Formula 1

Lewis Hamilton facing biggest test of career in Abu Dhabi finale

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Lewis Hamilton faces the sternest test of his Formula 1 career as he bids to become a double world champion in Abu Dhabi.

The British driver put himself under more pressure than he perhaps needed making critical errors on both his flying laps in qualifying rather gifting team-mate and championship rival Nico Rosberg pole at Yas Marina.

Despite his errors, he managed to remain second on the grid just beating the two Williams who were nipping at the Silver Arrows' heels, and that could prove crucial heading into Sunday's race.

The permutations

Before I look at the pitfalls and hopes for Hamilton and Rosberg in the showdown just a quick reminder of the permutations.

With double points on offer, Hamilton must finish at least second to be guaranteed the title regardless of what the German does.

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Should Hamilton finish third then Rosberg needs to win, if Rosberg finishes second Hamilton must be fifth, third the Briton must be sixth and so on but if Nico finishes sixth or lower then Hamilton will be champion

The start is vital

The most important part of Hamilton's race tomorrow comes in the first few hundred metres of the 300km race on the run down to the first corner.

While he may start second, that could actually prove a disadvantage as he starts of the dirty side of the grid, for those who don't know, by that I mean he will start on the side of the track where the cars do not usually run and because of that, much of the sand and dirt that is cleaned off the racing line over the course of a weekend, remains.

That means Hamilton could find himself under greater pressure from Valtteri Bottas, who starts third, and should he get a bad start could also be swallowed up by the rest of the pack.

If he gets a good start, however, then he will have the inside line for the tricky turn one, while there is plenty of run-off on the outside, contact has been quite common on the first lap in the past, but at least near the front the chances of that are reduced.

Williams top speed a threat

Should the start be negotiated without incident, then the risk is not over for Hamilton if he remains in second place.

The Williams drivers matched the Mercedes in the first two sectors of the lap as their top speed along Yas Marina's two long back straights give their slippery car a top speed advantage over the Mercedes.

While it is likely no massive risk would be taken by either Massa or Bottas against either Mercedes if they do get a slipstream on the first lap then an overtake could be quite easy.

Should Hamilton be able to stay ahead for the first lap, however, I feel he should be able to pull the one second advantage in the first two laps needed to avoid giving DRS to the car behind given the Mercedes are much quicker in the tight final sector.

Tyres set to play a part

A different threat to Mercedes will come from a different source as the first stint progresses as the super-soft tyres have proven hard to keep in a good condition for many more than 10 laps.

This has been the same for most but Red Bull, particularly Daniel Ricciardo, have proven good at looking after the Pirelli tyres.

The Australian was also matching the Mercedes pace on the harder soft compound rubber and while the Red Bull isn't much of a match in a straight line could at least be a factor in the race that Hamilton does not need.

It isn't necessarily plain sailing for Rosberg in those early laps neither as the German will start on a set of tyres already six laps old.

Given the expected lifespan is 10-15 laps we can expect an early pit-stop for Nico maybe a few laps before Hamilton.

The team role

The only thing out of their control in the race is those moments when they are in the pits and the team must do the job of producing excellent stops to not hamper each driver's race.

Overall stops have been mixed with some slow stops mixed in with some really good ones but being under the same increased pressure as the men behind the wheel could be telling for either Rosberg or Hamilton.

Then there is the one thing nobody wants, a mechanical retirement. Both drivers have had them and with the parts nearing the end of their life, the chances are perhaps higher than at any time this year.

Mercedes pace could be telling

What is at the back of everyone's mind when looking at how it could go wrong, is the fact that Mercedes are still pretty comfortably the fastest cars on the grid.

Even if Hamilton dropped down from second at the start and Rosberg led from the front there is still plenty of time and places where he could make up those positions.

As mentioned the only worry is the top speed of the Williams which, despite being much slower in the twisty final sector, is a part of the track where you can't overtake, in reality the best places are at the end of the long straights but even with DRS passing those Williams could prove tricky.

Even then though, the pace in clear air should be enough to jump at the pit-stops, of which we expect two, possibly three.

Hamilton should focus on beating Rosberg

While its all well and good saying second is good enough to win, the problem with that is it leaves no margin for error.

As Hamilton knows too well, having lost the title in Brazil in 2007 and only just getting the result to claim it a year later, nothing is over until the chequered flag.

But if Hamilton does stay second, then there is no reason for him to be content with staying there, after all, in his run of five straight wins, he had the clear edge when going wheel-to-wheel with Rosberg so why shouldn't he do so again?

A likely tactic the German could implement is to try and slow the pace a little and keep the chasing pack as close as possible, so if Hamilton does get the chance to overtake he would be a fool not to to have a go, even if second will still get him the title.

Excitement and drama awaits

While there are so many things that could influence the destiny of the 2014 world championship, one thing that is guaranteed is 55 of the most nervy, tense racing laps in quite some time.

While it may be controversial we can thank double points for that, and the one question we all want answered is will there be a final twist in the incredible tale of this season.

My prediction? I reckon Rosberg has the race won but I just think the pace of the Mercedes compared to the rest of the field is enough to make second relatively easy in a drama-free race, so my pick for the 2014 world title is Lewis Hamilton.

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