It was always likely to come to this. After going toe-to-toe in a seesawing and increasingly rancorous battle, Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg will vie for the 2014 Formula One drivers’ title at the 19th and final Grand Prix of the year, in Abu Dhabi this weekend. That the championship race will go to the wire also means that the controversial and seemingly one-season only introduction of double points for the final race of the year could prove decisive.
There are 17 points separating the pair in the standings, meaning that under the traditional points-scoring system Hamilton could afford to finish sixth and still ensure that a second championship headed his way. But with twice the points now available to those placed in the top 10, with 50 going to the victor, Hamilton will have to finish second if Rosberg takes the win. Hamilton, though, insists, his strategy won’t change for Sunday’s race.
"I come into the race weekend to try to win... so nothing changes there,” he said upon arrival in Abu Dhabi. “And in terms of pressure, I don't particularly feel any.”
The rivalry between the pair dates back to their days in karting as 15-year-olds, but the friendly nature of it has evaporated over the course of a season dominated by Mercedes. Things came to a head at the Belgian Grand Prix in August when Rosberg collided with Hamilton, forcing him to retire. It was Hamilton who bounced back best from the incident, however, going onto to win the next five races before Rosberg was victorious in Brazil two weeks ago to take the championship to the final race.
“It’s an intense weekend,” Rosberg said. “I wouldn’t use the word pressure. Lewis is a great competitor and it will hopefully be a great end to the season. I’m here to try to win the race and I need a bit of help from Lewis that he doesn’t finish second. There are many scenarios and I’m optimistic. In Brazil he made a mistake and I need to do what I can to keep the pressure on.”
Hamilton has been in this situation before, having gone into the final Grand Prix of 2008 needing to finish at least fifth to secure the title. He did so, but only after an overtaking maneuver on the final corner of the final lap. So far the signs are that the British driver will require no such drama this time around. Hamilton was fastest in both practice session on Friday, although with Rosberg close behind.
While the duel between the two Mercedes teammates captures the attention, there has been plenty to occupy the other teams in the paddock. It was finally confirmed this week that the man who will relinquish his four-year hold on the Formula One championship on Sunday, Sebastian Vettel, will drive for Ferrari next year. Soon after, Fernando Alonso announced that he making way at the Italian powerhouse. The two-time champion is widely expected to join McClaren, although there has yet to be any confirmation, with McClaren thought to be deciding which of their current drivers -- Jenson Button or Kevin Magnussen -- to retain alongside Alonso. That could mean that Jenson Button, the 2009 world champion, will be racing in his final Grand Prix on Sunday.
“I’m a very relaxed individual,” Button told the official Formula One website. “Formula One is a great place to be -- but there are also other things in life that are great challenges. I am going to enjoy this weekend, and then let's see what the future brings. All I know is that this is the last weekend of the year -- and it might be the last F1 weekend for me.”
Prediction: While Williams could go strongly, the race in Abu Dhabi looks to be a straight battle between the two Mercedes title rivals. Hamilton won at the Yas Marina circuit in 2011, but Rosberg out-qualified his teammate last year. Whoever wins, the other should finish second, barring reliability issues or a dramatic racing incident that takes one of them out. Hamilton has more to lose and will surely temper his aggressive tendencies, perhaps allowing Rosberg to get the edge. But the dominance of Mercedes should ensure that the season ends relatively drama free, with Hamilton following Rosberg home.
TV and live stream schedule
Qualifying: Nov. 21, 8 a.m. EST(CNBC, NBC Sports Live Extra)
Race: Nov, 22, 8 a.m. EST (NBCSN, NBC Sports Live Extra)