Saturday 3 December 2016

Hamilton needs luck in running for title duel in the sands

Abu Dhabi to decide all but everything must go right for champion in showdown with Rosberg

David Kennedy

Published 20/11/2016 | 17:00

‘It won’t be raining in Abu Dhabi, unlike in Brazil when Lewis Hamilton pulverised the opposition.’ Photo: AP
‘It won’t be raining in Abu Dhabi, unlike in Brazil when Lewis Hamilton pulverised the opposition.’ Photo: AP

If there's one thing we've learnt from sport and politics in recent weeks, it's to expect the unexpected.

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Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg go head to head next Sunday in Abu Dhabi - having stretched the championship decider right to the final race - and we're in for a real treat.

Rosberg has led the championship since Singapore six long races ago. However, the trajectory on his points graph looks like the Dow Jones after Trump's presidential victory. From a surplus of 33 points following the Japanese grand prix, it has fallen with each race and now stands at plus 12. That is not where you want to be with an avaricious Hamilton snapping at your ankles and 25 points on the table.

In fact, this is the second time Rosberg has built up a hefty cushion only to see it whittled away. Four races into the season the German was ahead by 43 points following the Russian Grand Prix but Hamilton managed to turn that deficit into a surplus which he maintained until Singapore.

If you see Rosberg on the podium in Abu Dhabi, it will be game over for Hamilton. Aberrations, which are rare when it comes to Mercedes drivers on the winners' stage, are not unheard of. Rosberg has enjoyed a virtual trouble-free path to Abu Dhabi whereas Hamilton has had three engine failures. Rosberg will be wary that his share of bad luck will strike from the sand dunes at Yas Marina.

Hamilton has plenty of previous examples that he needs to play out in Abu Dhabi. In Monaco, Canada and Germany, he won the race and Rosberg finished outside the top three. So winning the title is doable.

If you watched Le Mans in June this year and witnessed Toyota dominate Porsche only to see their lead evaporate four precious minutes before completion of 24 hours of relentless racing, you'll know never to say never.

Hamilton himself was the recipient of good fortune when he won his first title eight years ago in a rain-soaked Brazil, finishing a lucky fifth. Felipe Massa won the race and assumed he was champion and the Ferrari garage celebrated prematurely for a few brief seconds. Then Timo Glock parted the seas when he drifted wide on the last corner of the last lap and allowed Hamilton to assume the position that would deliver his first title.

So how can Hamilton add to his 2008, 2014 and 2015 successes? We can assume it won't be raining in Abu Dhabi unlike in Brazil last weekend when the triple world champion pulverised the opposition. He'll just have to hope that the velocious Verstappen and the redoubtable Ricciardo, plus some helpful cohorts, will mix it up between the interloping team-mates.

Hamilton will be praying that a mechanical failure or an innocent skirmish is visited upon his team-mate. Based on present form, it should go Rosberg's way. If it does it will be a moral victory for him; if Hamilton prevails it will be a just one, for he is undoubtedly the superior driver. Often luck, skill and mind games favour existing champions. Mercedes may lean more towards Rosberg, if only to see what a new face will do for car sales. Maybe the longest F1 season ever will be to Hamilton's advantage. Or will Rosberg carry on the racing pedigree his father Keke set when he won the title in 1983?

The twilight-run race will be shown circa 13.00 GMT. I hope it delivers on expectation. Remember plenty of other drivers will be looking for glory for themselves at this the final race and they may be key to the outcome.

Whatever the dénouement, be it a Lexit or Rexit, there will be a big demand for Kleenex in Abu Dhabi. Felipe Massa is retiring and the genial Brazilian will be sorely missed around the paddock. His valedictory is worth an article in itself.

Jenson Button also bids farewell to McLaren and can be justifiably proud to bow out as a former world champion.

Ron Dennis departs McLaren having failed to raise their profile to the halcyon days when they were doing what Mercedes does now - winning drivers' and constructors' titles by the dozen.

Mark Webber, late of Red Bull and now world endurance racing, hangs up his helmet in nearby Bahrain this weekend. He'll be another loss to the racing fraternity.

The sad news of the passing of Derek McMahon reached me in Macau. The larger-than-life Donegal man was Derek Daly's mentor when we were young and setting out on our respective roads to fame and fortune.

John Hynes was my mentor and both men gave us support that was invaluable when we were knee-high to grasshoppers. These unsung heroes were guiding lights in those dark days after we emerged from the iron ore mines in Australia in the seventies, filled with hope and immaturity, bravado and stupidity and somehow rattled our way to F1, with Derek Daly enjoying a much longer and more successful stint. RIP Derek McMahon and well done for keeping the faith.

Speaking of Macau, we are back again this year with the Theodore Prema Formula 3 team, hoping to repeat last year's win and indeed the eight victories Theodore has achieved over the years including Aytron Senna's win in 1983 with Theodore's Teddy Yip Snr. The drivers this year are Felix Rosenqvist, Maximilian Gunther and Nick Cassidy. Felix has won here twice so 'third time as lucky' is the new mantra.

Sponsorship once again comes from the SJM group of casinos who alone account for 27pc of the billions of revenue Macau enjoys. The peninsula has seven times the turnover of Las Vegas. Since gambling is prohibited in mainland China, Macau is the Las Vegas of the East. The promotion of sport in Macau is important as they are trying to diversify and attract mainstream tourists.

Theodore Prema has enjoyed a fantastic year with Antonio Giovinazzi, and he is one of the favourites to win the GP2 championship in Abu Dhabi next weekend.

Ferrari is hot on his heels and it doesn't get much hotter than a home-grown Italian being courted by Ferrari. Verstappen's electrifying driving has woken a lot of F1 teams up to what talent lies outside the tent. Theodore Prema's F3 champion Lance Stroll has just secured a drive with Williams starting next season.

It was fantastic to learn that an Irish-American is the new owner of Formula One. Liberty Media, headed by John Malone, reputedly paid CVC and Bernie Ecclestone, in excess of $4 billion, or roughly ten dollars for each of the 400 million annual viewers. F1 is in dire need of a revamp in terms of rules and regulations and to rid the people who treat it as their own personal fiefdom and I'm not talking about Bernie.

Some of the behaviour of those in positions of power would make your eyes water such is the 360-degree control they exercise. New blood, new money and new ideas will be welcomed by most, for it is long overdue. Hallelujah, as the late Leonard Cohen so eloquently put it.

Sunday Indo Sport

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