ABU DHABI - Lewis Hamilton goes into Sunday's 'double jeopardy' season-ending showdown at Abu Dhabi knowing he is one race away from his dream of a second world title, or a nightmare end to Formula One's duel in the desert.

The 29-year-old Briton leads his Mercedes team-mate and one-time teenage friend German Nico Rosberg by 17 points, a situation that is certain to deliver a Mercedes works team driver as the drivers' champion for the first time since 1955. But it is also one that leaves the final outcome open to a myriad of permutations. In any normal year, Hamilton could take the title with a top six finish in his supreme Mercedes car, no matter what Rosberg manages to achieve.

This season, however, thanks to the introduction of double points for the final race, the Englishman could be given another taste of the disappointment that he experienced in Brazil in 2007 and at the spectacular Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi in 2010. In 2008, he won the title with a last corner overtake that delivered one of the sport's most dramatic finales after falling down the order when a rainstorm hit the Brazilian Grand Prix. Rain is unlikely, if not improbable, on Sunday, but any kind of mechanical failure, that might stop or hamper the progress of either man, and therefore decide the outcome of a roller-coaster title race that has been tense and sometimes acrimonious, would be a nightmare too for the Mercedes team who are horrified by that prospect.

"Clearly Lewis breaking down would be a nightmare," said team principal Tito Wolff. "We want the championship to end in a straight and fair battle and not by one of them breaking down. We need to provide him with the most reliable car." On recent form, Hamilton goes into Sunday's 55-lap race as favourite after winning five of the last six races, a run that was halted by Rosberg's retaliation in Brazil where he triumphed for the first time in eight races since the German Grand Prix in July.

That victory increased Rosberg's total to five for the season compared to Hamilton's 10. Hamilton, however, leads the title race by 17 points. "There is zero comfort going into the next race because it's 50 points to gain," he explained. "In the last race, you never know what is going to happen so I'm going to the last race to win."

For each man, the goal is clear: to finish ahead of his rival and to win the race. For Hamilton, that would be enough. For Rosberg to succeed, he would also need to see Hamilton fail to finish second behind him, as he has three times this year -- in Monaco, Austria and Brazil -- among a record 11 one-twos achieved by the team. Another Mercedes win on Sunday would give them a record 16 for the season, from 19 races.

Wolff, among many, has felt the wave of disapproval of the new points system for the final race. "We have had a big backlash from the fans and many vocal personalities who don't like the system," he said. "I have been a racing driver myself and I wouldn't have wanted to have double points. The decision we all took together probably wasn't the right one and we need to change it for the future."

While the spotlight will focus unremittingly on the Mercedes men, Ferrari will seek to avoid their first winless year since 1993 and avoid allowing Williams to finish ahead of them for the first time since their last championship-winning season in 1997. Like four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull, two-time champion Fernando Alonso will seek to sign off from his current team with a memorable showing in his final race. Both men are moving on, Vettel to Ferrari and Alonso to McLaren, subject to final confirmation from their new teams. That is expected in December and may confirm also that this Sunday's race is 2009 champion Jenson Button's last outing with McLaren. At the other end of the paddock, the season may end amid accusations and recriminations as the cash-strapped Sauber team, fighting for survival, face ending a season pointless for the first time and Caterham, in administration and racing with a reduced team, bid to attract new investment. That may signal one of several farewells as the curtain comes down on a turbulent season and an extraordinary race weekend.