The destiny of this year’s FIA Formula One World Championship title stands finely poised with a single race to go, as the Mercedes AMG Petronas duo of Lewis Hamilton and standings leader Nico Rosberg take their duel for the crown to the sands of Abu Dhabi.
By virtue of his third victory in succession at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Place in Brazil last time out, Hamilton has closed the deficit to Rosberg, largely helped by the former’s mechanical woes across the campaign, to a mere 12 points and sits within easy striking distance should the German hit misfortune in Yas Marina this weekend.
To give Rosberg his credit, the son of 1982 World Champion Keke has maintained a solid mantra of ‘one race at a time’ throughout this record-breaking, 21-event season and has maintained a thin veil of calm in the face of his team-mate’s resurgence in recent races, surviving flash points in both Mexico whilst dicing for second, and during a half-spin at Juncao in the torrentially wet conditions in Sao Paolo.
The German has led the vast majority of the campaign despite the best of Hamilton’s talents driving a recovery charge from various issues, most recently from a winning position that would have handed him the title lead in Malaysia when the engine in his W07 failed.
But the weekend in Yas Marina is set to be poignant for more than one British driver, as Jenson Button hangs up his helmet after competing in Formula One for sixteen years. Though the 2009 world champion still holds a further two years on his contract with McLaren Honda, including an option for Button to drive again in 2018 following a year on the sidelines in an ambassadorial role, he told reporters on Thursday he was approaching the race as his last, and the option remains in case he changes his mind after a break next year.
Abu Dhabi also brings an end to Felipe Massa’s trophy-laden career, as the 2008 runner-up bids farewell to the sport after successful spells at three stalwart teams of the sport – Sauber, Ferrari and Williams. Though he was unfortunate to crash out of his final home Grand Prix a fortnight ago, the standing ovation he received from rival teams as he returned to the pit lane sent out a clear message – Massa will be missed.
Only one seat at Sauber remains for next season after Marcus Ericcson signed an extension on his current deal, with a host of drivers aiming to stake one final claim to being his team-mate this weekend. At the forefront of the race is Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein, a long-term part of Mercedes’ driver development. His former team-mate Rio Haryanto is also tipped to be a likely candidate, should the funding the Swiss team crave materialise. Esteban Gutierrez was pictured speaking with Team Principal Monisha Kalttenborn in Sao Paolo, fueling speculation he could return to his former team as his Haas contract expires after the weekend.
The Constructor’s Championship has been decided for two months now, but the battle for fourth is set to reach it’s conclusion as Williams Martini Racing and Sahara Force India despute not only fourth, but the bragging rights of being ‘best of the rest’ behind the performance triangle of Mercedes-Ferrari-Red Bull at the front. 27 points split the two Mercedes-powered outfits heading to Abu Dhabi, with Force India currently in the driving seat.
In a period where Formula One draws understandable criticism for being “dull” or “less interesting than it used to be”, this year’s season finale is rife with plot points and an indicator that this sport, despite the indisputable dominance of Mercedes, has still managed to serve up a title decider worth watching.