It is possible that he takes a lights-to-flag victory from pole but, as alluded to above, another engine penalty may be necessary and he could need to overtake Verstappen on track. This would be less than ideal as the Abu Dhabi circuit is notoriously difficult for overtaking.
Fernando Alonso suffered badly in 2010, his Ferrari stuck behind the slower Renault of Vitaly Petrov for 37 laps as he finished seventh when fourth would have been enough to deny Sebastian Vettel his first world championship. It is not impossible that Hamilton gets stuck behind other drivers in an unfortunate way, handing an advantage to Verstappen.
On the other hand, it could also be Verstappen that suffers this fate if he trails Hamilton on track. The Yas Marina circuit has also been modified since 2020, with the hideous chicane towards the end of the second straight removed. The hairpin at the end of the first sector could be the new and best place to overtake.
A lot has been made of the Mercedes’ advantage in Brazil coming from their engine but Red Bull have been making lot of noise about the W12’s rear wing, too. Red Bull’s complaints led to new tests being introduced by the FIA after qualifying in Qatar. Horner had made comments of unusual “score marks” and insinuations of an unfair advantage. Toto Wolff said that Red Bull were seeing “ghosts”.
Mercedes, as they would do, have hit back saying everything is above board and that they will protest Red Bull’s car, too. It is all a little unseemly but predictable and expected, given what is at stake and the heightened tensions throughout the year. But it is nothing new.
Just as the chances of an on-track collision are increasing, so is the possibility of the championship decided in the courts some time before – or even after? – Christmas.
Given the furore over Verstappen’s lack of penalty for his defensive move in Brazil, the championship could be decided not in the courts but in the stewards’ room after the race.
Both of these would lead a sour taste in the mouth.