Lewis Hamilton is no stranger to last-race title fights. Ever since he entered Formula One, the British driver has been involved in a winner-takes-all season finale four times—2007, 2008, 2010 (with McLaren) and 2014 (with Mercedes).
He was the favourite in 2007 (Brazilian Grand Prix), and lost out to Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari), thanks to his tussles with teammate Fernando Alonso. In 2010 (Abu Dhabi GP), he was the rank-outsider, with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber (both Red Bull) as well as Alonso (Ferrari) being the real contenders.
In 2014 (Abu Dhabi GP), in his second season with Mercedes, Hamilton went into the last race still fighting for the championship only because of the double-points rule (50 points were awarded for victory in the last race as opposed to 25 all season). Only simple mathematics kept Nico Rosberg in the fight.
His 2008 title fight with Felipe Massa bears the closest resemblance to what he has come to face this year against Rosberg. Only, the tables are turned. Eight years ago, Hamilton headed to the final race in Brazil knowing that finishing fifth would be enough in case Massa won. In a real humdinger, Hamilton overcame chaotic conditions after a late rain shower to do just enough and win his first F1 championship by one point.
In Abu Dhabi this weekend, it is Rosberg who needs to finish only third and seal his maiden drivers’ title. That is if Hamilton replicates his form from the last three races and thunders to a win in the desert as well. Hamilton needs Rosberg to finish fourth or lower to be able to retain his crown.
“I’m in an awkward position going into the last race. It doesn’t really make a big difference if I go and drive like I do right now, because I’ve already lost so much through the year. Nico’s doing all he has to do, he’s finished every race, not had any problems, whereas I have,” Hamilton told reporters, reflecting on his poor luck this season.
This is where the big differentiator comes in from 2008. Hamilton and Massa were not driving for the same team, and thus four quick cars came in contention for victory—two Ferraris and two McLarens. Then, of course, there was the possibility of rain and it did arrive late into the race.
In Abu Dhabi, you can most certainly rule out any chances of sudden rain. Furthermore, Rosberg and Hamilton drive for the same team, Mercedes, and on a street-type circuit with two long straights, their car will reign supreme as has been the case for three seasons now.
Simply put, Hamilton needs a chaotic race, with inputs from either the weather or meddling from the other teams, primarily Ferrari and Red Bull. On a likeable track for their respective cars, both teams tend to step up. Red Bull are quick in qualifying, while Ferrari have the race pace.
Rosberg has known for a while now that the fate of this year’s championship is in his hands. In the event of Hamilton winning the last four races, he only needs to finish second in all of them. And he has cleverly driven in such fashion.
With three wins in a row, Hamilton may be on a hot streak but Rosberg is doing the needful and will be crowned champion on Sunday with the same equation. Hamilton needs immaculate driving and a lot of luck to prevent Rosberg from winning the title.
How they stack up
■If Hamilton wins, Rosberg must finish fourth or lower
■If Hamilton finishes second, Rosberg mush finish seventh or lower
■If Hamilton finishes third, Rosberg mush be ninth or lower
■Hamilton cannot win the title if he finishes outside top 3, even if Rosberg doesn’t score points.
Chetan Narula is the author of Skipper—A Definitive Account Of India’s Greatest Captains