Lewis Hamilton has no intention of trying to ‘back up’ his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg if he is leading this weekend’s title showdown Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The defending three-time world champion, who is seeking a fourth consecutive Grand Prix victory to keep alive his slim hope of overhauling Rosberg’s 12-points lead, said instead that he will try to win the race by as big a margin as possible.
“Nico has been on pole here for the last two years,” Hamilton told a pre-race news conference at the Yas Marina circuit on Thursday.
“Here, he has been very quick. This has been a relatively strong circuit for me, but I’ve not been delivering the last two years, so my sole goal is to do so.
“In terms of tactics in the race, that has to come on Sunday, but that (backing up) has never been in my thought process. If I am ahead, I want to be as far ahead as possible.”
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Being one step away from winning a first world title doesn’t come without its pressures, particularly when you have defending champion Lewis Hamilton as your team-mate and closest rival, but if it’s getting to Nico Rosberg then he is doing a pretty good job of hiding it.
A title-deciding race in Abu Dhabi is nothing new for Rosberg – he had a chance in 2014 when the championship also went to the wire, but there is a crucial difference this time, because back then he was trailing Hamilton; this year he is 12 points ahead and only needs to finish in the top three to triumph.
He was in total relax mode this week at Saadiyat Beach Club where he was appearing as ambassador for IWC Schaffhausen. The luxury Swiss watch company are a genuine passion of his, as father Keke – the 1982 world champion – presented him with one of the prestige timepieces when he turned 21.
The Mercedes driver is highly motivated for the next 48 hours, but wasn’t going to tempt fate by talking about winning a first world crown as he discussed the most important race of his life with Sport360.
He said: “It has been a really good season so far which I am really proud of and proud to be in this moment now, fighting for the world championship in the last race…again. This time I am in front rather than behind, which is the better way round. I am feeling really motivated, and energised; excited about the weekend, the situation and I am raring to go.”
Rosberg has finished second to Hamilton for the past two seasons but came into the new campaign having won the last three races of 2015. Did that provide him with the neccessary confidence boost?
He added: “Everybody starts from scratch in a new season, so it didn’t really make that big a difference but it was still something positive to have in the back of my mind. For sure, it didn’t hinder my performance.”
Given the margin of points he leads Hamilton by and the knowledge he doesn’t have to win the race to claim his first title, Rosberg would be forgiven for a slight softening in his approach. But don’t expect this ultra-competitive German to think about anything but victory when the lights go out on Sunday.
When asked if there could be a stage in the race when he decides to forget about victory and settle for a Plan B, a title-winning podium place, he said: “That’s a lot of thinking and calculating which I am not getting into. I am here and I want to win the race, and it ends there. I want to approach this grand prix in a way that I can do the best possible performance and that is just going for the race win, keeping it simple and not starting to calculate in any form.”
But when pushed, he admitted: “For now, the fact I have to finish third doesn’t come into the equation but at some stage in the race it is possible, I might change my mind.”
Rosberg’s rivalry with Hamilton has been a talking point ever since they came together at Mercedes in 2013, although it is clear there exists a mutual respect, the pair having been karting team-mates when they were 14. But did he anticipate Hamilton to bounce back in the way he has to take this season to the wire?
Rosberg, who led the championship by 43 points after the Spanish Grand Prix, said: “Look, Lewis is the guy to beat. He is the world champion so of course I expected it to go all the way, definitely. I race because I love competing and it’s an awesome battle against Lewis and I get the biggest thrill from beating him because he is the world champion. It’s much better beating him than anyone else, because it’s a great rivalry.”
Red Bull are likely to play an important role in the race with Daniel Ricciardo and teen sensation Max Verstappen proving they have the pace to at least give Mercedes a run for their money.
Rosberg said: “He (Verstappen) has done a very impressive job and is certainly one for the future but do I worry about him? No, all competitors are equal to me and I want to beat them all.
“Of course, with some battles you do learn more about different drivers and the way they are and are likely to behave so you have to adapt a little bit sometimes to deal with that. You know with him he is going to take whatever chance there is so you need to defend a bit more, a little earlier than with someone else. But, at the moment, I expect my battle to be with Lewis, not him.”
Winning his first title would clearly be a huge achievement but getting Rosberg to talk about that before this race is almost impossible, perhaps because there is still 55 laps before it is in the bag and in F1, anything can happen.
Asked what the title would mean to him, he replies: “Again, that is not something I want to get into because I want to focus on doing the best possible performance.
“Thinking about what if, when, where etc. is not going to help me so I don’t want to get into such thoughts. For me, it’s just better to keep my mind on this race weekend and do an awesome job.”
Unlike many drivers, you rarely see Rosberg lose his temper if things don’t go his way and the 31-year-old believes this ability to keep control of his emotions is a reason behind his success.
“Everybody has his own approach to things and I am more on the rational side. I try to think a bit before I act and it has definitely served me well, particularly in Singapore when I was under massive pressure at the end with Ricciardo chasing me down. If I had started to lose my focus and worry about that then I would have probably made some mistakes, so staying cool works well for me.”
In a season of changing fortunes for both Mercedes drivers has there been one pivotal race or period for Rosberg?
“I would say the series of races immediately after the summer break. They really made a difference for me because Lewis had taken the championship lead away before the break so to come back and have five or six races where it was going in the right direction was really important.”
Mercedes have a total of 1,500 people working on just two cars and Rosberg knows he wouldn’t be in this position without the support of his team, mechanics and fans.
He said: “My team has obviously played a part but I don’t like to pick anyone out because it is a team sport. We are all in this together. The fans have been amazing. In Brazil and Mexico it was fantastic to see I have so much support in such far away places.
“It is very special and really motivates me to see how so many people are enjoying this season’s battle.”
Ferrari were expected to be snapping at Mercedes’ heels this season but it just hasn’t happened with the German manufacturer dominating again. Rosberg, although happy he is out in front, would like to see that change.
He said: “It would be better to be battling against other guys more often, and not just against Lewis. But I am not surprised that teams like Ferrari are struggling to catch us because I have absolute faith in our team. Mercedes is just unbelievable at the moment so it does not surprise me that we are doing such a great job and dominating the sport.”
Formula One is now under new ownership so is there anything Rosberg would like to see changed to improve the Formula One spectacle?
“It would be good if overtaking was a bit easier. It’s a long standing issue in our sport. In MotoGP they have the advantage of being able to overtake a bit easier and that increases the excitement but don’t ask me how they are going to achieve that. If it was easy they would have already done it by now.”
AWAY FROM THE TRACK
Are you into any other sports?
I love football and support Bayern Munich. I also watch MotoGP, the Olympics, and I really enjoyed the Djokovic v Murray match in the ATP World Tour finals last Sunday.
What cars do you have in your garage?
I don’t own any contemporary cars. I just have a Mercedes Pagoda 280 SL, 1970.
That’s easy – ‘Rocky IV’, the one against the Russian, just because I saw it recently.
All the current stuﬀ, really. I just go on my Spotify but I don’t have any hardcore direction on that.
I have travelled the world, thanks to my job and every country just has awesome food. I love the Arabic and Lebanese food here.
Life after F1?
No idea, something entrepreneurial I guess. My wife (Vivian) is an interior decorator and we are currently into real estate stuﬀ in Monaco. I buy and she renovates and then we rent it out and that is pretty cool.
Sebastian Vettel concedes that Ferrari cannot be proud of their 2016 season and must now focus on the “enormous challenge” of getting next year’s car ready under the new regulations.
The Italian team were hoping to close the gap on Mercedes this season but instead found themselves trailing both the German outfit and Red Bull to lie third in the Constructors’ championship.
Vettel, a four-time world champion, is fourth in the drivers’ standings heading into the final race in Abu Dhabi and is a mere five points ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
The German is without a race win in 2016 and his last podium of the season came in September in Monza.
“I think our performance was actually better than probably the results have shown at times but circumstances weren’t always the best. Nevertheless, we can’t be proud this year because we came into the season wanting to fight for the championship and we did not,” said Vettel.
“The target for next year is very clear. It’s an enormous challenge for all the teams including ourselves to get the cars ready for next year with so many changes but that’s what we’re here for.”
Vettel is still hopeful he can claim a first win of the year at Yas Marina Circuit.
“We’re trying. We’re here to fight until the end and will try to do the best race we can,” he added. “In general it should be a good track for us, I don’t see why not (why he can’t get the win). It will be important to get the car on the right position on the grid and we’ll see what happens.”
Vettel sealed his first world championship in Abu Dhabi in 2010 in what was a thrilling title showdown between himself, Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber and then Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. Vettel was third in the standings heading into the final race but walked away as the world champion.
Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg will be fighting for the championship in Sunday’s season-decider.
Asked who he thinks would be a more deserving winner, Vettel said: “I don’t really care, I think we’ll try to do our own race. The main focus for everyone I guess is on the fight for the championship, which is the right thing, but honestly for us it’s not the main focus.”