Formula 1

Abu Dhabi preview: Hamilton & Rosberg gear up for epic finale

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After 18 races across five continents it all comes down to this; Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg, who will be crowned 2014 Formula 1 champion at this weekend's finale in Abu Dhabi?

It's been a season of domination for Mercedes as the Silver Arrows did what they set out to do when the returned to the grid as a works team back in 2010 and took over from Red Bull as the team to beat as F1 embarked on a brave new era with V6 hybrid power.

Hamilton leads Rosberg by 10 wins to five but only has a 17-point cushion heading to Yas Marina where, for the first time ever, double points will be awarded for the top 10 finishers.

Double points

That means with 50 points going to the winner the 2008 champion has to finish second (worth 36 points) to guarantee a second world title.

The whole question of how legitimate Rosberg would be as champion if he won by virtue of double points is something I'll look at in a separate article this week, but at least the idea has done exactly what it was intended and give the sport a title decider at one of the most impressive venues on the calendar.

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A fitting setting to end the season

Abu Dhabi is all about glitz from the harbour to Ferrari World and the incredible Yas Viceroy hotel no expense was spared in making the Yas Marina Circuit one of the most spectacular ever to host a Grand Prix.

To add to the visual splendour the race is held at twilight so it begins as the sun sets and finishes under the lights, last year the race even coincided with a partial solar eclipse, not stupid are they?! 

For all the shininess, however, the circuit itself has hardly become a classic. Its all about traction around this five-and-a-half kilometre track and for a permanent facility it does have a street-like feel with most corners either 90-degree left or rights and a couple of chicanes, even the barriers get quite close at some sections.

Despite two very long straights into tight turns, overtaking wasn't very easy neither prior to the DRS era as Fernando Alonso found out spending a race behind Vitaly Petrov costing him the championship in 2010.

Things have improved since as Sebastian Vettel proved in 2012 coming from the back of the grid to finish third en route to his third world title and so we can expect plenty of action particularly in the very competitive midfield.

Who can spoil Hamilton's party?

The big question heading into the weekend, however, is just who could really pose the biggest threat to Hamilton securing the second place he needs to be crowned champion again?

After all no-one has really been close to Mercedes in recent races so in a trouble-free weekend at a circuit which suits the car and doesn't have the weather to play a role surely there is nothing to worry about?

Williams have been the closest challengers in previous races and while their low drag body will make them quick in a straight line, traction has been their key weakness and that will hurt them around Yas Marina.

McLaren have enjoyed a late-season revival and are bringing a final major update package to Abu Dhabi in their final race with the German car maker before switching to Honda next year.

They were also very quick in Sochi, a circuit that shares quite a lot of characteristics with Yas Marina, and could be a good bet for a podium, whether they have the speed to worry Hamilton, I doubt it.

End of an era

It could also be a last hurrah for Jenson Button who, if current speculation is to be believed, could be on his way out to join the WEC in 2015 as Fernando Alonso makes a sensational return to Woking.

While it is not yet official if it is Button's final race, it will bring to a close a 15-year F1 career that saw the fresh-faced 20-year-old who arrived back in 2000 go through the mill of life in the midfield before finally realising his potential and be crowned world champion in 2009. It will be a sad day but, as they say, all good things must come to an end.

Finally Red Bull, the only other team to win in 2014, for Sebastian Vettel it will be an emotional final race with the company who brought him through since he was a teenager while Daniel Ricciardo has already sewn up third in the Drivers' championship, an incredible achievement in his first season with the team.

But in these final races they have slipped down the order as their Renault power units lose performance at the end of their life and also as attention has switched to 2015.

Ferrari should likely be mentioned too but, like Red Bull, haven't shown enough in recent races to suggest they could threaten the front.

It will mark the end of another of F1's biggest partnerships, however, as Fernando Alonso looks set for his final race with the Scuderia, with McLaren seemingly his next destination, I'm sure the Spaniard will want to give Ferrari a last race to remember and for the fun of it why not another fifth place finish!

Abu double to settle midfield fight

The spectre of double points means the midfield battle is fierce I'll look at the various battles to watch in an article later in the week but for Force India, Lotus and Toro Rosso they will be looking for a result that could springboard them up the standings and earn a bigger slice of the money pie.

At Sauber they are set to pick up ninth place as Marussia fail to show for the season finale, but that will be of little comfort if they fail to score a point over the course of a season for the first time in their history, while Caterham are set to take the number of cars back upto 20 as their crowdfunding and other efforts see them raise the cash for a final race return.

Time to crown a champion

But as has been the case for the whole season in 2014, the attention will be on Mercedes and just who will come out on top between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

On the face of it, Hamilton should be able to get the job done and on the balance of how the season has played out is more deserved to be crowned champion, but as we have seen time and time again, when its all on the line quite literally anything can happen in Formula 1.

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