Abu Dhabi Preview

By Alex Griffin

Written in association with Missed Apex Podcast. Listen in the player below the article. 

As the season draws to a close, Lewis Hamilton will be praying for an intervention from the racing Gods whilst Nico Rosberg hopes they keep well away. What stands between Rosberg and his maiden championship

Lewis Hamilton has this week branded his task in Abu Dhabi an impossible one. While it is an obvious attempt to unsettle his team-mate in the run-up to the race, he knows that something untoward must happen to deny Rosberg looking at the performances of the field over this season.

The Neutral’s dream?

Admittedly I am playing fast and loose with the word “dream” here. As the F1 circus rolls into town at the Yas Marina circuit, championship leader Nico Rosberg will be reassured by the knowledge that a podium finish in Abu Dhabi will see his name etched onto the driver’s trophy and join his father on the list of Formula One world champions. Lewis Hamilton’s mechanical issues throughout the season have at the very least potentially deprived us of a nail-biting showdown, and it is very much an uphill task if he is to snatch the championship this year.

Rosberg has this week claimed that he will give it all in his pursuit of the crown and that he won’t simply settle for second at the season finale. I do not wish to accuse Nico of speaking an untruth, but it is doubtful that he will go hell for leather should he find himself trailing his rival with the lap count diminishing and a comfortable cushion over third in hand. He has commented that he is going for the win but we’ll see.

The layout of Yas Marina lends itself to the Mercedes car without question. The first two sectors allow the power unit of the Silver Arrow to really stretch its legs and exploit its advantage and build enough of a buffer to shade the charging Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo after the third and final sector. It is likely that Mercedes could score another one-two finish in Abu Dhabi, but what could potentially stand in their way?

Cornerstone Shaving

It could all be in the start

A recurring theme in this year’s championship is that of the uncertainty of the race start. Much has been written about the fortunes of the duo at the front of the field, some of which as a result of their sprints (or in some cases, crawls) down to turn one. Both have experienced the good and the bad but could it come into play here?

Hamilton’s sluggish start in Monza put him back in the pack as Mercedes suffered a raft of mid-season clutch issues. Source: F1 Fanatic

Hamilton’s sluggish start in Monza put him back in the pack as Mercedes suffered a raft of mid-season clutch issues. Source: F1 Fanatic

The opening phase of a race is more often than not a make-or-break affair. From the outside, a slip into the clutches of a points-hungry pack would be a welcome addition to a sport wishing to keep its fans gripped to the very last. To F1 enthusiasts, however, it proves to be fatal for the chances of head-to-head combat at the very front of the grid as the lead car is able to canter towards the chequered flag with ease.

Yet here we are heading into Abu Dhabi and this shot in the foot could prove to be the opposite. The unknown of the start could at least delay Rosberg’s coronation for a few corners and inject some excitement into the duel in the desert. For those craving an intense and unpredictable end to the season, the first ten seconds or so could prove to be the saviour.

Hamilton fans will welcome a little chaos at the start just to turn up the heat on his championship rival in the hope that the pressure will become too much. This season, however, Rosberg appears to have ironed out some out the minor errors we have seen in previous years, and has contributed to him heading into the final weekend in the driving seat.

Max Verstappen – help or hinder?

The young Dutchman is the epitome of a double edged sword for the Mercedes duo. Nico Rosberg has already been on the receiving end of a daring manouvere from the gutsy Dutchman, and he just about escaped from the punt with his championship lead intact.

An intervention of this ilk from Max would be a welcome event for Lewis, however he too has to be careful as well as either defending or attacking the young gun in pursuit of track position could end with Rosberg being crowned champion well before the chequered flag falls.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff called Jos Verstappen to request his son Max give the championship battle a wide berth. This of course fell on deaf ears in Brazil. Source: motorsport.com

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff called Jos Verstappen to request his son Max give the championship battle a wide berth. This of course fell on deaf ears in Brazil. Source: motorsport.com

Toto Wolff has played his part in attempting to minimise interferance from the Red Bull driver, however on the back of his stellar performance in Sao Paulo, Verstappen is riding the crest of a tidal wave of praise. His inexperienced head could prove to be a pivotal factor at Yas Marina as he sets off in search of another podium finish and driver of the day. Unexpected happenings aside, it looks like a shoe-in for a Mercedes one-two, but Red Bull and Max are not afraid to put the cat amongst the pigeons and so I would not discount him from playing a his part in the Middle-East. Of course there are others that could have a say, and the more the merrier I say.

Reliability is key

In order to be crowned driver’s champion, one has to be at the top of his game but also has to hope that his car is fortunate enough to avoid mechanical issues. Fans the world over bemoan them and teams up and down the pit lane are petrified of them as it is a marketing nightmare.

But they happen. This is motorsport.

Whether you like it or not, they have and could still have a part to play in this year’s title battle. Would we like to see a one hundred per cent reliability record for all? Some would, but then this is one of the unknowns in Motorsport and helps to spice up the sport from time to time.

Never has a team been lambasted so frequently for failures outside of their control than the Mercedes team this year and Niki and Toto will I’m sure be doing some kind of superstitious reliability dance in the Mercedes garage in order to ward off the gremlins.

A Sequel to Spielberg?

Could we see a repeat of this season’s skirmishes between Hamilton and Rosberg? Source: skysports.com

Could we see a repeat of this season’s skirmishes between Hamilton and Rosberg? Source: skysports.com

As well as Verstappen et al possibly running into either Silver Arrow, one must also be wary of this season’s physical on-track scuffles between the two team-mates. Catalunya and Spielberg come to mind here, and if it can happen during the middle of the season when lost points can theoretically be recouped, is it totally inconceivable that the two could trip over each other this weekend?

This has happened in F1 before at a championship decider. The sport’s most decorated champion, Michael Schumacher, has himself attempted to run a rival off the road when he and Jacques Villeneuve were wrestling for the 1997 world championship. He was of course disqualified but with the confused interpretations of the modern rules, F1 drivers can be smart and know how to play them.

I am 99% convinced that this won’t happen of course, but in the mad world of Formula One you would be unwise to completely dismiss it.

The Pendulum Stops

This season has for me been an incredible one. Given the context of one car dominating the rest whilst the others are left to fight for the scraps, it has still provided us with many talking points and I will undoubtedly be inconsolable as the prospect of a three-month wait for Melbourne dawns on me.

It has been a pleasure to witness both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg slug it out this season and their performances have nearly always been second to none. They have both at points looked down and out but have summoned the skill, speed and strength to claw their way back.

The permutations heading into this season’s finale. Source: f1.com

The permutations heading into this season’s finale. Source: f1.com

Heading into the weekend Lewis Hamilton looks to be flat out on the canvas as Rosberg can seemingly coast to the title as the sun sets on 2016. However, if there is one man ready for the fight it is his adversary from across the garage. Rosberg fans will of course be hoping for a procession in which their man can bring it home with no drama, but I’m hoping for  an exciting one personally. I am very excited for these two titans to do battle for one last time and although both are deserving of the crown only one can leave Abu Dhabi as the best. One question remains…

Who will be the 2016 Formula One World Champion?