2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
After Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s titanic season-long battle, it came down to this. One final race of the year, and double points, to crown the world champion for 2014.
Practice eradicated any doubt that the weekend would be fought out between the two championship contenders - both Mercedes cars were a second faster than anyone else on Friday, with Hamilton topping his team-mate in both FP1 and FP2 before Rosberg pegged him back on Saturday morning.
The Brit regained his advantage in the first qualifying session, albeit just a tenth of a second over his team-mate. Both used the supersoft tyres. At the other end of the timesheets, both Ferraris were in the drop zone with just minutes to go, but both Raikkonen and Alonso, in his last race for the team, managed to drag themselves up into the top fifteen with moments to spare.
Romain Grosjean was the fastest of those drivers to fall, but he had a number of grid penalties for using more than his allocation of engine components. Gutierrez and Maldonado were also eliminated ahead of the two Caterhams, who made a welcome return to the grid - albeit the back of it. Kobayashi was half a second quicker than one-off team-mate Will Stevens, making his debut Grand Prix appearance.
Hamilton and Rosberg continued their form into Q2, and despite a couple of mistakes from the German driver, they still held the top two positions after their first runs. Neither McLaren was able to set a time on their first runs, after both Button and Magnussen were told to return to the pits to top up with fuel.
Button managed to climb to sixth when he finally got a lap in, which bumped his team-mate down to ninth place. But after both Raikkonen and the ever-impressive Kvyat managed to beat his time, that left Magnussen in eleventh place and out of qualifying. Behind him were Vergne, the two Force Indias of Perez and Hulkenberg, and Adrian Sutil.
After Rosberg’s woes in Q2, it was Hamilton’s turn to slip up in the third and final session. Rosberg set a highly impressive benchmark time - the quickest all weekend - and Hamilton was on course to beat it until he ran wide between the final two corners. He completed the lap, which was still good enough to beat the Williams pair and Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull, but left him a little way off Rosberg.
Come the second runs, it was the same story for Hamilton - another lock-up lost him enough time to miss out on pole position, but he still managed to improve enough to ensure he took third place. Bottas came dangerously close to upsetting the Mercedes party in third, with his team-mate Massa behind him. Ricciardo and Vettel were next ahead of Kvyat and Button. Raikkonen lapped faster than Alonso for ninth. Rosberg had taken his eleventh pole of the season, but he would need another car to finish between himself and Hamilton if he was to take the championship.
The drama of qualifying was heightened just a few hours later when both Red Bulls were found to have contravened the regulation over flexible bodywork. Both Ricciardo and Vettel were disqualified from qualifying, but allowed to enter the race from the back of the grid. The team elected to break parc ferme regulations and both cars started from the pit lane.
After a tense wait, and a slow formation lap led away by Nico Rosberg, the grid formed for the final time this year. But when the lights went out, it almost appeared as if the championship was settled there and then. Rosberg had a terrible start, and Hamilton enjoyed possibly his best getaway of the season. He took the lead before the pair reached the first corner. Rosberg was able to fend off the Williams of Felipe Massa for second, but it was not the start he needed. Behind them, Button enjoyed the best start in the whole field by jumping up to fourth position, while team-mate Magnussen banged wheels with a number of cars on a clumsy first lap.
Hamilton settled into his rhythm immediately and managed to pull clear enough from Rosberg to break DRS range. The closest racing was happening between the two Ferraris, as Alonso scythed past Raikkonen on the outside into the third chicane. However, Alonso was soon into the pits to ditch his supersoft tyres, and Button followed suit a lap later on lap six. Hamilton made his stop on lap ten, and Rosberg a lap later. Both were quick from a surprisingly calm Mercedes pit crew.
Felipe Massa led the race in his Williams at this point, deciding to run long into the Grand Prix on his first set of tyres. Therefore most excitement came from the two Red Bull Drivers cutting their way back through the field after their pitlane starts. After finding little difficulty passing the backmarkers, Ricciardo found his first challenge as he came up against former team-mate Vergne on lap thirteen. The two scrapped it out for several corners, but the Frenchman was able to cling on to the position - for now.
Massa made his first stop on lap fourteen and Hamilton and Rosberg resumed their places at the top of the field. Rosberg was pushing his team-mate hard, and despite the gap staying at two-and-a-half seconds, it was clear that both drivers were pushing as hard as they could.
But by lap twenty-three, it became apparent that running at that pace was too much for Rosberg - or rather, his car. He locked a brake and ran wide, losing a second in the process, but there were bigger problems to come. He reported to the team on the radio that his car was losing engine power. Their data showed that his ERS had failed, and he was now dropping huge chunks of time both to Hamilton ahead of him and Massa behind him.
Four laps later, the Williams was past for second place in an easy move on the back straight. It was clear that Rosberg’s car was seriously wounded.
By now the best fight on the circuit was between both McLarens and both Ferraris. All four cars were bunched closely together fighting over the final points position. Button held tenth at one point, but after going wheel to wheel with Alonso through several corners, he was forced into a mistake at the end of the second straight and Alonso was through.
Come lap thirty-one Hamilton made his second stop, and rejoined just behind his team-mate. But with a fully functioning car, there was no repeat of the closely fought racing we have seen throughout the season, and Hamilton retook the place. He was now in second behind Massa, but the Brazilian was beginning to extend his lead. There was a real chance for him to take the victory here.
But Rosberg was very much going the other way - by lap thirty-nine he was down in eighth place with his championship hopes all but over. Even if Hamilton retired from the race, Rosberg still needed fifth or better to overhaul his team-mate’s points tally.
Massa finally made his final stop on lap forty-two with thirteen laps remaining, and elected to fit the supersoft tyres for a final sprint to the flag in the hope of beating Hamilton. He emerged eleven seconds behind. He set a series of fastest laps - one on every tour at one point - and began to hunt Hamilton down. With five laps to go, the gap was less than five seconds. But it would have no bearing on the championship result as Rosberg’s car gave up on him once and for all - he slowed to a crawl with yet more issues, but nobly radioed in to his team that he wanted to finish the race.
Back at the front, Massa’s tyres faded on the penultimate lap to ensure that Hamilton retained the lead until the chequered flag. He took the victory and with it became only the fourth ever British double world champion.
Massa finished second, with team-mate Bottas capping off a successful year with another podium finish. Ricciardo enjoyed a fruitful run from the pitlane to fourth place, while Button finished fifth in what could be his final ever race. Hulkenberg beat team-mate Perez to sixth place, while Vettel crossed the line eighth in his last ever start fro Red Bull, with Alonso in ninth in his last ever start for Ferrari. Raikkonen took the final points position.
Magnussen never recovered from his scruffy first lap and resulting drive through penalty, and Vergne dropped back after his battle with Ricciardo. Rosberg was classified in thirteenth but managed to cross the line, and Grosjean beat the two Saubers of Gutierrez and Sutil. Stevens was classified seventeenth in his first ever Grand Prix.
Kvyat retired with an unspecified failure, while Maldonado’s car spectacularly went up in flames at the pit entry early on, although the driver was able to climb out safely. Kobayashi retired his Caterham early on.
But the real story was Hamilton’s championship win, and Rosberg was magnanimous in defeat. He congratulated his team-mate before he took to the podium and told reporters that despite his car problems he would not have been able to clinch the championship this year.
That said, he’ll be back next year on a very different-looking Formula One grid vying to wrestle the crown from Hamilton. We’ll see you then.