Having a final-round title decider was a goal Bernie Ecclestone had in mind when he demanded Formula One offer double points for the final race of the season. However even without the controversial and extremely unpopular rule, the championship would still have continued until the final race.
As noted here last week, the imposition of double points has more than quadrupled Rosberg’s chance of winning the championship. To his credit, even Rosberg has admitted he sympathises with the widespread criticism of double points, though of course he would not turn down a title however the points add up.
Given how dominant Mercedes have been this year, the chance the title will be decided by double points remains fairly low. Only once this year – in Germany – have the pair finished in positions which if they were repeated on Sunday would mean double points had changed the champion.
In any other season, just a sixth place finish would be all that Lewis Hamilton would need to secure his second world title. But this weekend, Hamilton can only guarantee himself the championship with a second place finish. Failing to finish would mean that Nico Rosberg would only require a fifth place finish to grab the title.
The result of this heavily-criticised and unappreciated rule means that while Rosberg does still have a moderate chance of taking the title even without the added assist of double points, he is also at risk of becoming the most controversial world champion ever through no fault of his own. The injustice of such an outcome would only be heightened by Ecclestone’s belated realisation that double points has to go.
But regardless of the championship permutations, the stage is set for yet another close fight between the two Mercedes drivers over the final 55 laps of a season that will forever be defined by images of the two Silver Arrows locked in close-quarter combat.
Despite playing host to the season finale for the third time, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix continues to lack that special something that made circuits like Adelaide, Suzuka and Interlagos such celebrated venues for Formula One’s grand finale.
Yas Marina circuit information
|Lap length||5.554km (3.451 miles)|
|Distance||55 laps (305.4km/189.7 miles)|
|Lap record*||1’40.279 (Sebastian Vettel, 2009)|
|Fastest lap||1’38.434 (Lewis Hamilton, 2011)|
|Tyres||Soft and Super-soft|
*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix
The circuit’s lavish facilities, copious run-off areas and five-star accommodation may remain unparalleled, but the uninspiring track layout characterised by unimaginative chicanes and slow, 90-degree bends have usually made for forgettable races.
The addition of DRS has increased overtaking on the circuit’s two longest straights. But with few challenging corners and plenty of tarmac run-off areas around the 5.5km track, this circuit offers little challenge to F1-calibre drivers.
As the last race of the year, Abu Dhabi will also be the scene of a number of significant endings in the sport. Sebastian Vettel will drive his final race for Red Bull, Fernando Alonso will almost certainly bid farewell to Ferrari, and we may also witness a premature close to Jenson Button’s F1 career.
After a partnership spanning almost the last quarter of a century, this will also be the 351st and final race that McLaren will run with Mercedes power, before the team enter into a new era with Honda for next season.
Despite the return of Caterham to the grid thanks in part to the generosity of thousands of fans who pledged money to the team, this weekend’s race could prove to be the last time we see as many as 20 cars on the grid of a grand prix until 2016.
Pirelli have opted for the super-soft and soft tyre compounds for the final race weekend of 2014 – one step down from last season’s nomination of soft and medium for the same event.
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix team-by-team preview
After six seasons, 38 victories, 44 pole positions and four world championships, this weekend marks the final race in the hugely successful partnership between Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing. Appropriately, it will happen at the track where he claimed his first world championship with them in extraordinary circumstances four years ago.
Having dominated so much of the recent era, it’s proven to be a difficult season for the outgoing champion, who will almost certainly now go win-less over the course of an entire season for the first time in his career.
Having out-performed and out-scored his four-time world champion team mate this season, Daniel Ricciardo will be keen to cap off a stellar season by beating Vettel over the line yet again on Sunday. But while the slower nature of the Yas Marina circuit should help Red Bull, it’s unlikely that the team will be able to challenge for their fourth win of the season
Given the sheer dominance of Mercedes’ W05 this season, the most likely scenario for Sunday is that we will see the two Silver Arrows claim their record-increasing 12th one-two of the season. That would guarantee Hamilton his second world championship no matter which of the two rivals finishes first.
But that performance advantage means that any mechanical problems for either Mercedes driver during the race will almost certainly cost them the title, thanks to double points, as the other will surely cruise to an easy victory.
Rosberg will be spurred on by the knowledge that he beat his rival in a straight fight last time out in Brazil and out-raced Hamilton here in Abu Dhabi last season.
But, for Rosberg, simply winning on Sunday may not be enough. Realistically, Rosberg is reliant on a mistake or mechanical issue for Hamilton if he is to snatch the title, while winning the race is practically a must.
The double world champion will be keen to see out his Ferrari career in typically combative style, although the chance of a podium appearance remains a low possibility.
Having been thoroughly trounced by his team mate this year, Kimi Raikkonen will likely be glad to see the back of the F14 T after struggling to get to grips with the car all season. He has a good track record in Abu Dhabi, most famously taking victory for Lotus in 2012.
Lotus’s ‘annus horribilis’ will finally come to an end this weekend. But with Romain Grosjean having been finally confirmed to remain with the team for next season, the Frenchman is looking to round out a difficult year on a positive note.
“We’ve got a few upgrades coming which should give us a bit more power and with double points on offer, you never know!,” says Grosjean.
Even with double points in the equation, McLaren will still require a result similar to the opening race of 2014 if they are to have any chance of stealing fourth in the constructors’ championship away from Ferrari.
With McLaren having announced that there will be no word on their 2015 driver line up until December 1st, both Button and Kevin Magnussen have one more opportunity to convince Ron Dennis that they are the right man to partner Fernando Alonso into the Honda era.
Force India appear to have lost their battle with McLaren over fifth place in the constructors’ championship after their rivals consistently out-performed and out-scored them over the previous four races. But thanks to double points, there’s still a slim chance that a major upset could be on the cards if Force India get lucky with results on Sunday.
The team are hoping for better performance in the final round of their best season to date, with Team Principal Bob Fernley having revealed the team have corrected a mistake made during their mid-season development.
“We took a wrong direction mid-season, and we only worked that out a race or so ago,” says Fernley. “We have moved in the right direction now and although it has helped us move forward with the 2015 car, it lost us some ground just after the halfway point of this year. So our tail off was the result of that step in the wrong direction.”
But thanks to double points, Sauber have a unique opportunity of being able to be a major beneficiary of the new points system, provided they are able to finally secure a top ten finish. Just a tenth place will see them equal Marussia’s points total, while a ninth place would see them leap ahead of the stricken team despite both teams sharing a best result.
That is, if Sauber manage to somehow find themselves in the points on Sunday – which does not appear any more likely this weekend given how off the pace the team were in Brazil.
They will bid farewell to both drivers after this race, with Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr set to take over from Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez.
With still no word yet on his future, this weekend is Jean-Eric Vergne’s last opportunity to convince one of the few remaining teams with a race seat vacancy for 2015 that he deserves a place on the grid next season.
With Red Bull not yet having announced they will promote Formula Renault 3.5 champion Carlos Sainz Jnr, Vergne may be keeping a close eye on the progress of another of the team’s junior drivers during this weekend’s support races – Alex Lynn is poised to wrap up the GP3 title.
No one could suggest Vergne hasn’t tried hard enough in the final third of the season, having racked up thirteen points in the second half of the year compared to team mate Daniil Kvyat’s two. Kvyat is also starting his final race for Toro Rosso ahead of his promotion to Red Bull next year.
Williams could be forgiven for wishing this season did not have to end after amassing seven podium appearances over the course of the team’s best season for 11 years.
But despite proving to be one of the biggest success stories of 2014, Williams will no doubt have half an eye on being able to snatch a win at their final opportunity of the season.
Mercedes will almost certainly have the edge on the Grove team again this weekend, but with both Mercedes drivers locked in a battle with each other, Williams are likely to have the best chance of anyone of picking up the pieces should anything dramatic happens between the two championship protagonists.
Despite falling into administration, missing the last two grands prix, losing a race driver and resorting to a crowd funding campaign in order to make it to the final race of the season, Caterham look set to make an unlikely return to the grid this weekend.
While the team prospects of survival into 2015 and beyond remain uncertain, making the grid this weekend could go a long way in helping their cause.
Kamui Kobayashi is already confirmed to return to his seat for what could well be his last ever grand prix start, despite the problems which afflicted his car on the team’s last appearance in Russia.
Caterham is yet to announce who will be his partner the Japanese driver after Ericsson cut ties with the team last week. Formula Renault 3.5 drivers Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens have both been linked with the seat despite not having raced in F1 before.
There were rumours Marussia might make a last-ditch effort to appear on the grid, but nothing appears to have come of it.
2014 driver form
|Driver||G avg||R avg||R best||R worst||Classified||Form guide|
|Sebastian Vettel||7.17||4.87||2||8||15/18||Form guide|
|Daniel Ricciardo||5.50||3.73||1||8||15/18||Form guide|
|Lewis Hamilton||4.33||1.47||1||3||15/18||Form guide|
|Nico Rosberg||1.72||1.81||1||4||16/18||Form guide|
|Fernando Alonso||6.44||5.19||2||9||16/18||Form guide|
|Kimi Raikkonen||9.50||9.12||4||13||17/18||Form guide|
|Romain Grosjean||14.67||12.83||8||17||12/18||Form guide|
|Pastor Maldonado||17.78||13.69||9||18||13/18||Form guide|
|Jenson Button||8.61||7.65||3||17||17/18||Form guide|
|Kevin Magnussen||8.78||9.29||2||14||17/18||Form guide|
|Nico Hulkenberg||10.89||7.81||5||12||16/18||Form guide|
|Sergio Perez||12.11||9.00||3||15||14/17||Form guide|
|Adrian Sutil||14.78||14.55||11||21||11/18||Form guide|
|Esteban Gutierrez||15.89||15.17||12||20||12/18||Form guide|
|Jean-Eric Vergne||11.89||10.38||6||13||13/18||Form guide|
|Daniil Kvyat||11.50||11.57||9||15||14/18||Form guide|
|Felipe Massa||7.67||7.73||3||15||15/18||Form guide|
|Valtteri Bottas||6.39||5.71||2||11||17/18||Form guide|
|Jules Bianchi||17.80||15.92||9||20||12/15||Form guide|
|Max Chilton||19.50||16.15||13||19||13/16||Form guide|
|Kamui Kobayashi||18.93||15.78||13||19||9/14||Form guide|
|Marcus Ericsson||20.19||17.09||11||20||11/16||Form guide|
|Andre Lotterer||21.00||0/1||Form guide|
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