Lewis Hamilton focused on 'battle' with Sebastian Vettel over race to claim fourth Abu Dhabi GP win
Both drivers have won three times at Yas Marina Circuit, and the newly-crowned world champion is 'extremely driven' to beat his rival to win No 4.
Pitted against one another in direct duel for most of the Formula One season, it is fair to say Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel represent the sport’s chief rivals.
That competitiveness could be seen most clearly at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in June, when, with the pair the only realistic contenders for the world title, Vettel was penalised for deliberately driving his Ferrari into Hamilton’s Mercedes.
Vettel ended up fourth in Baku, one spot ahead of Hamilton, although ultimately the Englishman can claim to have had the last laugh. Three weeks ago, and with two races to spare, Hamilton sealed the championship trophy ahead of the German.
What is more, a fourth world title drew him level with Vettel as the joint-third most successful driver in F1 history, alongside Alain Prost. So, with the seasonal race run, on first inspection there appears little on the line at the campaign-concluding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend.
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But then, competitive juices are hard to stem. Both Hamilton and Vettel have three victories apiece in the UAE, meaning that come Sunday they are gunning for local bragging rights. Sitting alongside Vettel at Yas Marina Circuit on Thursday, Hamilton emphasised how important a win in Abu Dhabi would be. Trump your main challenger and lay down a marker for 2018? Capital gains, indeed.
“We have this battle of always wanting to get ahead of each other, so of course I am extremely driven this weekend to try and finish the season off as strong as I can,” Hamilton said. “Obviously in the last race Sebastian won and I don't particularly want to give you this one.
“I'm looking forward to having hopefully at least a good battle with these guys this weekend. Either way, it's just about approaching it the same: giving it everything, as if you are still fighting for the championship.
"Regardless of whether you win or not, as long as you've given it everything, you can walk away proudly, knowing that you've had a solid season."
Back in 2009, Hamilton’s season was not quite as solid as Vettel, but still he found some extra incentive in Abu Dhabi. The inaugural race marked F1’s introduction to the UAE, so a sponsor promised a limited-edition Mercedes-Benz to the victor. Hamilton took pole yet, having led until lap 20, his McLaren let him down, clearing the road for Vettel in his Red Bull to prevail.
Even for a man who has apparently amassed $46 million (Dh169m) this year alone, and whose wealth was on full display on Thursday in the watch and necklace he sported, missing out on the car still stings somewhat.
“I was quite determined to win that one because there was a car up for grabs, which I was pretty motivated to get at the time,” Hamilton said. “I was obviously leading then and the rear brakes failed so Sebastian won it.”
Hamilton has done most of the winning this season, though. Such has been his dominance – he has nine victories – that he and Mercedes will next season once more be the team to beat. However, with five wins Ferrari have shown enough to suggest both the drivers' and constructors' title races will be closer run in 2018. Understandably, that would suit Vettel.
“I wanted this press conference to be less relaxed,” he joked, a mood maintained by he, Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo throughout a generally jovial media briefing.
Still, Vettel is patently serious about next season’s prospects.
"Completely fired up," is how he described his frame of mind going into 2018.
And so he should be, considering Ferrari’s five victories were as many as they registered in the previous five campaigns combined. Yet even with that in mind, Vettel conceded catching Mercedes would be “massively tough”.
“The final step is always the hardest,” he said.
Updated: November 23, 2017 09:10 PM