Lewis Hamilton targets the 2014 Formula One world title on Sunday despite starting the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix behind pole-sitting team-mate Nico Rosberg, the only man who can deny him a second championship.
The British driver, who won his first world title in 2008, has a 17-point lead over fellow-Mercedes man Rosberg, but the concluding event of the season offers double points, a factor adding extra spice to the mix.
Hamilton is still the overwhelming favourite, having captured 10 of the races this season which has seen Mercedes monopolise the championship.
Hamilton and Rosberg, childhood friends and rivals, have been waging a war of words ahead of Sunday’s showdown (1300GMT) after a season which has seen them clash on the track, most notably in Monaco and Belgium.
On Saturday, Hamilton rejected Rosberg’s jibe that he may crack under pressure in the desert duel.
Rosberg, who snatched pole from Hamilton in the final seconds of a tense qualifying session, said his team-mate’s recent spin in Brazil and failure to take pole at the Yas Marina circuit showed he had reason to hope for another slip-up.
But 29-year-old Hamilton is in no mood to allow the German, whose father Keke was world champion in 1982, to place doubts in his mind.
“I don’t really pay much attention to him,” he said.
“Today, I think in mistakes I made the same amount as him. He actually had to do an extra lap on the actual race tyre, which hopefully will have an effect tomorrow.
“There have been very, very few mistakes during the year so I am not worried. Of course Nico is trying everything possible in his head to come up with some kind of way of dealing with things — that is how he deals with it.
“Me? I just keep it to myself and do my talking on the track.”
– ‘Everything to lose’ –
Rosberg explained why he felt he should have faith in believing he can win and that Hamilton will face problems in a race where double points are to be awarded for the first time.
“Lewis has everything to lose,” he said. “I have everything to gain. So, for sure, the pressure is on him. That’s my opportunity, to keep the pressure on him as much as possible and maybe he will make the mistake, which we saw today for example, and in Brazil also.
“In Brazil, I tried to keep the level as high as possible and push him into that mistake. If there is a Williams a bit closer it could be enough. Who knows?”
The 29-year-old Rosberg produced his best lap of the weekend when he most needed it, clocking 1min 40.480sec to finish ahead of Hamilton with Valtteri Bottas third for Williams in Saturday’s qualifying.
“It’s only one step, a very small step,” said Rosberg after claiming his 11th pole of the season and 14th of his career.
“This weekend is about the championship, not about pole position. It would have been great if there was a Williams in between us, but that can always happen Sunday.”
Rosberg can only beat Hamilton to the title by winning the race, or come second, and hope that the Briton suffers a major setback.
Whatever the result, Mercedes are already celebrating. The team have a record-equalling 18th pole of the year and their 12th front row lock-out, their eighth in succession.
The German firm are also the first engine supplier to take every pole position in a season since Ford in 1969.
Sunday’s 55-lap race will be outgoing world champion Sebastian Vettel’s 113th and final one with the Red Bull team after winning four world titles.
However, he will start at the back of the grid after the Red Bull cars were found to have illegal parts. – Agence France-Presse