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The final showdown

FROMULA ONE: Teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton will duel for the 2016 world championship at the final race of the year this Sunday (Nov 27) at a tense Abu Dhabi Grand Prix finale.


Michael Lamonato

Friday 25 November 2016, 10:20AM


Nico Rosberg's (right) rivalry with Lewis Hamilton has been the highlight of this F1 season. Photo: AFP
Nico Rosberg's (right) rivalry with Lewis Hamilton has been the highlight of this F1 season. Photo: AFP

Just 12 points separate the title protagonists after 20 rounds of this record-length season, and though Rosberg holds the mathematical advantage, momentum is with defending titleholder Hamilton.

The Briton has hit his stride at the close of the season, easily outracing his teammate in the United States, Mexico, and Brazil to slice his 33-point deficit down to just a dozen points.

But the three-time champion timed his run to the finish poorly – Rosberg’s victory at the fifth-last race in Japan won him enough points to guarantee him the silverware even if he cruised home behind Hamilton for the rest of the season, as he has duly done.

The raw numbers in Abu Dhabi therefore paint a simple story: a podium finish, regardless of whether his teammate wins the race, will be enough to secure Rosberg his maiden F1 championship.

Though Rosberg has been reluctant to admit it, his driving has been abundantly cautious since Suzuka, the calculating German knowing too well that any racing overreach could put him onto the back foot in the face of his teammate’s scintillating form.

Seizing on his teammate’s relaxed demeanour, Hamilton, aggrieved for suffering the lion’s share of technical troubles this season – including a costly engine failure in Malaysia, which he briefly and incredibly suggested may have been the work of internal sabotage – has been quick to prosecute the argument that the quicker driver may not win the championship.

“I’m happy that with the same car I beat Nico [in Brazil],” Hamilton said after his win in Sao Paulo. “Nico’s driving at his best right now, and today he had nothing on me.

“I am in an awkward position going into the last race. It doesn’t really make a big difference if I go and drive like I am right now, because I have already lost so much through the year.

“The reliability has been really good, so the results are really showing that.

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“I can’t give up, because you never know what can happen. It’s unlikely, but you never know.”

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff isn’t considering Hamilton’s concerns about the validity of the title as chief amongst his worries, however, and is instead preoccupied with preventing a technical fault influencing the intra-team title showdown.

“They are going to fight it out on track,” said Wolff. “We just have to give them two cars so they can do that.

“My biggest nightmare is a mechanical issue, but this is how it is.”

In the Austrian’s mind will undoubtedly be the down-to-the-wire duel at Abu Dhabi in 2014, when Rosberg’s car suffered an energy recovery failure while in second place. He crawled home out of the points in P14, his championship hopes vanquished.

Rosberg, to his credit, is refusing to deviate from his one-race-at-a-time approach in the lead-up to the biggest race in his life.

“It’s going to be a great, exciting race weekend – a great battle for sure,” he said. “I’ve good experiences [in Abu Dhabi] in the past, but of course that’s not going to help me this year.

“We all start from zero this year every time we go to a different track … so let’s see.”

Undoubtedly either driver would make a deserving world champion – but only will emerge with the title for Formula One’s most gruelling season at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

 

 

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