AUSTIN, Texas — Lewis Hamilton turned in another dominant performance at the U.S. Grand Prix on Sunday, overcoming a brake issue in qualifying that left him starting behind his teammate, Nico Rosberg. But despite Hamilton's win—his fifth in a row and 10th this season—the Formula One drivers' championship remains in doubt.
Now, a potential disaster looms in the desert of Abu Dhabi, where the final race of the season will be run at the end of the month.
With just two races remaining, Hamilton has a 24-point lead over Rosberg—who has just four victories in 2014—but there are still 75 points up for grabs. And even if Hamilton were to win next weekend in Brazil, he still could not clinch the title, as the Abu Dhabi race is worth double, with 50 points going to the winner.
Mercedes have not been bulletproof this season, with five retirements so far, and it would be bad for the sport and devastating for Hamilton if he were to lose the title because of an issue with his car in Abu Dhabi.
"The last race, with the double points, has the potential to overshadow the season," Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff told reporters after the race.
That is because Rosberg has not beaten Hamilton in a straight fight on the track this year, and for most of the season, Hamilton has clearly been the better driver. On the other hand, F1 rewards consistency along with brilliance, and Rosberg has been slightly more consistent this year, with 14 first- or second-place finishes to Hamilton's 12.
Still, Hamilton deserves the title, and it would be wrong for him to lose it because of an artificial double-points rule that was brought in, ostensibly, to improve the show.
"It would suck if that was the case—big time—but I’m not even going to put that negative energy out there," Hamilton said in the Thursday press conference. "I’m just going to try and do the best job I can with the car that I have and what will be will be, I guess. For the future, I wouldn’t perhaps advise [having double points] for the following years but..."
But...but...what F1 needs is for a charismatic, exciting driver like Hamilton to be answering questions about his great performances, not worried about whether a silly, arbitrary rule will rob him of a title.
Wolff seemed to acknowledge that Hamilton is the rightful champion this year, too, saying, "Now we are in a situation where [double points] could change the outcome."
For his part, the Brit does not need to actually win either of the final two races to clinch the championship. Two second-place finishes will be enough, no matter what Rosberg does in Brazil and Abu Dhabi.
In the post-race press conference, I asked Hamilton whether that knowledge would change his approach, or make him more conservative.
"I think during the year you have to be balanced in the risks you take and I think that so far I’ve not been taking too many risks," he responded. "I’ve done what I’ve needed to do to get by in the safest way, in the cleanest way, which has worked all year, so I should just continue to do the same...I think really you’ve just got to keep going until the last chequered flag."
In the end, the double-points rule has done what it was intended to do: The title fight will come down to the last race—but that does not make it right.
F1 has the best drivers driving the most advanced cars in the world. It does not need to rely on gimmicks to produce drama and excitement. Perhaps, though, it will take an unpopular and unfair result to make those in charge of the sport understand that.
But let's hope not.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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