Formula One: Hamilton pole spices up finale showdown with Rosberg

Their facial expressions could not be more stark. Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton acknowledges the fans' cheers after winning pole position for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, while his German team-mate and championship leader Nico Rosberg looks gl
Their facial expressions could not be more stark. Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton acknowledges the fans' cheers after winning pole position for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, while his German team-mate and championship leader Nico Rosberg looks glum.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Strong qualifying show adds to mind games as leader Rosberg plays it cool

ABU DHABI • The phoney war ahead of today's title-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix intensified yesterday, as Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton played mind games and Mercedes reaped the benefits.

Aided by a flourish of encouragement from team chief Toto Wolff, defending three-time world champion Hamilton continued to produce a flow of words while his team-mate and rival championship leader Nico Rosberg stuck to his stoical, largely unflustered, stance.

"I'm the champion in my own heart, whatever happens," said Hamilton, who has to overhaul a 12-point deficit to claim a fourth Formula One title - a position that requires him to win with Rosberg failing to finish on the podium.

It was just another line to maintain his ascendancy in the psychological battle, after he took pole by outpacing Rosberg in a tense and dramatic qualifying at the Yas Marina circuit.

The defending three-time champion dominated the session and clocked 1min 38.755sec to beat the championship-leading German by three-tenths of a second.

The two drivers, both 31, one British and one German, make a sharp contrast in their image and behaviour and have endured a stormy roller-coaster for three years as team-mates.

  • ABU DHABI GP GRID

    1ST ROW

    1 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr/Mercedes)

    2 Nico Rosberg (Ger/Mercedes)

    2ND ROW

    3 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus/Red Bull)

    4 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin/Ferrari)

    3RD ROW

    5 Sebastian Vettel (Ger/Ferrari)

    6 Max Verstappen (Ned/Red Bull)

    4TH ROW

    7 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger/Force India)

    8 Sergio Perez (Mex/Force India)

    5TH ROW

    9 Fernando Alonso (Esp/McLaren)

    10 Felipe Massa (Bra/Williams)

For Wolff, and Mercedes, it is priceless promotion for their brand. Every lens is focused on the Mercedes drivers, their cars and their team members.

Austrian Wolff's face is the subject of as many close-ups as a Hollywood pin-up and he, like a great orchestra conductor flourishing his baton, has kept the music loud.

"It's normal that here this is like a volcano to erupt with two of them, the two very different personalities," he said. "One is going to dig a little deeper, the other one is going to do it in a different way."

Wolff is a master of the sound bite. "It is also clear, and we have to acknowledge it, that now everything is on the line.

"It's about losing or winning the drivers' world championship. They can't be in love with each other this weekend, but they need to play all the tricks to put themselves in a situation to win the championship."

Wolff revealed that his worst memories of this season have been the late collision between Rosberg and Hamilton in Austria, where Hamilton passed his team-mate to win, and the crash in Spain that took them both out of the race.

Over the years, several showdown races have been overshadowed by deliberate collisions and controversy including the most infamous - Ayrton Senna taking his McLaren team-mate Alain Prost out at the first corner of the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix.

The prospect of any kind of repeat has been rejected, by all concerned, but it lingers in the mind.

For Rosberg it would be out of character for him to choose it, even if he has displayed a more steely sense of aggression this year.

A gentleman racer through most of last season, he changed his approach after Hamilton, with his street-racer mentality, charged to his third title with a month to spare.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

F1 ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX

Main race: Singtel TV Ch114 & StarHub Ch208, 8.30pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 27, 2016, with the headline 'Hamilton pole spices up finale'. Print Edition | Subscribe