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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Lewis Hamilton will hope small points don't add up to big consequences in F1 title race

Triple-world champion has been commended for his sportsmanship in Hungary, but could he live to regret his decision?

Valtteri Bottas, front, leads Mercedes-GP teammate Lewis Hamilton during the final stages of the Hungarian Grand Prix. Peter Kohalmi / AFP
Valtteri Bottas, front, leads Mercedes-GP teammate Lewis Hamilton during the final stages of the Hungarian Grand Prix. Peter Kohalmi / AFP

Lewis Hamilton’s act of honour in Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but come November 26 when the chequered flag falls on the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit it could well be something he lives to regret.

The Mercedes-GP driver slowed on the final lap to allow teammate Valtteri Bottas to pass him for third place, keeping his word to a vow he had made earlier in the race when the Finn had waved him past to see him he could overtake either of the two Ferraris ahead of him.

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Hamilton had said he would give the place back if he could not do anything about championship leader Sebastian Vettel, or second-placed Kimi Raikkonen.

Having failed to get ahead of the front two, he slowed on the final lap, and allowed Bottas back through to finish third and score 15 points, while he took fourth and 12 points. That meant that rather than falling 11 points behind Vettel, going into the summer break, he is 14 adrift.

Three points does not sound like much of a loss, but if anyone should know that every point earned can be crucial in a Formula One title fight then it is Hamilton.

He lost the championship to Raikkonen 10 years ago in his debut year in the sport by a solitary point, and when he did prevail to claim his first title in 2008 it was also by just one point.

In fact, five times in total in the past decade the drivers’ championship has been decided by a margin of five points or less.

Everything about the first 11 races of this season and the closeness of the duel between Hamilton and Vettel screams that it will go down to the wire in the UAE.

Both men have won four races apiece, and there have been periods when both Mercedes and Ferrari have had the edge on speed.

So for Hamilton, and for Mercedes to allow him to do it, to willingly give up three points to Bottas is at best a very confident gesture that he will outscore Vettel by at least four or more points in the remaining nine races, or at worst, a naive move.

Bottas, in fairness, is still a title contender himself, given he is only 19 points behind Hamilton and 33 from Vettel.

But, while Bottas has been consistent, Sunday being his fifth podium in a row, he has only occasionally had the beating of Hamilton on raw pace.

Mercedes, in all honesty, will know that Hamilton is their best chance of winning a fourth successive drivers’ trophy for the team.

It was a fair gesture to give the place back to Bottas, given that Hamilton would not have got past him in the first place without his co-operation.

It is very difficult to overtake at the Hungaroring unless there is a sizeable car advantage over the car in front.

But just because it was fair does not mean it was right.

Hamilton and Mercedes have arguably been the fastest package more often than not in 2017, with the eight poles for the German team (six for Hamilton, two for Bottas) backing that up.

But, despite that they still trail Vettel and Ferrari.

In the first six events of the season, the Ferrari was often the quicker car, at least with Vettel behind the wheel, as Mercedes struggled for a consistent set-up.

Since June, however, the Mercedes team have become more comfortable with the car. While it still has aerodynamic limitations on slower tracks, it has become a much more consistent force to be reckoned with.

The majority of the remaining nine tracks are full of high-speed corners and long straights, which should play to the strengths of Mercedes.

But, F1 is not as simple as that. Unreliability will still play a part in the close of the season.

It cost Hamilton the title to teammate Nico Rosberg last year as his engine blew in Malaysia. This season he lost out on a race win in Azerbaijan due to a head rest coming loose.

Hamilton may expect to beat Vettel more often than not, but all it takes is a little bad luck, or a non-finish, and it could blow things wide open.

And giving himself an extra three points to have to overhaul is a very brave challenge.

Ferrari have all their eggs in the Vettel basket. That was clear by their willingness to make Raikkonen sit behind the German, even as the Mercedes cars closed in on Sunday and Vettel struggled with handling issues.

It certainly adds to the narrative of an already intriguing 2017. Hamilton may have the moral high ground, but that mind come at a great cost when the season is decided in Abu Dhabi.

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