2016 Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton set for thrilling finale

Mercedes’ pair take centre stage again at Yas Marina Circuit title-decider

Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: So, after the longest season in Formula One history, the final and 21st race of 2016 is tantalisingly nearly upon us — the 2016 Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

And, as ever, the three-day, Yas Marina Circuit showpiece between Friday and Sunday promises a thrilling finale — particularly given that another title decider will be staged in the UAE capital.

For the second time in three years, Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton head into the season-ender locked in a tense fight for the world championship. But unlike 2014, when Hamilton stormed to victory here to clinch the second of his three world titles, Rosberg is the overwhelming favourite to claim his maiden crown.

He has a 12-point lead atop the drivers’ championship and needs only to finish third to rule the world.

Since Rosberg has finished on the podium 15 times in the previous 20 races, that is eminently possible.

But Hamilton is widely regarded to be the faster and more naturally gifted driver and has been scintillating in winning the three previous races.

The Briton has also achieved 11 pole positions as opposed to Rosberg’s eight in 2016.

On the other hand, the driver on pole has only won the Abu Dhabi race twice: Sebastian Vettel in 2010 and Rosberg last year.

Hamilton admits his chances of victory are “near impossible”, but his indomitability and track record means he can never be ruled out.

His triumph in Brazil less than two weeks ago was his 52nd in F1 and that makes him the second-most successful driver in history behind only Michael Schumacher with 91. Hamilton has now been on pole 60 times, which puts him behind only Schumacher (68) and the great Ayrton Senna (65).

Meanwhile Rosberg, whose father Keke won the F1 world title 34 years ago, is poised to become only the second son of a champion after Damon Hill to claim motor-racing’s grandest price.

And interestingly, Rosberg is the form man at the Yas Marina Circuit, even if Hamilton has the better overall record. The Briton has taken two poles (2009 and 2012) and two wins (2011, 2014) in Abu Dhabi, but Rosberg has been on pole for the last two straight years, and triumphed in last year’s race.

Indeed, since they became teammates in 2013, Hamilton is yet to get the better of Rosberg in qualifying in Abu Dhabi — while the only time he has finished ahead of him on Sunday was in 2014, when Rosberg was famously beset by technical issues.

Together, the majestic Mercedes duo have again been a class apart, winning 18 of the 20 races, claiming 19 poles and finishing 1-2 on no fewer than seven occasions, including the last three races. They already have 722 points, the highest total since F1 switched to the 25-points-for-a-win system in 2010; the previous best was 703 by Mercedes themselves in 2015.

But while all eyes will be on the Rosberg-Hamilton battle for supremacy, there are plenty of other drivers to watch this weekend — perhaps none more so than Max Verstappen.

The 19-year-old prodigy has enjoyed a sensational debut season with Red Bull Renault and has been touted as a future world champion, drawing comparisons with the late, great Ayrton Senna given his exhilarating, risk-taking style.

When he took the chequered flag in Spain in mid-May, Verstappen became the youngest winner in F1 history: he was just 18 years and 227 days old, eclipsing the previous record held by Sebastian Vettel at 21 years and 73 days.

And in his second appearance in Abu Dhabi, he could even supplant the four-time world champion Vettel to take fourth position in the drivers’ championship; he currently lies just five points behind the German in fifth.

At the other end of the grand prix spectrum, the Abu Dhabi GP will be the swansong of two of the sport’s most enduringly popular drivers. Felipe Massa of Brazil and Williams will race for the 250th and last time; Jenson Button of England and McLaren will start for the 305th time and, while the plan is for him to return in 2018 after taking up an ambassadorial role, most pundits believe this is unlikely.

As ever, Yas Marina Circuit is a 60,000 sell-out for its eighth annual Abu Dhabi GP, which will also see title-deciding finales to the GP2 and GP3 support series and attract race fans from 170 countries.

“I am delighted to announce that Yas Marina Circuit is fully ready to deliver another incredible mix of world-class sporting action and entertainment and I look forward to welcoming everyone who will be with us at Yas Marina Circuit,” said Al Tareq Al Ameri, Chief Executive Officer of Yas Marina Circuit.

In addition to the on-track action, there is a packed schedule of entertainment, including world-class headline artists at the After-Race concerts for visitors to savour.

Visit www.yasmarinacircuit.com for more details.

TITLE PERMUTATIONS

Rosberg will win the 2016 crown if:

* He finishes on the podium in Abu Dhabi (regardless of where Hamilton finishes)

*◾He finishes sixth or higher, and Hamilton doesn’t win

*◾He finishes eighth or higher, and Hamilton is no higher than third

* Hamilton finishes fourth or lower (regardless of where Rosberg finishes)

Hamilton will win the 2016 crown if:

*◾He triumphs and Rosberg is fourth or lower

*◾He finishes second and Rosberg finishes outside the top six

* He finishes third and Rosberg finishes outside the top eight

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