Hamil­ton grabs last pole of sea­son

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

This time, Lewis Hamil­ton is not go­ing to lose any sleep on the eve of the For­mula One ti­tle de­cider.

The de­fend­ing cham­pion is sec­ond fa­vorite head­ing into to­day's race with the pres­sure on ri­val Nico Ros­berg, who is chas­ing his first ever ti­tle.

Ros­berg holds a 12-point lead and needs only to fin­ish third — even if Hamil­ton wins — to take the F1 ti­tle, 34 years af­ter his fa­ther Keke Ros­berg was crowned F1 cham­pion for the only time.

Two years ago, the cham­pi­onship also went down to the last race in Abu Dhabi. But Hamil­ton was in the stronger po­si­tion and had it all to lose be­cause of a con­tro­ver­sial dou­ble points rule that ap­plied only to the fi­nal race and kept Ros­berg in con­tention.

It also kept Hamil­ton up all night in what he said is the only time he has failed to sleep the night be­fore a race dur­ing his en­tire ca­reer.

"The rea­son I wasn't able to sleep then was that I'd worked so hard dur­ing the year, and faced lots of dif­fer­ent chal­lenges," Hamil­ton said Satur­day af­ter tak­ing pole po­si­tion in qual­i­fy­ing for Sun­day's race. "I had more wins but that dou­ble points sys­tem could have just thrown every­thing into the pit when it wasn't de­served. I have every­thing to gain to­mor­row so it's the com­plete op­po­site end of the spec­trum and I'm su­per ex­cited."

Hamil­ton is used to this kind of pres­sure, and knows how it feels ei­ther way.

He also won on the last day of the sea­son in 2008, beat­ing Brazil­ian Felipe Massa by one point in a dra­matic fi­nale.

Massa won the Brazil­ian GP and thought he had sealed the cham­pi­onship but, with Massa's Fer­rari team cel­e­brat­ing wildly, Hamil­ton just did enough to cross the line in fifth right at the end.

The pre­vi­ous year, Hamil­ton lost the ti­tle by one point to Fer­rari's Kimi Raikko­nen.

This sea­son, both Mercedes driv­ers have won nine races each in a topsy-turvy cam­paign that started out largely in Ros­berg's fa­vor when he won the open­ing four races of the cam­paign as Hamil­ton strug­gled with en­gine prob­lems.

Al­though Ros­berg trailed Hamil­ton by 19 points head­ing into the sum­mer break, he then turned the ta­bles on Hamil­ton to lead again by 33 points.

But vic­tory in the past three races has kept Hamil­ton in the hunt.

"It sets up the per­fect sce­nario for to­mor­row's race," Mere­cedes head of mo­tor­sport Toto Wolff said. "It's go­ing to be a thrilling show­down to a fan­tas­tic sea­son."

In the set­ting evening sun on Satur­day, Hamil­ton dom­i­nated qual­i­fy­ing to clinch pole ahead of Ros­berg.

Red Bull's Daniel Ric­cia­rdo qual­i­fied in third and starts on the sec­ond row with Raikko­nen.

With tem­per­a­tures cool­ing on the Yas Ma­rina cir­cuit, Hamil­ton edged out Ros­berg by .303 sec­onds to take his ca­reer-best 12th pole of the sea­son and 61st of his ca­reer — just four be­hind Brazil­ian great Ayr­ton Senna.

"It's kind of crazy to think I have 12 poles," a ju­bi­lant Hamil­ton said. "We put the car in a real sweet spot to­day."

Al­though Ros­berg en­tered the race not need­ing to push for pole he in­sisted that he was go­ing flat out.

"I'm not ec­static about to­day," said Ros­berg, who took pole here in the two pre­vi­ous years. "Lewis was just a lit­tle bit quicker."

Ros­berg has fin­ished run­nerup to Hamil­ton for the past two years but his sea­son has seen the best and most fo­cused driv­ing of his ca­reer.

"I'm proud of my sea­son," Ros­berg said.

Both driv­ers may be re­lieved to see that teen sen­sa­tion Max Ver­stap­pen is start­ing the race from sixth on the grid along­side Fer­rari's Se­bas­tian Vet­tel.

The 19-year-old Dutch­man has been in­volved in sev­eral al­ter­ca­tions with other driv­ers this sea­son — no­tably Vet­tel and Raikko­nen — and has earned a rep­u­ta­tion for risky over­tak­ing moves.

With Vet­tel and Ver­stap­pen vy­ing to fin­ish in fourth place over­all, and only five points sep­a­rat­ing them, both Mercedes driv­ers will be look­ing to steer well clear of that pri­vate bat­tle.

Get­ting stuck be­hind an­other driver in mid­field is an­other po­ten­tial headache.

In the 2010 ti­tle de­cider, which also went down to the wire in Abu Dhabi, ti­tle fa­vorite Fer­nando Alonso en­tered the race with an eight-point lead.

But, fol­low­ing a tac­ti­cal er­ror, the Span­ish driver got stuck be­hind Vi­taly Petrov for much of the race and was un­able to over­take as Vet­tel se­cured his first ti­tle.

Lewis Hamil­ton gets out of his Mercedes af­ter gain­ing pole for to­day’s Grand Prix

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