Desert finale to stormy season


Hamilton was a mere 0.083 seconds faster than Rosberg in the evening’s floodlit session. (Source: AP) Hamilton was a mere 0.083 seconds faster than Rosberg in the evening’s floodlit session. (Source: AP)

At the Formula One season’s finale, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday, the stage is set to have everyone from fans to teams seeing double. The math for the showdown in the desert is basic enough: The driver who leads the championship has won twice as many races as the driver in second place, but the former could easily lose the title to the latter in the Abu Dhabi twilight because of a decision this season to award double points in the final race.

After the clear domination by one team and driver during the previous four seasons (Sebastian Vettel and his Red Bull team), the series sought this year to keep the title battle alive all the way to the final race. The goal was to maintain the interest of fans, who might otherwise switch off once the drivers’ title had been decided, as it happened last season, when Vettel had wrapped up his fourth straight title by October, with three races left to run.

So now the two Mercedes drivers who have dominated the season are entering the final race with Lewis Hamilton leading Nico Rosberg by 17 points and 10 victories to five, but with double points up for grabs Rosberg is in position to snatch the title.

Normally, 25 points are awarded for first place, 18 for second, 15 for third, 12 for fourth, 10 for fifth, 8 for sixth, 6 for seventh, 4 for eighth, 2 for ninth and 1 for 10th. But in Abu Dhabi this will be 50-36-30-24-20-16-12-8-4-2.

Before the season, the series’ promoter, Bernie Ecclestone, proposed the double-points award and the teams accepted it. Then the Mercedes team started dominating, with its drivers winning all but three races — the others were won by the Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo, Vettel’s teammate — and ending up nearly equal on points.

No one foresaw that they would arrive at the final race as the only two who could win the title. But the situation puts into question the value of a move that the series collectively voted into being but that was immediately criticised by fans and some team directors. Some called it unfair, others even said it made the series a farce.

Ecclestone said last week that he would not push for the double points again next year. Rosberg winning the title with only half as many victories as Hamilton would not be an aberration in terms of the season overall. Rosberg will have won five or six races nevertheless – more than he has ever won in a season – and when he was not winning a race or suffering a car breakdown, he finished second in all but the Hungarian Grand Prix, when he was fourth. Hamilton finished third in two races, and failed to finish three.

In fact, for a driver who had the reputation of being slower than Hamilton — whose natural speed has never been questioned — Rosberg bested Hamilton in qualifying, winning 10 pole positions to Hamilton’s seven before the final race. In short, the two drivers have been neck-and-neck all season, with Rosberg actually leading the series for a longer period and Hamilton having to play catch up.

Cool German

Of the two, Rosberg, who at 29 has never before been in contention for the title, appeared to be mentally stronger. He never seemed to lose his cool, while on several occasions Hamilton, a former world champion who also is 29, appeared to crack. If he does win the title, Rosberg would no doubt have to carry the stigma all his life of having done so with far fewer victories than his rival.

But at least Rosberg would be able to say that he captured the title with more victories than his father, Kéké, who won only one race in the 1982 season when he was crowned champion driving for Williams. And while Kéké won only five Grand Prix races in his entire career, Nico has already won seven.

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