By Alan Baldwin
AUSTIN Texas (Reuters) - Awarding double points for the final race of the Formula One season is a gimmick but one that American fans may understand more than most, according to the country's last world champion Mario Andretti.
With an unprecedented 50 points available to the winner in Abu Dhabi on Nov. 23, the title battle between Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg looks set to go down to the wire with possibly a shock outcome.
It could be that 2008 champion Hamilton ends the season with 11 wins (currently nine) to Rosberg's five (four at present) but still walks away without the second crown he covets.
Andretti, the 1978 champion with Lotus, shrugged at the possibility.
"(American fans) are probably the only ones that can understand that because of NASCAR," the 74-year-old told Reuters at the U.S. Grand Prix, the 17th of the season's 19 races.
"You talk about gimmicks and look at the way the NASCAR championship is going," he smiled. "It's almost ridiculous."
NASCAR has changed its Chase format this year from 10 rounds to decide the title to a series of three-race groupings with four drivers eliminated from contention after each and the points reset.
The final four drivers will then fight it out for the title at Miami's Homestead track on Nov. 16 with the highest finisher winning.
That has left six times winner Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr already out of the reckoning while Ryan Newman could become champion without winning a race.
"It is what it is," said Andretti. "With the double points in Abu Dhabi, you would hope that the champion is not the one that wins because of that. Because there will always be an asterisk (alongside his name).
"But then again, he's still the champion. Anyway you look at it, somebody is going to be happy and somebody is not going to be happy.
"If I am second or third and I mathematically have a chance because of double points, I'm going to love it. If I'm leading going in, then I'm going to hate it."
Hamilton leads Rosberg by just 17 points at present with mechanical failure a constant worry for the Mercedes pair who have both suffered blanks this year.
Andretti said that whatever the outcome, it had been a 'fabulous' championship.
"It's going to be riveting because these two guys can fight it out in earnest, clearly and do whatever. Take each other out or whatever," he laughed.
"They both deserve to be champions. And this is the thing to remember. Nobody needs to put their head down, they both did a fabulous job.
"It (double points) is a gimmick but it's equal for everyone to deal with. Everyone knows it's there."
Andretti, who won his title with six wins in a championship tinged with tragedy after the death of his Swedish team mate Ronnie Peterson at Monza, said ultimately the novelty was probably worth trying out.
"Does it serve the series? It probably does. Look at the dialogue that it's creating. It cannot all be bad."
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ian Chadband)