Lewis Hamilton handed his champions’ crown to Jenson Button last weekend and in Abu Dhabi will race with the number one on his car for the last time. He is determined to win it back again, as soon as next year, but in the short term he thinks that he and Button could finish 1-2 in the final race – and I think that is a distinct possibility.
Looking at the Abu Dhabi circuit, it will encourage the KERS cars, with its 1.2 kilometre straight, the longest in F1. It has some fast corners, but it looks like a point and squirt circuit and one on which braking is going to be important. The feeling I get from talking to engineers is that this track will suit Brawn and McLaren the most. On that basis, Hamilton has to be among the favourites, especially if you look at how well his car went in Singapore.
And I also think that Button will drive with great freedom and aggression in the final race, because the psychological burden he has been carrying around this last few months has been lifted. Jenson fell into that mental state sportsmen get into sometimes where they are afraid to lose and so they tense up and make losing seem even more likely.
He fought against it in Brazil and drove the race he wanted to and it paid off for him. Now free of tension, I wouldn’t be surprised to see his best performance of the year.
He will want to sign off in style, to leave a positive impression over the winter, rather than leaving people to recall his struggles in the second half of the season.
Behind the scenes the wrangles continue over next year’s contract, which might weigh on his mind a bit over the weekend, but I still think he will be very strong in Abu Dhabi.
As for Hamilton, he looks back positively on 2009. It started badly for him with a slow car and then there was the issue over lying to the stewards in Melbourne. He admitted in the spring that he had fallen out of love with the sport, but he’s turned it around impressively and the impression have got from him in the last few months is that as a man and as a driver he has taken a big step forward this season, through adversity, which will make him a stronger competitor in 2010. It seems that he feels this to be the case too,
“It’s been a fantastic year for me,” he said. “It’s been very tough and demanding at times, but I think I’m actually a very different person now than I was a year ago – and some of that comes directly and indirectly from being world champion. I think this year has helped me to understand and appreciate more the challenge and thrill of Formula One. I’d like to think I’m a more rounded individual as a result of my season, and I definitely think I’m a better driver.”