2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Weekend Preview

18 rounds in which Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have suffered both the triumphs and tribulations experienced on any championship journey and now, they will face each-other for the final chapter of what has been a gripping season. Abu Dhabi will play host to the showdown, in which one of the two Mercedes men will become World Champion. With Hamilton only needing to finish in the top two in order to guarantee his second title, he has the advantage, but as many a title decider has shown in the past, strange things happen when a championship draws to its gripping climax.

The Facts…

  • The Yas Marina Circuit plays host to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
  • The 5.554 kilometre circuit will see the race play out over the course of 55 laps.
  • The venue hosted its inaugural race in 2009, won by Sebastian Vettel, who secured second place in the drivers championship.
  • In 2010, Abu Dhabi hosted the season finale in which four drivers had an opportunity to win the title – Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Vettel emerged as the victor.
  • Lewis Hamilton took victory in 2011, before retiring from the lead in 2012, allowing Kimi Raikkonen to take his first win on his return to the sport.
  • Sebastian Vettel holds the lap record of 1:40.279, set in 2005 when driving the RB5.  

Rewind 12 Months

Sebastian Vettel took another victory in which he crushed the opposition. After being out-qualified by his outgoing teammate, Mark Webber, Vettel hit the front at the first corner, taking a lead which he never relinquished. Meanwhile, the Aussie, who had been jumped by Nico Rosberg as well, after another of his traditional poor launches, made it into P2. Following such a frantic equivalent race in 2012, 2013’s edition was somewhat of a slow-burner, yet notable incidents behind the leading trio came in an intriguing battle between Lewis Hamilton, Adrian Sutil and Felipe Massa, as well as Fernando Alonso’s curb-hopping antics, which saw him book a trip to the medical centre after the race. Lets hope Fernando can steer clear of excessive G-Force’s this time around.

Title Permutations

What would a title deciding weekend preview be without the ever complicated permutations. Albeit slightly less mind-numbing than the 2010 list, which had an endless pool of scenarios, the 2014 title will go one of two ways, in accordance with the following criteria;

  • If Rosberg is 1st, Hamilton needs 2nd
  • If Rosberg is 2nd, Hamilton needs 5th
  • If Rosberg is 3rd, Hamilton needs 6th
  • If Rosberg is 4th, Hamilton needs 8th
  • If Rosberg is 5th, Hamilton needs 9th
  • If Rosberg finishes lower than 5th, Hamilton is the champion.

Ultimately, the numbers to focus on this weekend are 1 and 2. If Hamilton finishes in the top two, he will be champion regardless of what Rosberg manages. It is key to note that whenever both Mercedes have enjoyed trouble-free weekends, they have finished first and second, suggesting that the only ways in which Hamilton can loose the title are by suffering a mechanical failure or by making an error in qualifying or the race. However, if the final two rounds of the titanic 2007 season taught him anything, it is that the sport is unpredictable. The fact that Mercedes’ reliability has been far from infallible this season also adds to the tension which will inevitably be present throughout Sunday.

Will Hamilton Go For Gold?

The fact that Lewis does not need to win on Sunday may shape the race. At Interlagos in 2007, it could be argued that Hamilton, (who only needed fifth on the day), was a touch overzealous in his assault on Alonso at Turn Four. He arrived at the corner with far too much speed and went wide, loosing several positions. Ultimately, it was the mysterious gearbox issue which cost him the title on that occasion, but his first lap antics were unnecessary in the circumstances.
If Rosberg secures Pole on Saturday, it will be intriguing to see how Lewis approaches the first corner. The Hamilton of 2007 would arguably attempt to exit the corner in the lead, should the circumstances even supply him a sniff of an opportunity, but the Lewis of 2014 has seemed far more calm and considered. I imagine that if Nico looks menacing during the race, Hamilton will not pose much of a threat in response – I’m not suggesting that it will be a final lap of 1997, Villeneuve-esque, display of caution from Hamilton, but he cannot afford contact. The events of Spa have not been forgotten.

Back To 22?

Aside from the championship tussle, Caterham will make a return to the paddock this weekend, after their crowdfunding efforts have proved dividend. Interim Team Principal, Finbarr O’Connell, hopes that the team’s appearance will galvanise investment interest.
When the announcement was made, and I published my thoughts on this blog, the team had two seats to fill with drivers. Since then, Kamui Kobayashi was confirmed as returning with the team, yet at the time of writing, his teammate for the event has not yet been disclosed. My hope is that we see an exciting new prospect receive their first chance to impress in a race situation – Roberto Merhi has been suggested as a likely candidate, after enjoying two FP1 sessions with the team so far this season, while my outside bet remains as Pierre Gasly. 
While 20 are confirmed, the grid could be back to a full compliment this weekend, as Marussia are currently waiting for confirmation of investment. Their freight has arrived at the circuit, but the final packages, boxes and bags await confirmation of their entry. This has to be established in the very near future, (so much so, that official news is likely to have been announced by the time you are reading this.) It would be great to see the team return to the paddock, on the back of today’s news regarding Jules Bianchi’s improved condition. My thoughts continue to be with the Frenchman and his family. Hopefully, Marussia can return and seal the ninth place in the constructors championship that Jules fought so hard for in Monaco. 

An Emotional Weekend

This weekend is set to be an emotional rollercoaster at Mercedes, but elsewhere, it could be a weekend for farewells. Sebastian Vettel will complete his final race as a Red Bull driver, in a partnership which has proved to be astoundingly fruitful. Meanwhile, it could potentially be Jenson Button’s final race in Formula 1, as McLaren are yet to decided their 2015 driver line-up. For Button to be involved in such uncertainty is frustrating and certainly does not reflect his status as a World Champion. In addition, speculation of Fernando Alonso’s switch from Ferrari to McLaren means that Abu Dhabi 2014 could prove to be Alonso’s final race in the famous red chassis. McLaren Sporting Director, Sam Michael, will also undertake his final weekend in the sport, after 21 years in F1.

Prediction Corner

The only thing predictable about a final race, title showdown, is that it will be unpredictable. While Hamilton is the likely candidate for championship glory, Rosberg is in prime position to snatch his maiden title should his teammate falter. You may be disappointed to hear that I will not be making any firm predictions to do with the top duo in this edition of prediction corner.
Behind the Mercedes pair, I would imagine that Red Bull will have a strong final weekend, but the manner in which Williams have progressed in the past few weeks is truly impressive, and brings this into question. The Red Bull chassis should pay dividend at Abu Dhabi, but Williams’ pace at Interlagos surprised me and I wouldn’t be surprised to be surprised again this weekend, (if that all makes sense.) Noises from Maranello over the Brazilian Grand Prix weekend suggest that Ferrari are less focussed on mounting a final assault on Williams in the final round, but instead are watching McLaren looming in their mirrors. It would take a herculean effort from McLaren to overhaul the prancing horse and as such, I anticipate the constructors standings will remain stagnant this weekend.

Will there be a change at the top of the drivers standings? Lets wait and see.

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