In the end, the right man won. Lewis Hamilton was crowned 2014 World Champion by doing it in style, winning the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after dominating the final round to make his tally 11 wins to five for Nico Rosberg.
And yet, despite such a clear-cut margin on paper, the intrigue continued and tension mounted through two days of practice as Rosberg claimed pole and a crest-fallen Hamilton made a mistake on his best lap to take a place on the outside of the front row.
You would think, with a 17-point advantage, Hamilton would have remained relaxed. That might have been the case had a very unpopular double points allocation for this race not threatened to skew logic and the pattern of the season. If, for example, Hamilton retired, Rosberg only needed to finish in the top five to take his first title. Or, if Hamilton made a bad start, he was only too aware that the continually improving Williams team, filling the second row, would be ready to pounce. And if Rosberg won and Hamilton finished lower than second, it would be game over for the Englishman.
Small wonder Hamilton would later confess he did not sleep well. He awoke at 5am and went for a run, hoping he would be still be fresh for a start a full twelve hours later, the Abu Dhabi race beginning at dusk and finishing under floodlights.
The tension on the grid was as palpable as any championship finale in the past, the two Mercedes lining up on the front row for the 12th time in 2014. When asked, experienced race pundits could not agree on the possible outcome. Yes, Hamilton had an advantage but would his super-competitive temperament get the better of him and lead to trouble at the first corner?
In the event, all speculation effectively ended within seconds of the red lights going out. Hamilton made what he later described as one of the best starts of his career, the software buried within the Mercedes finding the perfect balance between grip and engine revs for the initial take-off, Hamilton’s throttle control then taking over as he rocketed past Rosberg and led by several metres as they came out of the first corner.
Rosberg stayed within two or three seconds, the pair swapping fastest laps as the first pit stops came and went, both drivers getting rid of the Supersoft tyre for the more durable Soft after ten of the 55 laps. Rosberg continued to hold station, the plan being to look after his tyres, run long at this stage and then return to the Supersoft for an attacking third and final stint.
That plan went awry after 24 laps. Rosberg running wide at Turn 17 was the first indication of a problem buried deep in the complex electronics and machinery behind his shoulders. His technicians quickly detected a problem with the ERS (Energy Recovery System). The loss of 120 kW was soon evident as car number 6 began to slide down the lap chart, Rosberg literally powerless to prevent it.
His one hope of staying in the top five in the event of Hamilton perhaps suffering a similar problem was scuppered when Rosberg made his second planned stop and dropped to seventh. Then eighth. The frustration was palpable when Rosberg asked his crew if there was anything he could do to ameliorate the problem. There was nothing. The slide to an eventual 14th place continued.
Hamilton, meanwhile, faced a dilemma. Felipe Massa was closing fast, the Williams-Mercedes having made a late stop for the Supersoft, exactly as Rosberg had planned to do. Hamilton had to decide between winning the title in style and perhaps asking too much of his car and tyres. When Rosberg dropped from a points scoring position, the decision was made easier, Hamilton doing enough to beat the flying Massa by 2,5 seconds with the other Williams of Valtteri Bottas finishing third after clutch slip at the start had dropped him to eighth.
The most spectacular progress of all – no surprise, given his performances this year – came from Daniel Ricciardo, starting from the pit lane (after qualifying times had been deleted when the nose wings on his and Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bulls were found to be flexing too much) and finishing fourth.
“It’s a good result at the end of what’s been pretty much a perfect season – or as perfect as it can be without winning the world title,” grinned Ricciardo.
That feeling of ultimate perfection went to Hamilton, even if he was never sure of it right to the end of a great season with some superb racing from Australia in March to Abu Dhabi in November.