ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The celebrations within Mercedes will be somewhat restrained on Sunday night, out of respect for the driver who misses out on the Formula One title.
Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have been neck and neck all season, with 17 points separating the rivals and double points on offer for the race.
“All through the year we have tried to balance it out between the two and keep it neutral,” Toto Wolff, head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, said on Friday. “Although we’re going to honor and celebrate the championship-winning driver you’ve got to respect that, for the other driver, it’s going to be a fairly difficult day in his life.”
Tensions between the drivers have spilled over during the campaign and the pair’s fragile relationship was evident during Thursday’s pre-race news conference, when Rosberg goaded Hamilton by advising him to “race cleanly.”
Given their shaky relations, the runner-up will be taking defeat particularly hard, and the team garage will be a mixture of elation and despair among the race engineers working for different drivers.
“It makes no sense to try to pretend (that there is) a schmoozing environment. They are out there to win the world championship. It’s man against man,” Wolff said. “If you lose a world championship — and lose it against your teammate — that is pretty displeasing to say the least. We will see some big swings of emotions on Sunday evening.”
There have been plenty of high emotions already in what has been an intriguing season.
At the Monaco GP in May, Hamilton was infuriated when Rosberg crashed under no pressure at the end of qualifying, forcing the session to be stopped and denying Hamilton an almost certain pole position because he was on course to set the leading time.
Then, at the Belgian GP in August, Hamilton was livid after Rosberg nudged into his side, puncturing his tire and ending his race. He even accused Rosberg of doing it on purpose and the feud escalated to such an extent that team management had to publicly chastise their drivers.
Hamilton edged Rosberg in both of Friday’s practice sessions, but Rosberg has beaten him to pole position in three of the past four races.
Without double points, Hamilton would only need to finish sixth to guarantee his second title after winning in 2008.
But under the new rule, if Rosberg wins, with Hamilton third or lower, the German driver gets his maiden title.
“I was never in favor of double points ... although I was part of the group that voted for it. Probably we all have underestimated the impact and brushed aside many critical voices,” Wolff said. “But I completely understand where it came from: last year with the serial winning of Sebastian (Vettel), and the championship decided early, there was the need to spice things up.”