Race Recap: Abu Dhabi GP is reversals, luck, leanness and last dances
Then on Saturday, Alter Ego Rosberg took over, taking the last Free Practice session and then pole position by a whopping four-tenths of a second over Hamilton. Thanks to the gimmicky and soon-to-be-obliterated spectre of double points, if Rosberg won the race and Hamilton finished lower than second, the World Championship would remain in German hands.
Behind Hamilton came the Williams duo, again, with Valtteri Bottas ahead of Felipe Massa. Daniil Kvyat did swell to put his Toro Rosso in fifth, Jenson Button was just as swell getting his McLaren into sixth. Kimi Räikkönen outqualified his Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso for the third time this year, the pair taking seventh and eighth on the grid. Kevin Magnussen lined the second McLaren up in ninth, Jean-Eric Vergne making the top ten for Toro Rosso in his last race for the team. To be clear, that was the final grid for race: Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel had both qualified in the top ten but were sent to the back of the grid when their Infiniti Red Bull Racing front wings were deemed illegal. They'd start from the pit lane, which was still ahead of Romain Grosjean in the Lotus, who took so many penalties for new engine components that he started the race in Turkey.
At lights-out on Sunday, well, it was pretty much lights out.
That's when Hamilton got the start of the year, bolting off the line so quickly it didn't take him 100 meters to get in front of Rosberg. The Brit took Turn 1 in the lead, then laid more than a second into the German on the first lap. Rosberg kept close, about 2.5 seconds back, but it was Hamilton's race to lose and everyone knew it; barring a reliability issue or the kind of driving mistake Hamilton hasn't made all year, Britain would have its fourth double world champion. Rosberg was left asking his engineer what kind of strategy they might use to claim first place.
That reliability issue did come, but it struck Rosberg on Lap 26 when his entire Energy Recovery System failed, robbing him of 160 horsepower and taxing his brakes. Still through less than half of the 55-lap race, he tried not to fall further than fifth, which still gave him a mathematical chance of taking the title if Hamilton retired, but the power deficit was too much: losing more than two seconds a lap to those behind, he would finish fourteenth.
That left Hamilton in charge, and he didn't put a wheel wrong on his way to a straightforward victory. Even with his engine turned down, trying to avoid the same issue that got Rosberg, he was still laying down fastest laps late in the race.
That was partly in effort to keep away from Felipe Massa. The Williams driver also got a great start and was into third on the first lap, and kept both Mercedes' on their toes by never falling more than a few seconds behind. He had said earlier in the weekend that he didn't think Williams had the package to get in with the Mercs, but by the end of the event he was putting on super soft tires trying to reel in Hamilton with a late charge. He ended in second.
His teammate Bottas finished behind him, the Finn having fought his way back from the bottom of the top ten after another terrible start. He benefitted from the front-runners who pitted early getting stuck in traffic, and the Williams chassis didn't hurt.
Daniel Ricciardo ended the year as he began, with a bang-up race scuttled by a penalty. He and Vettel carved up the backmarkers, yet whereas Vettel couldn't make much more progress after cracking the top ten, Ricciardo drove himself into fifth by the finish - nothing flashy, just another determined drive that gets the most out of the RB10. Teammate Vettel - after a battle with Alonso over tenth place - finished eighth in his last race with Infiniti Red Bull Racing, the four-time World Champion giving up Adrian Newey's technical prowess for the childhood dream of tifosi and scarlet.
Jenson Button came fifth in what might be his last race for McLaren and in Formula One. It was a pleasant turnaround from Friday, when Button described the team as being "nowhere" in terms of pace and setup. When the race was over, Button did donuts in one of the runoff areas, a smoky yet sedate goodbye to a lengthy and successful career that started with Williams when he was 19 years old.
Force India finally got another double points finish after some lackluster second-half performances, Nico Hülkenberg and Sergio Perez finishing one after the other in sixth and seventh.
Alonso says goodbye to Ferrari with a ninth place, ahead of teammate Raikkonen in tenth, both of them saying that was the best they could do with the underpowered F 14 T chassis. Alonso will hope for better luck next year with McLaren Honda - if the loose lips of former King Juan Carlos of Spain are to be believed - or at least a better climb in year-on-year car development.
Hamilton's victory gives him his second Driver's World Championship trophy, six years after his first - and that one he also claimed at the last race of the season. His 11 victories this year make him the only non-German driver to have won 11 or more races, the last one helping Mercedes make sole claim to the winningest constructor in a single season with 16, eclipsing McLaren and Ferrari by one. He is F1's 16th multiple champion and Britain's fourth, after Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart - and Stewart's last Championship came in 1971. The Brit says he's already looking to 2015, a year in which he says he'll be even faster.
Mercedes (701 points) and Infiniti Red Bull Racing (405 points) took places one and two in the Constructor's Championship, Williams' most excellent resurgence putting it in a solid third place with 320 points. Ferrari locked up fourth with 181 points, and McLaren on 181 points stayed in front of Force India on 155. The oddest bit of news in that race: Sauber didn't score a point all year, the first time it's happened since the team started racing in F1 in 1993.
And now we can look forward to a drama-filled winter break: no matter who McLaren chooses to partner Alonso it will cause an uproar, and if McLaren Honda doesn't impress in winter testing there'll be another uproar; the small teams will continue their quest to get more of the sport's prize money; the big teams will continue their fight over engine changes to be allowed next year and 2016; Ferrari has a new team principal and a hungry Vettel, and the entire team will be expected to start its season better than the last five; and we can expect rumors for weeks as to whether Caterham will be on the grid next year in green or any other color.
Our only hope for 2015: as happened this year, may the best man win. We'll see you next spring.
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