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Nico v Lewis: Road to Abu Dhabi

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Nico Rosberg heads into the season-deciding Abu Dhabi GP holding a 12-point lead over Lewis Hamilton in the battle for the 2016 F1 world title. 

It's been a season of twists, turns and even collisions for the Mercedes team-mates and it's made for a thrilling title race. Here, we chart how the Drivers' Championship has unfolded so far in 2016 with one round to go.

Australian GP

A slow getaway from Lewis Hamilton saw the pole-sitter drop as low as seventh in Melbourne, while it looked like Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari were in control after storming to the front off the line. However, a red flag following Fernando Alonso's heavy crash scuppered the Scuderia's strategy and both Mercedes drivers capitalised, with Nico Rosberg eventually finishing eight seconds ahead of his team-mate.

"Nico absolutely drove brilliantly - but he absolutely got the luck as well," noted Sky F1's Ted Kravitz.

Bahrain GP

Another pole for Hamilton, but another poor start saw him make contact with Valtteri Bottas at Turn One. The world champion dropped as low as ninth before fighting his way back to third in a damaged W07 behind Kimi Raikkonen, while Rosberg was rarely troubled on his way to his fifth victory in a row -  a streak stretching back to the 2015 season.

"Nico Rosberg is faster, better, and has greater self-belief than back then [when Hamilton overturned a points deficit in 2014]," said Martin Brundle. "In my view Rosberg has a real chance to win this championship, although Lewis still has the edge on speed."

Chinese GP

Rosberg left the drama and chaos behind him in Shanghai to extend his winning run and open up a commanding lead in the title race. Hamilton started at the back of the grid due to power unit problems in qualifying and and suffered front-wing damage at the first corner, wher Vettel and Raikkonen also made contact. The Brit eventually finished seventh with Rosberg winning ahead of Vettel and Daniil Kvyat by over 30 seconds.

Russian GP

Another power unit failure for Hamilton saw him qualify in 10th, allowing Rosberg to take another pole position. And once again, the leader avoided yet more first-lap carnage - this time involving Kvyat and Vettel - to dominate the race from start to finish. A seventh win in a row put Rosberg level with Michael Schumacher and Alberto Ascari's legendary streaks - and in complete control of the championship - though Hamilton was able to limit the damage by finishing second.

Spanish GP

After the perfect start to 2016, Rosberg well and truly came crashing down to earth - and he brought Hamilton with him. A dramatic first-lap collision between the two Mercedes team-mates opened the door to their rivals, with Max Verstappen taking an historic first F1 victory in his first race for Red Bull. Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen was just behind the teenager in second, and leapfrogged Hamilton in the standings. But all the debate after the race was focused on the first lap collision between the two Mercedes cars.

"Hamilton goes for the gap, but the angle Rosberg is coming over... It was risky, but that is racing," said Anthony Davidson about the Turn Four crash. "It was very aggressive from Rosberg I must say."

Monaco GP

Hamilton finally ended his Monaco GP hoodoo and secured his first win of the season at F1's showpiece event with excellent tyre-management skills - though he was perhaps fortunate after a Red Bull's pit stop blunder cost Daniel Ricciardo. As for Rosberg, the German struggled following the Safety Car start of the wet-dry race, and finished behind two Force Indias and a McLaren in seventh place. For the first time in 2016, Rosberg had been beaten by his team-mate.

"That was probably one of Hamilton's best-ever victories," said Damon Hill. "Amazing."

Canadian GP

The Montreal race brought yet more first-lap contact between the Mercedes drivers - though this time Hamilton escaped unscathed while Rosberg was nudged off the track. Instead it was Vettel who the world champion had to fight off on this occasion, with tyre strategy eventually playing into his hands. Rosberg had to watch Lewis win again and finished only fifth after spinning while attacking Verstappen in the closing stages.

European GP

Hamilton was on a roll heading into the inaugural Baku grand prix, but a mistake in Q3 cost him pole position. Meanwhile, it was a near-perfect weekend for Rosberg, who led every lap from pole position and was untroubled by the inconsistent power deployment that was troubling his team-mate. Hamilton eventually finished a distant fifth, with Vettel and Sergio Perez completing the podium.

Austrian GP

Rosberg was a man on a mission in Spielberg and fought back from sixth to lead the race, but he was badly losing grip in the closing stages. With Hamilton, angered by his team's strategy, closing in, a dramatic final lap followed. Lewis went around the outside of Turn Two but Rosberg refused to yield, colliding with his team-mate and forcing both off the track. However, the German came off second best and fell to fourth thanks to the damage to his W07.

"He wanted to be 31 points ahead, but through poor racecraft, he ended up with a lead of only 11 points," said Brundle.

British GP

The threat of team orders was hanging over the Mercedes pair coming into Hamilton's home grand prix, but in truth the title rivals were never even close to each other at Silverstone. A faultless Brit led from start to finish while Rosberg, who had followed his team-mate, was dropped to third behind Verstappen after receiving a 10-second time penalty from the stewards for Mercedes' radio error. As for Hamilton...

"He's 31 and I think he's absolutely smack in the prime of his career now," said 1996 world champion Hill. "Thirty-one, 32, 33. He's able to drive and think and make decisions, it's not all flat-out."

Hungarian GP

The race at the Hungaroring was effectively decided when a fast-starting Hamilton beat the pole-sitting Rosberg off the line to assume control on a circuit where overtaking is notoriously difficult. Twice Rosberg closed to within half a second of his team-mate only for Hamilton to immediately increase his pace and pull away, sealing his fifth Hungaroring win and taking a lead of the world championship for the first time in 2016.

German GP

Again, the Hockenheim race was decided by the first corner with Hamilton charging off the line to overtake Rosberg as the German slipped down to fourth behind the Red Bulls. Nico's day then went from bad to worse with the stewards' handing him a five-second penalty after pushing Verstappen off the track with an aggressive move. Hamilton, meanwhile, had now won six of the last seven races and has a fourth world title firmly in his sights...

"Twelve down and nine to go, we have seen a remarkable turnaround in the championship battle these past few weeks," said Brundle.

Belgian GP

Rosberg may have stopped Hamilton's winning streak, cutting his title lead to nine points with victory in Spa, but both Mercedes drivers had reason to celebrate after emerging unscathed from a race of chaos and controversy. Starting from the last row of the grid after a host of engine change penalties, Hamilton, profiting from Vettel, Raikkonen and Verstappen's first-corner crash, finished third, while Rosberg enjoyed an incident-free cruise.

Italian GP

The Monza race was Hamilton's to lose as the Brit started on pole - but lose it he did. Hamilton was at a loss to explain what had gone wrong as his hopes of winning the race were scuppered by a terrible start, and in the end he conceded that second place was the best he could manage. Rosberg wasn't complaining; his one-stop strategy worked to perfection and once again he eased to victory. The chase was on.

Singapore GP

The pendulum in the title race swung once again in Singapore as Rosberg enjoyed a near-perfect weekend while his team-mate struggled. Not only did the German secure pole by 0.7s but he followed that up with a faultless race, though he was pushed all way by Ricciardo in the closing stages. As for Hamilton, his Friday running was badly disrupted through mechanical glitches, while brake issues persisted for both W07s in the race. Still, this was a ragged performance from the world champion, perhaps one of a man under pressure, now eight points behind his rival.

"Three on the bounce and 75 points in four weeks, faultlessly. It looks like it's Lewis who is slightly on the back foot," noted Brundle.

Malaysia GP

The most critical day in this season's title race? After Rosberg's hat-trick of wins, Hamilton seemed set to reclaim the points lead during a dominant Sepang performance in which he claimed pole from his team-mate by 0.4s and then led the race from the Red Bulls by over 20 seconds. But then, entering lap 41 of 56, BANG. In the space of seconds, as Hamilton's Mercedes went up in a plume of smoke, a 28-point swing suddenly transpired as the Briton retired and Rosberg salvaged third behind the one-two-finishing Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.

A disbelieving and angry Hamilton initially appeared to stoke talk of a conspiracy, before later insisting he had full faith in Mercedes. "I have no idea what's going to happen in these next five races, all I can do is do what I've done this weekend," he insisted.

Japanese GP

Just days after the heartache of Sepang, Hamilton became embroiled with a row with the media at Suzuka after he spent more time playing on Snapchat in the Drivers' Press Conference than answering their questions. On Saturday he then walked out of his regular press briefing due to what he said was exaggerated coverage of his actions. 

On the track, Hamilton was pipped to pole by Rosberg and then once more went into reverse at the start, dropping to eighth while his team-mate went on to claim another untroubled, but crucial win. Hamilton recovered to third, but couldn't get past Max Verstappen, meaning he dropped 10 more points to Rosberg - giving the German a 33-point title lead. For the first time, his title defence was now out of his hands. 

United States GP

Hamilton brought his five-race victory drought to an end at the US GP with his 50th career win, but Rosberg limited the damage to seven points lost courtesy of a fortuitous final pitstop under the Virtual Safety Car. After the stormy events of Suzuka, Hamilton was a model of consistency all weekend and led all but three of the Austin race's 56 laps.

"He said post race that he knew exactly how the start would be and that it worked to perfection," said Brundle. "As we have often seen he was in a class of one on Sunday afternoon, serenely taking victory although still publicly poking his team about reliability and power loss." 

Mexican GP

2015's return to Mexico had been dominated by Rosberg, but Hamilton didn't give his title-leading team-mate a sniff of victory on this occasion as he dominated the entire weekend at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. Struggling with the set-up on his Mercedes, Rosberg came as close as he had all year to not qualifying on the front row, but responded under pressure at the end of Q3 to take second to Hamilton.

Despite contact with Verstappen at the first corner of the race, and then a fresh onslaught from the Dutchman later on, Rosberg stood firm and claimed another important second-place finish. But his points advantage over Hamilton was now down to 19.

Brazilian GP

Rosberg's first realistic chance to wrap up the world title came at Interlagos, but Hamilton's third supreme victory in a row denied the German and meant their title fight would go all the way to Abu Dhabi.

On a Sunday of non-stop rain and several stoppages, Hamilton was never headed at the front while Rosberg was fortunate to finish second. Although the championship leader was overtaken this time by Max Verstappen, he regained second place when Red Bull gambled on switching to intermediate tyres and the Dutchman dropped down the order. It meant Rosberg's title advantage was cut to 12 points heading into the Abu Dhabi decider.

But, after a season of numerous twists and turns, it's Rosberg who remains in the world championship box seat with a third place in the decider sufficient for his maiden crown.

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