F1 Drivers' Championship heats up in Abu Dhabi
What: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Where: Yas Marina
When: Sunday 14 November 2010, 2pm CET
Lewis Hamilton was awarded the fastest lap time in the first practice session at Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina circuit on Friday, paving the way for a serious challenge in Sunday's Formula 1 Grand Prix. Though the odds are stacked against the 2008 World Champion, the fact is that he clinched that title by just one point from Felipe Massa at the latter's home track in Brazil - the same margin Hamilton now needs over current board leader, Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.
Can he do it? There's no question of either his inspirational driving, or his sheer stamina. But two factors militate against him: despite his position, he has endured a string of poor results this season - some due to technical difficulties, some to errors of judgment - which he was hoping to turn around in last week's Brazilian GP. It didn't happen. Although Hamilton ended fourth, it was by a massive gap of 14 seconds, a long distance by any standards.
Secondly, Hamilton and his team-mate, the current World Champion Jenson Button, are pitted against two formidable opponents in the form of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, who have celebrated together on the podium no fewer than seven times this season, out of a total eighteen races, including the Monaco Grand Prix. Not only do Red Bull have two strong drivers, they have also delivered the best chance of victory, in cars that have simply outshone all others this year, winning the team the Constructors Championship outright at last week's race.
That is why the eyes of the world will be focused on Abu Dhabi this weekend: it's going to be one of the most thrilling races on record, with four contenders in an extremely heated competition for the ultimate prize. The new scoring system, awarding 25 points for a win rather than the old 10, was just one of several major changes implemented this year, in order to accommodate more teams. But a side-effect has been to produce huge swings at the top of the table, and 'no overall control', as they say in the world of politics. Put simply, there are four possible World Champions on Sunday, but only three are really in the running for the top title.
2nd place or better for Alonso (currently on 246 points) would clearly see him to his third championship win. Mark Webber (on 238) requires not only a win, but for Alonso to come 3rd. A win for Vettel (on 231) would see him World Champion only if Alonso came fifth or lower. For either of these drivers, it would be their first championship win. For Hamilton (currently on 222) to succeed, an extraordinarily unlikely scenario would have to take place: Webber 6th or below, Vettel 3rd or below, and Alonso failing to score at all.