With an incredible nine wins a piece, Nico Rosberg & Lewis Hamilton head into the final round of the 2016 Formula One World championship knowing whichever driver takes their tenth win of the season will be crowned world champion….
….except they won’t.
After a season in which Nico Rosberg has elevated himself from the accomplished team mate to the formidable championship challenger, and the combined misfortune of half the grid seems to have fallen the way of Hamilton, simply winning on Sunday will not be enough to secure a forth world championship for the Brit. Every self respecting F1 fan will be more than aware of the finishing positions each driver must achieve relative to the other in their quest for the championship, but for the sake of clarity the simplest way of looking at things if Lewis wins, Nico must finish at least 3rd to be crowned champion.
The Mercedes AMG Petronas W07 will be remembered as one of the most dominant cars in F1 history. True, the reliability of one of the cars has been rather questionable but there has been no circuit in which the W07’s dominance has genuinely been in question. There is no reason to expect Abu Dhabi will be any different. The team and drivers can, with some confidence, expect to find themselves on the front row of the grid on Sunday.
So how will the drivers approach the race? Lewis has an incredible track record around the Yas Marina circuit and heads into the weekend on the back of three straight wins. Since Lewis’ retirement in the Malaysian Grand Prix Nico appears to have been secure enough in his championship position to not feel the need to push for outright wins accepting he does not need to win another race this season to seal the championship. Will we see a repeat of this on Sunday? Does Lewis believe the best he can do is simply get his head down and win the race and the leave the outcome of the championship to fate. Could Nico see a return of his form from earlier in the season and dominate Lewis removing any possibility for Hamilton to do anything other than accept 2nd place both in the race and the championship? Or will either driver try to change up the race to influence the result for their rival?
Knowing Lewis MAY be considering an aggressive approach, could Nico take matters into his own hands and end both his own and his team mate’s race in the first corner by simply driving into him? Nico appears to have taken on a much more aggressive approach to his racing and defending this season. Securing his championship in this manner should not be ruled out. And would anyone blame him?
Earlier this week Nico reflected on his approach to the 2016 championship and how he plans to carry that into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix:
“In Brazil, after the race, I was joking that I would still be taking things one race at a time. But, the more I think about it, the more that’s actually not as crazy as it sounds. I have to treat this like any other race. Doing a good job on a Grand Prix weekend is always a challenge. Nothing in this sport is easy, so this won’t be any different and I still have to go all out for a good result.
The closer it gets, the more I’m feeling excited. It will be a big battle and hopefully the fans will get a great show to end the year.
I will give it everything to end the season with a win.”
Of course the team will publicly deplore any actions their drivers take to imped the progress of each other, but after sealing the constructors championship back in Suzuka will they really mind? Viewers of the Brazilian Grand Prix would be forgiven for thinking Max Verstappen won the race so little airtime was given to the dominant Silver Mercedes finishing ahead of him. If Mercedes want exposure, which let’s face it is one of the primary reasons they are in the sport, perhaps their drivers working to manipulate the others race result is the best way to achieve this. Whilst they might not support any efforts either driver may take to increase pressure on his team mate, they might feel they owe their drivers the freedom to approach the conclusion of the drivers championship as they see fit.
In the build up to the Grand Prix Toto Wolff has commented:
“As a group, we now have one very important final duty this season – to give Nico and Lewis the platform they need to battle it out to the flag. Both of them have been exceptional and either one would make a worthy Champion. It’s been a gruelling year for us all, with a record-breaking calendar and the added challenge of a new regulation set to prepare for in 2017. After such a battle of endurance, the winner can say without doubt that they earned it. We are all excited to see who that will be. May the best man win.”
So what could Lewis do in the race? In the lead up to the weekend he was quoted as saying:
“I can’t and won’t give up. You never know what might happen.
I’m approaching this weekend the same as I do every race. I want to win and I’ll give it everything to finish the season on a high.”
Assuming he is the pole man and manages to maintain this position at the start of the race with Nico in second, would he look to back his team mate into the clutches of his rivals? Ferrari will desperate to close out the season with the best possible result, and the Red Bull Racing duo will be fighting tooth and nail for supremacy as they head into the winter break. Nico won’t want any of those drivers anywhere near his car during the race and so would be unlikely to battle too hard for fear of a race ending incident. Realistically one or more of them getting past Nico is Lewis’ best chance of taking the championship.
Yes, anther factor to consider is that statistically Nico is long overdue a mechanical issue in his W07, but Lewis can’t and won’t bank on statistics finally falling his way. Any issue Nico faces could hit him as well. I’ve read a lot of articles recently asking if Nico Rosberg is worthy champion. To my mind, if you’re leading the championship at the end of the season you are champion. Simple as that. There is no worthy or not worthy. Whoever that may be they deserve all the accolades and respect they will receive.
So what kind of race do we want to see on Sunday? I for one don’t want to see another demonstration of Mercedes dominance. We’ve seen twenty of those races already this year. I want to see tactical excellence from two drivers at the very top of their game. Ignore the team calls, ignore the critics, you have a championship to win and a championship to lose, be the master of your destiny and give us a truly historic race.