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Abu Dhabi preview - a showdown like no other

20 Nov 2014

Formula One racing is set for a showdown like no other this weekend, as a gripping season heads for what promises to be a dramatic, unique double-points climax in Abu Dhabi.

Fittingly, both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg insist they won't be changing their philosophy to suit the occasion - which means both title protagonists go into the decider determined to win.

It is Hamilton who holds the advantage, with 334 points to Rosberg's 317. That lead means he can clinch the drivers' title even if Rosberg wins - so long as he finishes second. The Briton, who also has the benefit of having previously experienced final-round showdowns, says however that he won't look to play it safe.

"Going into this last one, I don't think there is a special recipe for it," Hamilton says. "I just have to go and do what I have been doing - drive the way I have been driving - because generally it's been good. I won't make a mistake like I did [in Brazil].

"In 2007 and ‘08 when I was fighting for the title, I definitely felt the tension more over those two weekends. I know I am more prepared now than I have ever been - I've learnt a lot in the years since. I am stronger now than I was then, both mentally and physically. But I'm still the same driver. I still have the same hunger, the same will to win, and I've been giving it everything I've got from the word go this season.

"I've had ups and downs along the way - but I've never once given up. I've managed to fight my way back from whatever has come my way and my approach doesn't change for this race. There is zero comfort because it's 50 points to gain and that's never happened in Formula One before. It just so happens to be this season and, in the last race you never know what's going to happen. So I'm going into it to win.

"I've got a good record at the Abu Dhabi circuit. Last year was actually the only time I've not started on the front row or finished on the podium. But I've also had some misfortune there over the years - particularly in 2012. I'm hoping that bad luck won't play a part this time around and I know that the team has been working flat out to make sure it doesn't.

"What will be will be. There's no point dwelling about it. It's going to happen one way or another. All I can do is make sure I do the best I can do over the whole weekend, and the rest will follow - in whichever direction. I'm feeling relaxed, I'm feeling confident and I'm ready to win."

Rosberg, meanwhile, knows he must finish at least fifth to stand any chance of wresting the title from Hamilton - and that even if he triumphs, he will need a slice of luck in order to beat his team mate to the ultimate prize.

"After the disappointment of Austin, Brazil was just the way to bounce back with a great weekend for both me and the team," Rosberg says. "I felt in control from the very beginning and it was a big positive to take the lessons from Texas and put them into action. Of course, it wasn't enough to regain the lead in the championship as Lewis drove a strong race to finish just behind me. But the gap is smaller than before and I absolutely believe I still have the chance to take the title in Abu Dhabi. It won't be easy, but I'll be full attack - just as I have been all season.

"Although this has been my first year fighting for a World Championship, I've never felt more comfortable than I have done this year. The team behind us have done an incredible job and it's great that they've given both of us equal opportunity to compete with each other. There have been difficult moments, just as there have been amazing moments - but this is what Formula One is all about and I hope that everyone watching at home has enjoyed the story of this battle as much as I have.

"Win or lose, double points or no double points, I feel proud of what I have achieved this year and especially proud to have been a part of this fantastic season for the Silver Arrows. I go into this race with no fear and with every belief that this can be my title. It's not over until that chequered flag finally drops!"

While there are a number of different permutations to the title race, at the most basic level Rosberg must finish in the top five to keep the fight alive. Here is how it shakes down: if Rosberg is fifth, and Hamilton is 10th or lower, the German will be champion - likewise if Rosberg is fourth and Hamilton ninth or lower, or if Rosberg is third and Hamilton seventh or lower, the German will prevail.

Conversely, if Rosberg finishes second, Hamilton will still win the title by finishing fifth or higher - while if Rosberg wins, Hamilton needs to be second. If Hamilton triumphs, of course, he will be champion no matter what Rosberg does.

Naturally the title fight will attract the majority of interest, but there are a multitude of other battles to be resolved.

Daniel Ricciardo, on 214 points, cannot be challenged for third in the drivers' standings, but his Red Bull team mate Sebastian Vettel is still involved in a three-way scrap for fourth with Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and Williams' Valtteri Bottas - with just three points covering the three drivers heading into Abu Dhabi.

Behind them, McLaren's Jenson Button is locked in his own three-way fight for seventh with Williams' Felipe Massa and Force India's Nico Hulkenberg - the trio are on 106, 98 and 80 points respectively - while Kevin Magnussen in the second McLaren, Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen and Force India's Sergio Perez enter Abu Dhabi likewise fighting for 10th, on 55, 53 and 47 points respectively.

It is equally tense in the constructors' stakes. Mercedes and Red Bull, on 651 and 373 points, are assured of finishing first and second, but it is wide open behind - particularly as there are a potential 86 points to play for.

Williams currently sit third and on the cusp of their best finish in over a decade, but they have Ferrari breathing down their necks - the two teams having amassed 254 and 210 points respectively so far. But both teams also remain within sight of both McLaren and Force India, whose own season-long fight for supremacy will conclude this weekend. McLaren are within 50 points of Ferrari, on 161, with Force India 34 points further down the road.

This weekend will also be momentous in terms of driver changes, acting as the final farewell for Vettel's time with Red Bull and also Alonso's spell with Ferrari. The German four-time champion has signed a three-year deal with Ferrari, while Alonso's future remains unconfirmed, with a speculated switch to McLaren not likely to be announced before December. Abu Dhabi could also represent the Jenson Button's final F1 appearance, with the Briton's future - and that of his 2014 team mate Kevin Magnussen - still apparently undecided.

Lastly, Caterham return to the grid for the 2014 finale with Kamui Kobayashi and Grand Prix debutant Will Stevens on driving duties. British newcomer Stevens won't be the only new face - France's Esteban Ocon and Hong Kong's Adderly Fong will compete in an official practice session for the first time, driving for Lotus and Sauber respectively in FP1.

Pirelli have brought their soft and supersoft tyres here, which means a compound softer than last year’s choice of the medium and soft.

The Yas Marina track surface is quite smooth, and features a variety of 90-degree corners. The first part of the circuit effectively consists of a series of non-stop bends, which heats up the tyre compound. It then gets a chance to cool down on the long straight, with the cars on full throttle for around 15 seconds, with the equivalent of around 800 kilograms of downforce. To help gain maximum traction, the cars are often set up with quite a soft rear end here, but this can lead to increased rear tyre wear. If the set-up is too stiff at the back, the opposite problem can occur: excessive wheelspin, which also takes life out of the tyres.

The other defining characteristic of the race, of course, is that like Bahrain it starts in the late afternoon and ends in the evening - meaning that the track tends to cool down as it goes on, which affects strategy. Sebastian Vettel’s winning strategy for Red Bull last year was a two-stopper, starting on the soft, switching to the medium on the 14th lap, and then for another set of mediums on the 37th, without losing the lead.

Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery says: “It’s always a pleasure to return to Abu Dhabi and this year’s event will be even more significant than usual, with the drivers’ championship being decided and double points available.

“The strategy is normally greatly affected by the unusual track evolution, due to the falling temperatures caused by the late afternoon start. This was the case in Bahrain as well, which turned out to be one of the most exciting and unpredictable races of the season earlier this year. As a result, the free practice sessions will be particularly crucial, as the teams try to gather as much information as possible about how the car will perform on both compounds: not just with different fuel loads, but also with different track temperatures. As so many points are on offer, there is a big opportunity for teams that have less to lose to try an unexpected strategy, in order to make some potentially significant gains.”

As was the case in 2014, the track will feature two DRS zones this year. The first has been placed on the long straight between Turns 7 and 8, with the detection point just before Turn 7, while the second will be activated at Turn 10, the shallow left-hander situated on the equally long run between Turns 9 and 11. The detection point for the second zone is on the exit of Turn 9.

The weather is forecast to be very settled and a little cooler than last year, with sun each day and ambient temperatures of between 28 and 29 degrees Celsius on Friday and Saturday, rising to 30 degrees on race day.

The race will run over 55 laps of the 5.554-kilometre (3.451 mile) circuit, or 305.355 kilometres (189.747 miles). The twilight event will start at 17.00 hours local time, which is four hours ahead of GMT.