Abu Dhabi: Lewis Hamilton would be a deserving winner of the Formula One world title due to his superior record to his rival and teammate Nico Rosberg, ‘wheel-to-wheel racing’ prowess — and because he is more marketable than the German.
That’s the view of former F1 driver and current BBC television pundit, David Coulthard, who hailed Hamilton as “the standout driver of the season” in an exclusive interview with Gulf News at the Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Friday.
Coulthard also welcomed four-time defending world champion Sebastian Vettel’s move to Ferrari and Fernando Alonso’s likely switch to McLaren, saying they would “shake up the sport”.
On his thoughts about the outcome of Sunday’s eagerly anticipated championship finale — Hamilton is 17 points ahead of Mercedes teammate Rosberg — the Scot said: “Lewis is in many ways the safe bet [to win] because he’s done so much already this year, and also from a marketing point of view for Formula One, he engages people that already follow the sport, whereas Nico is less well known. I’ll shake the hands of whichever one wins, because they’d have achieved something fantastic.”
“If you were the biggest Nico fan, it would be very difficult to discredit the achievements of Lewis and his wins and his wheel-to-wheel racing,” Coulthard added. “In purist’s terms, the man who wins the most races would normally be the most deserving. And on that basis, Lewis is the standout driver of the year. It’s going to be in the hands of the racing gods, though.
“I think there’s a very good argument for either driver to be world champion. I don’t think it’s a black-and-white scenario between the two drivers. They are both great in different ways.
“Nico has shown up exceptionally well alongside [former teammate, the seven-time world champion] Michael Schumacher and exceptionally well alongside the one-time world champion, Lewis Hamilton.”
The former Williams, McLaren and Red Bull driver however said he could not be as ‘romantic’ about this year’s thrilling title denouement as he is about the explosive final showdowns between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna in the late 1980s.
Four-time champion Prost’s fierce rivalry with the late Brazilian was defined by two collisions between the pair that decided the title race first in the Frenchman’s favour in 1989 and then in Senna’s a year later.
“For the younger generation, this is Prost-Senna without so much contact,” Coulthard said. “But Spa gave us that [when Rosberg collided with Hamilton and went on to win the Belgian Grand Prix in August].
“In many ways, Mercedes allowing the drivers to race and the way they have spoken publicly about things has given us some great entertainment. So, thank you Mercedes.”
If he were Rosberg, would he consider a Senna-esque manoeuvre and drive championship leader Hamilton, who is 17 points ahead of the German, off the track?
“I wouldn’t and couldn’t, but we’re all different,” Coulthard, who won 13 grands prix from 246 starts in a 14-year career, said. “But I trust in the integrity of Nico and I think it’s extremely unlikely [he would do that].”
Coulthard would also not be drawn into whether double points being implemented for the first time at the final grand prix of the season was a positive or negative addition to the sport.
“It’s been a masterstroke of marketing,” the 43-year-old said. “We’ve all been talking about it since the start of the year. It’s changing what the normal playing field is.
“It would be the equivalent of a 2-1 in football and after 90 minutes the whistle went and there’s still going to be extra time because it’s an FA Cup final or because it’s a World Cup final.
“Everyone has known about it for a long time and you can’t argue about it. If it’s there, of course it can make the difference [in the title race], but we will have to wait and see.”
Coulthard was more forthcoming on defending champion Vettel’s move to Ferrari, fulfilling the German’s childhood dream of emulating his hero, Michael Schumacher, and Alonso’s reported decision to leave the ‘Prancing Horse’ for McLaren.
He said: “It took a unique set of circumstances, which this season has given us, for that [the moves] to happen.
“It has happened — they’ve both taken the opportunity to do so — and it shakes up the sport and puts a bit of freshness into it.”