He may have lost the drivers' title, but he has not lost his desire to drive. He may be unfamiliar with his battleground, but he has arrived equipped for a fight. Lewis Hamilton, having been finally provided a car capable of competing, will line up at the front of the Yas Marina grid today after completing qualifying more than sixth-tenths of a second faster than second-placed Sebastian Vettel. He is looking to finish his season with victory.
And he will succeed. The 24-year-old driver proved in 2008 that, when given the best equipment, he can win races. In the second half of this season he has shown that even with mediocre tools he can still shove and push his way on to the podium. Both McLaren-Mercedes cars will go into "the longest straight in Formula One" enabled with Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (Kers) this afternoon, but with Hamilton leading from the start, teammate Heikki Kovalainen can forget thoughts of claiming his first victory of the season in what will be his final face for the Woking-based race team.
Let me put it bluntly: Kovalainen is as likely to win the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as his Finnish compatriot at rivals Ferrari is to start a Scandinavian sing-along. Kovalainen has been disappointing in his two seasons at McLaren and his decision to hit out at his employers on the eve of the final Grand Prix of the year is disappointing. The 28-year-old accused his team of favouring Hamilton. Bearing in mind this is the same outfit that saw two-times world champion Fernando Alonso depart because he felt mistreated in comparison to his teammate and you have to wonder if he has been burying his head in the Finnish snow for the past 24 months.
Hamilton, unperturbed by his colleague's comments, has been saying all weekend that he is an expert at learning new circuits, and the world champion's record on inaugural F1 races is as impressive as his snaring of a Pussycat Doll. In 2007 - the Briton's debut F1 season and a year that saw no new races join the calendar - the Japanese Grand Prix moved from Suzuka Circuit to Fiji Speedway. Formula One had not been held at the Speedway for 21 years. Hamilton won. In 2008, the streets of Valencia hosted the European GP and later that year Singapore held the sport's first night race. Hamilton, on his way to the championship, finished second and third respectively, while the following year he went one better, finishing atop the podium in southeast Asia.
Hamilton said earlier in the week he was savouring his final race and he looked like he was enjoying himself as he swivelled and swerved his way around the 5.5km Yas Marina track last night. Hamilton admitted in the post-qualifying press conference that his McLaren team, while undoubtedly ambitious, had not been "too aggressive" with fuel and in retrospect they could have pumped another couple of laps worth in and still finished on pole.
Vettel was wary of his rival's pace and admitted the speed at which McLaren were operating was surprising. The German - nicknamed Baby Schumi - may have conceded the title at Interlagos, but second place remains up for grabs, with Rubens Barrichello hot on his tail. Vettel looked relaxed, and so he should be: his goal for the weekend was to win the "vice-title" and when he finishes second today he will secure that.
Second in the championship and second in Abu Dhabi. Vettel will be driving in Hamilton's slipstream for the entire race because when the Briton gets the lead, he does not often give it up. Nothing will stop Mr McLaren today. Nothing except the chequered flag. firstname.lastname@example.org