The grand stage of Yas Marina

Ever since Abu Dhabi joined the Formula One circus in 2009, the Yas Marina Circuit has hosted the World Championship-deciding grand prix on three occasions. Here’s how the three decisive races played out.

Nico Rosberg of Mercedes GP wheels out donuts at the Yas Marina track after winning his maiden World Championship.   -  Getty Images

2016: Hamilton wins, but Rosberg takes crown

Ahead of the season finale, it all looked quite uncomplicated: Nico Rosberg, with a 12-point lead over team-mate Lewis Hamilton, chasing his first World title, while Hamilton, in quest of his fourth World Championship, enjoying the momentum, having won the previous three races. However, the race was not that simple.

Rosberg and Hamilton go a long way; they were team-mates in junior racing, with the Briton always having the edge over the German. Over the years, however, the mutual admiration was replaced by bitterness, and the relationship between the two had come to a point where they were not even prepared to shake hands. And if what transpired on November 27 is any indication, a rapprochement between the two looks unlikely in the near future.

After securing pole position convincingly, Hamilton got off to a clean start and led into the first corner, followed by Rosberg and Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari). But as expected, Hamilton never really pushed; he drove as slowly as possible to ensure that Rosberg was always under constant threat from those behind him.

The two Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen started on supersofts, hoping to run longer than the rest driving on ultrasofts. The Red Bulls were a threat to Rosberg. If only they had split the two Mercedes drivers and pushed Rosberg out of the top three, the German would have lost the championship. Fortunately for Rosberg, Verstappen spun early in the race but recovered well to run longer in the first stint doing a one stop, while Ricciardo’s race was compromised by pitting early as he got stuck behind Raikkonen.

Hamilton needed to shake Rosberg off his back, so he deliberately slowed down in an attempt to feed his team-mate to the cars behind the German.

Rosberg was stuck behind Verstappen after his first stop, and he required a bold move to make the crucial pass and get to second.

Meanwhile, Vettel decided to go for a longer second stint and took the lead when Hamilton and Rosberg came in for their second stops. Rosberg did not appreciate Hamilton’s slow driving and he kept complaining over his radio. As a result, the team instructed the Briton to up his pace. Hamilton, however, refused and did his best to back Rosberg into Verstappen.

Vettel did a late stop on Lap 38 to take on a set of supersofts, after which he began reeling off some quick laps. He breezed past his team-mate Raikkonen and quickly caught up with Ricciardo and passed him to move into fourth position with less than 10 laps to go. Vettel then took another five laps to get past Verstappen even as Hamilton was instructed by the Mercedes boss to increase his pace, saying he was under threat from Vettel.

Hamilton was not amused and he insisted that he be allowed to race on his own. The defending champion then added that he did not care about losing the race as he was anyway going to lose the title if Rosberg stayed second.

Vettel tried to start a move on Rosberg but the former got it covered even as Hamilton literally crawled on the final lap, desperately hoping that his team-mate is passed by Vettel and Verstappen.

In the end, Rosberg, like his father Keke in 1982, driving car No. 6, won the title by five points.

2014: Chaotic double points

In the first year of the hybrid engines, the season finale was mired in controversy as the authorities decided that the race would have double points system. With Mercedes dominating the season, Hamilton led Rosberg by 17 points heading into the final race. In any other year, the Briton would have needed to finish only sixth to secure his second World title, but with double points being awarded Hamilton needed to finish in the top two.

 

After Hamilton topped the first two practice sessions, Rosberg wrested the momentum by topping Saturday’s practice and carrying his form into qualifying to take pole position.

However, in the race, Hamilton, starting second, got a better run down to Turn One and took the lead. He built a two-second gap over his team-mate over the next 20 laps. If being stuck behind his Hamilton was not bad enough, Rosberg suffered an ERS failure on Lap 24, which deprived him of a significant amount of horsepower. Rosberg slowly dropped down the order and with it, his championship hopes too faded away.

Hamilton, running in front, too, turned down his engine to conservative mode as a precautionary measure that allowed Felipe Massa to breathe down his neck. However, the Mercedes had enough pace to stay ahead and win the race. Hamilton, thus, took his second World Championship.

Rosberg was asked to retire the car after falling out of points but the German insisted he wanted to run till the chequered flag and displayed tremendous graciousness in defeat.

2010: Vettel becomes the youngest champion

In a seesaw season that saw the championship lead change several times, four drivers were in contention for the World title heading into the final race. Fernando Alonso led the table, while Mark Webber was next, adrift by eight points. Fifteen points separated Alonso and third-placed Sebastian Vettel, while Lewis Hamilton trailed the leader by 24 points in fourth place.

 

Vettel aced the qualifiers to put his car in pole position, while Alonso and Webber could manage only third and fifth places respectively on the grid. At the start of the race, Alonso dropped a place to Jenson Button to go fourth, but it was enough for the Spaniard to beat both the Red Bull drivers (Webber and Vettel).

However, on the opening lap, an incident between Michael Schumacher and Vitantonio Liuzzi brought in the safety car. During this time, six drivers, including Nico Rosberg and Vitaly Petrov, pitted to change soft tyres.

After his right rear tyre brushed the wall, Webber came in for an early stop on Lap 11 to change his soft tyres. Alonso was forced to cover Webber’s stop a few laps later, which put the two drivers behind Rosberg and Petrov.

In between, Renault’s Robert Kubica had a different strategy, starting on the harder compound and running longer before a short, final burst on the soft tyres. Kubica slowly crept up the order and even managed to split Vettel and Hamilton in the top three before he pitted on Lap 40. He came fifth behind Rosberg and crucially ahead of his teammate Petrov, with Alonso and Webber further behind.

The Renaults were powered by a new engine and were consistently quicker in the straight line, which meant Alonso could not pass Petrov despite having tyre advantage.

With Red Bull having two cars in the fight, Alonso and Ferrari were caught in a no-man’s land. He decided to cover the driver next to him in the championship, which let Vettel off the hook.

In the end, Vettel won the race easily and with it his first World Championship. Vettel became the sport’s youngest champion, and he did so without leading the standings even once during the season.