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Danger lurks for Nico and Lewis

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An in-car glimpse from Nico Rosberg's cockpit during the rain-dominated Brazilian GP told you much about his approach.

As Max Verstappen, up and at 'em, went clean around his outside at turn three to relieve him of second place, Nico remained calm, continued just to drive his own race as if the other cars were only to be avoided, not raced with.

Use his inside line to counter-attack down to turn four? Forget it. Let him go; dicing with Verstappen would only be a possible route to a non-finish. Just like he'd let Lewis Hamilton go on each of the many Safety Car starts, with no attempt made to position himself for a passing attempt into the Senna Esses or turn four. He didn't need to try that. Given the championship situation, the upside reward was small, the downside risk massive.

The self-discipline required not to react, to defer the immediate competitive urge for a more strategic one, was impressive. Some may look upon that as surrender. Actually, it told of an inner confidence.

Rosberg is not someone that needs the constant reassurance, the external approval, doesn't have the need to prove he's fastest every time he gets in the car. So he's not driven by that emotional desire to demonstrably out-drive or out-race his team-mate.

He's long come to terms with the fact that Hamilton can usually hang it out on the edge just a little bit further - and he's arrived at his own way of dealing with that hard fact. He chooses to compete with Hamilton in his way, not Lewis' and that way is to just concentrate on maximising his own performance, getting the car as good as it can be, putting the best lap together that he, Nico Rosberg, can do, not get distracted by what Hamilton is doing - and then just let fate take care of the rest.

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He comes across as a more relaxed, less complex, character than Hamilton, very comfortable in his own skin. And the more successful he is in adopting that approach, the more under Hamilton's skin he gets.

By the same token, Hamilton can get under his. The no-compromise way Hamilton has raced wheel-to-wheel with him has left Rosberg nowhere to go in such situations - other than stubbornly refusing to back down, in which case contact ensues. See Barcelona, Austria this year and Spa 2014. So there have been occasions since - turn one in Austin, the Interlagos restarts - where the combination of the points situation and the predictability of what would happen if he tried to challenge Hamilton wheel-to-wheel led him to actually hold back from attacking him.  

As such, out-qualifying Hamilton or beating him off the startline is really the only way Rosberg has been able to put destiny in his own hands. Although he has taken eight poles this year to date (with Hamilton on 11), only three of them have been set without relying upon Hamilton having had a problem (two ers-H failures, one crash and an engine change penalty).

By contrast, Rosberg has not suffered a reliability problem in any session. So of the 20 races to date, Hamilton has genuinely out-qualified Rosberg 11-5, with no comparison possible in the other four, thus highlighting Hamilton's one-lap pace advantage.

Hamilton lost that advantage three times - with poor starts in Australia, Bahrain and Monza - but twice clawed back Rosberg having beaten him to pole (at Budapest and Hockenheim) by getting a better start. He also made a disastrous start from second on the grid in Suzuka.

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Historically, Abu Dhabi has been very much a Hamilton track, with his acrobatic performance through the tight twists of the final sector having been decisive. But last year he got himself into all sorts of bother there trying to find a set up advantage - and basically beat himself, allowing Rosberg to set pole and win the race.

It illustrated that mercurial quality of Hamilton's that can power him to dominance or ambush, often making him an unstoppable force. But occasionally it can trigger in him an imbalance - as seen in his crash in Baku qualifying or his efforts in Abu Dhabi last year. He knows he is the fastest driver out there and so when that is being disguised by circumstance he can occasionally over-strive. All the top drivers have their foibles and this is his - and Rosberg almost certainly realises this, and uses it whenever he can.

One of the areas where Hamilton habitually takes lap time from Rosberg is under heavy braking and direction change into slow turns. He simply has the ability to brake later and harder whilst still feeling through the pedal the downforce bleeding off and therefore how much to modulate the pedal pressure by.

However, some of this advantage has been taken away from him by the very high minimum pressures (and maximum cambers) imposed since Singapore last year by Pirelli, which have made the front tyres more prone to locking up. Bumpy braking zones into slow turns have thus come to be something of a problem area for Hamilton. His difficulties in Abu Dhabi last year were the first manifestation of this and we saw it again in Baku and Singapore this year. He needs therefore to resist the temptation to be so aggressive on the brakes into the final sector in Abu Dhabi - and this might be a tricky thing for him to do, given the adverse points situation he's in whereby all-out attack would seem to be his only option.

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As such, the Abu Dhabi finale is delicately poised. The demands it makes of Rosberg - who needs only to finish in the top three if Hamilton wins - are perfectly aligned with his natural way of operating. Those it makes of Hamilton are well-suited to his natural take-no-prisoners style of racing, but there are hazards lying in wait that could almost have been diabolically devised to trip him up.   

If he loses this title to Rosberg, Hamilton will be able to quite legitimately claim that it was mechanical unreliability - rather than Rosberg himself - that beat him. But Rosberg has maximised Hamilton's problems with ruthless efficiency. By confidently playing the game his own way.

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