Dominance. Mercedes came into the season's final race of 19 having locked out the front row 11 times and won 17 poles. They succeeded in turning this great starting positions into 11 1-2 finishes and 30 podiums, both records. This translated to both an already clinched manufacturers’ title and a 17-point Lewis Hamilton lead on teammate Nico Rosberg in the drivers’ championship standings with 50 points awarded to the winner of race, twice the normal bounty.
Rosberg won the season’s penultimate race 2 weeks ago in Brazil. With sunset nearing in Abu Dhabi, Rosberg sat at the pole with Hamilton right next to him. The Mercedes-powered Williams of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa occupied Row 2.
Hamilton leapt to the front at the start, with Massa slotting into third and Bottas falling back. By the end of Lap 1 Hamilton’s lead stood at 1.6 sec. Rosberg not only needed to catch and pass Hamilton, but have someone else do the same (!), to win the championship. Rosberg led Massa by 3.9 sec during Lap 9 (of 55).
Hamilton pitted with a 2.7-sec lead one lead two laps later, replacing his super-soft option tires with the race’s primary soft compound. The stop took 2.7 sec. Rosberg came in the following lap and made a 2.6-sec stop. Rosberg posted fastest lap a few circuits later to close Hamilton’s lead to 2.3 sec.
Rosberg’s side of the garage advised him to keep the gap close and that they would try to go further between stops. Nico started losing engine power during Lap 25, with the pits advising him that the car’s kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) had failed. Hamilton’s lead was 10.9 sec on Lap 26, with Massa closing on Rosberg from behind. Massa made the pass for second one lap later.
Hamilton slowed his pace for precautionary reasons and Massa began to close. The Brit pitted from the lead during Lap 32, completing another 2.7-sec stop. Massa cycled to the front, followed by Hamilton and Rosberg. Bottas took third from Rosberg with 20 laps to go, effectively sealing the championship for Hamilton.
Rosberg pitted and made a manual getaway. Bottas came in on Lap 36, with Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) moving into third after starting on pit lane. Massa made his final stop on Lap 44, putting on the super softs and coming out in P2 behind Hamilton. Hamilton’s lead during Lap 46 stood at 10.3 sec, with he and Massa trading fastest laps.
Massa kept turning fastest laps and cut the lead to 8 sec while running Lap 48. Ricciardo pitted and Bottas moved up to the podium. Massa ran 5.5 sec behind Hamilton with 6 laps to go. With two laps to go Mercedes called on Rosberg (in P13) to pit and retire, but the German declined the request and said he wanted to finish the race on track.
The Massa-Bottas 2-3 gave Williams its first double podium since 2005 Monaco Grand Prix (Nick Heidfeld, Mark Webber 2-3, behind Kimi Raikkonen; McLaren)
Final driver standings
Lewis Hamilton (Great Britain), Mercedes – 384
Nico Rosberg (Germany), Mercedes – 317
Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Red Bull-Renault – 238
Valtteri Bottas (Finland), Williams-Mercedes – 186
Sebastian Vettel (Germany), Red Bull-Renault - 167
Fernando Alonso (Spain), Ferrari – 161
Felipe Massa (Brazil), Williams-Mercedes – 134
Jenson Button (Great Britain), McLaren-Mercedes – 126
Nico Hulkenberg (Germany), Force India-Mercedes – 96
Sergio Perez (Mexico), Force India-Mercedes - 59
Kevin Magnussen (Denmark), McLaren-Mercedes – 55
Kimi Raikkonen (Finland), Ferrari – 55
Jean-Eric Vergne (France), Toro Rosso-Renault – 22
Romain Grosjean (France), Lotus-Renault – 8
Daniil Kvyat (Russia), Toro Rosso-Renault – 8
Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela), Lotus-Renault – 2
Jules Bianchi (France), Marussia-Ferrari – 2
Final team standings
Mercedes (Rosberg, Hamilton) – 701
Red Bull Racing-Renault (Vettel, Ricciardo) – 405
Williams-Mercedes (Bottas, Massa) – 320
Ferrari (Alonso, Raikkonen) – 216
McLaren-Mercedes (Magnussen, Button) – 181
Force India-Mercedes (Hulkenberg, Perez) – 155
STR-Renault (Vergne, Kvyat) – 30
Lotus-Renault (Grosjean, Maldonado) – 10
Marussia-Ferrari (Bianchi, Max Chilton) – 2
Next event: Grand Prix of Australia (Melbourne) – Mar. 13-15, 2015