of the disappointment that he experienced in Brazil in 2007 and at the spectacular Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi in 2010.

In 2008, he won the title with a last-corner overtake that delivered one of the sport's most dramatic finales after falling down the order when a rainstorm hit the Brazilian Grand Prix.

Rain is unlikely, if not improbable, on Sunday, but any kind of mechanical failure, that might stop or hamper the progress of either man, and therefore decide the outcome of a roller coaster title race that has been tense and sometimes acrimonious, would be a nightmare too for the Mercedes team who are horrified by that prospect.

"Clearly Lewis breaking down would be a nightmare," said team principal Tito Wolff.

"We want the championship to end in a straight and fair battle and not by one of them breaking down. We need to provide him with the most reliable car."

On recent form, Hamilton goes into Sunday's 55-lap race as favorite after winning five of the last six races, a run that was halted by Rosberg's retaliation in Brazil where he triumphed for the first time in eight races since the German Grand Prix in July.

That victory increased Rosberg's total to five for the season compared to Hamilton's 10.

Hamilton, however, leads the title race by 17 points.

"There is zero comfort going into the next race because it's 50 points to gain," he explained. "In the last race, you never know what is going to happen so I'm going to the last race to win."

Hamilton (left) and Rosberg Photo: CFP

 Clear goals

For each man, the goal is clear: To finish ahead of his rival and to win the race.

For Hamilton, that would be enough. For Rosberg to succeed, he would also need to see Hamilton fail to finish ­second behind him, as he has three times this year - in Monaco, Austria and Brazil - among a record 11 one-twos achieved by the team.

Another Mercedes win on Sunday would give them a record 16 for the season, from 19 races.

Wolff, among many, has felt the wave of disapproval of the new points system for the final race.

"We have had a big backlash from the fans and many vocal personalities who don't like the system," he said.

"I have been a racing driver myself and I wouldn't have wanted to have double points. The decision we all took together probably wasn't the right one and we need to change it for the future."

Last roll of the dice

While the focus is on the title scrap between the two Mercedes rivals, whose relationship has been under the microscope all year, other battles will be fought behind them in what amounts to a last roll of the dice for some.

Red Bull are sure of second place while Williams look set to finish ahead of Ferrari for the first time since they took their last title in 1997.

For Ferrari, the sport's most successful and glamorous team, it is the last chance to stave off their first winless season since 1993.

The race will be quadruple champion Sebastian Vettel's farewell to Red Bull and could also be the final appearance of 2009 F1 world champion Jenson Button, Hamilton's former McLaren teammate.

McLaren, who end a long relationship with Mercedes and start a new partnership with Honda after Abu Dhabi, are expected to sign Fernando Alonso from Ferrari and have yet to decide whether to keep Button or Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen.

At the other end of the paddock, the season may end amid accusations and recriminations as the cash-strapped Sauber team, fighting for survival, face ending a season pointless for the first time and Caterham, in administration and racing with a reduced team, bid to attract new investment.

F1's commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone told the BBC that he had helped Caterham.

"They wanted to go, so we've transported them at no cost to them," he said.

"We've at least helped them to some ­degree, something we need not have done. We've even chartered another plane to take them.

"We've gone a little bit over the top, but anyway, we've done it."

Marussia, who have ceased trading and made all their staff redundant, have failed in a late bid to get back on the road for Abu Dhabi.

That may signal one of several farewells as the curtain comes down on a turbulent season and an extraordinary race weekend.

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