I’ll admit it: I fielded a lot of ‘who d’you want to win?’ questions in the run up to yesterday’s Formula 1 World Championship showdown in Abu Dhabi.
After 18 grands prix, it all came down to the tea-time desert decider between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Between them, the Mercedes team-mates had won 15 of the year’s races to that point – including a record-breaking 11 one-two finishes – and were separated by 17 points before the finale. And there was the spectre of double points to get in the way, too.
But, I don’t mind revealing, it was Hamilton who had my vote. The 29-year-old Briton was bidding to be the first from these shores since 1971 to lift a second drivers’ crown and my patriotic fervour had taken hold.
Not since Jackie Stewart came up trumps for Tyrrell 43 years ago had any of our boys hit double-top. All the home-grown heroes who’d followed the Scottish Knight as title winners – James Hunt, Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, Jenson Button and Lewis himself – had only managed one. There was a lot riding on this.
‘Putting jingoism aside for a moment, it was an intense and thrilling sporting spectacle with a headline-grabbing sense of occasion, thanks to the way the two former teenaged karting enemies-turned-friends-turned enemies had conducted themselves all year long’
And Stevenage’s finest, who took his first title by the skin of his teeth with McLaren in the 2008 Brazilian GP finale, was aiming to add his name to an elite band of three comprising Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Stewart.
Surprisingly, Hamilton had given away much of his acknowledged one-lap pace to his German nemesis during qualifying this season, the tally standing at 11 poles to seven in Rosberg’s favour after Saturday’s session at the Yas Marina circuit, yet when it counted – on Sunday afternoons – his conversion rate had been far better, with 10 wins to five.
And when the start lights went out at the Yas Marina circuit, Hamilton leapt into a lead he’d keep (pitstop cycles aside) for 55 laps, to stretch his victory tally for the year to 11 and secure the biggest prize in motorsport once more.
Putting jingoism aside for a moment, it was an intense and thrilling sporting spectacle with a headline-grabbing sense of occasion, thanks to the way the two former teenaged karting enemies-turned-friends-turned enemies had conducted themselves all year long. There was precious little between them, reminding me of the halcyon days of Ayrton Senna’s and Alain Prost’s bitter rivalry of the late-1980s.
And that means that Rosberg, who precious few people believed would keep up with Hamilton quite like he has, has driven masterfully this year. He was magnanimous to admit yesterday that his technical glitch couldn’t mask the fact that Hamilton was already well up the road in a position of pace and mathematical superiority. He was also probably relieved he didn’t have to celebrate losing the title on the podium afterwards.
Yes, there was perhaps a small part of me that thought it would be quite cool for Rosberg to emulate his 1982 world champion father Keke, thereby adding their names to the those of Graham and Damon Hill as the only dad-and-lad champions, but that prospect will have to wait.
For now, the right man won. And thank god the double-points debacle didn’t have a bearing on the outcome.
Photography courtesy Stefan Brending Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 de via Wikimedia Commons