By Steve Aibel, Senior F1 Writer
It’s finally here. We have waited all season for this race.
The one to determine the 2016 Formula 1 World Champion.
The stage is set.
The final round of the 2016 Formula 1 World Championship is set in Abu Dhabi with Nico Rosberg holding a slim and shrinking 12 point advantage over teammate Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton is on a three race win scramble that started in Austin at the US Grand Prix. The run has cut the championship count from 33 points after Japan, to the current lead of 12. Any issues with Rosberg will open the door for the 3 time champion. Hamilton is extremely comfortable in the chase role and has been full bore, head down, with an eye toward an incredible comeback.
For Hamilton, it is relatively simple, he needs to win and hope that Nico has some sort of issue in the Grand Prix.
Hamilton will start from pole with Rosberg occupying the front row with his Mercedes teammate. Both Hamilton and Rosberg have emphasized their focus is to win the remaining race but championship implications are bound to influence race strategy once the lights go out.
For Rosberg, he is nursing an eroding 12 point lead in the World Championship standings. Regardless of what Hamilton does in Abu Dhabi, this cushion allows Rosberg to grab his first championship if he lands a space on the podium. Hamilton could wind up winning the final four races of the season and still land short of his 4th championship. A bitter pill for sure for the Britain.
Rosberg, on the other hand would appear to have the easier road, but his race strategy will be complex as he will be points racing the entire time. A Rosberg podium seals the deal, but there are a wide variety of permutations that would bring the championship to the barren side of the Mercedes trophy case. Any glitch from Hamilton and the championship will fall to Rosberg.
On the flip side, any sort of issue from the German’s camp can potentially derail the Rosberg train. Although Rosberg can see the light at the end of the tunnel, mechanical issues or infiltration from the Red Bull and Ferrari camps could do him in.
Red Bull and Ferrari saw surprising pace in qualifying. Daniel Ricciardo placed his RB12 in third position and will line up next to Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari. The third row placed the effervescent racing combo of Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen together in what could be a volatile duo on race day. Given that Vettel and Verstappen are separated from Rosberg by teammates could be the biggest gift afforded to the championship contender.
If the two Mercedes are able to stretch an early gap, it may leave the Ferraris and Red Bulls to race each other instead of competing with the Mercedes. If the Mercedes are unable to get away, and Rosberg is caught up racing these other teams, we may wind up with a huge upset and Lewis Hamilton’s 4th championship.
Red Bull Racing has the bonus and potential windfall of being able to start the race on the Supersoft racing compound instead of the Ultrasoft compound that Mercedes and Ferrari will be using. This could present an opportunity to run deeper into the first stint and throw another wrench into the Grand Prix.
Either way, this is what we have all been waiting for.
A duel between the two best cars for the World Championship.