Lewis Hamilton caps the year with victory at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. But victory was not enough for his fourth Formula One title as Rosberg clinched his first.
The duel in the desert was called upon to decide the title as the 2016 Formula One season went the distance. Pitching Lewis against Nico for one last joust, but handing Hamilton an uphill task to scupper his team-mate. And despite clinching the final win of the year, his tenth of the season, Hamilton could do no more and Rosberg grabbed his first Formula One crown. Consistency out-doing race victories.
Nico Rosberg has been consistent throughout the 2016 season. Picking up where he ended 2015 and winning from the off. But in the end, a podium was all he needed. Crossing the line in second place to clinch his first Formula One title by five points to Hamilton.
A three-time Formula One champion, Lewis Hamilton, who went into the season-finale sitting on pole after dominating throughout the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend. Aiming to somehow prevent his team-mate from taking the title, while also becoming just the sixth man to take pole and victory in four consecutive races.
Hamilton did have a good omen on his side going into the race, as well. After Jake Hughes won the season-finale GP3 race and Alex Lynn ended the GP2 season with victory. A feat that happened back at Hockenheim, when Hamilton went on to win the Grand Prix and Rosberg came home in 4th. A scenario he would have to replicate for any chance of taking the title.
But despite Alex Lynn and Jake Hughes taking their respective victories, Pierre Gasly was crowned GP2 champion and Charles LeClerc took the GP3 series title. A pattern followed by Rosberg and Hamilton, with Lewis winning the race and Rosberg the title.
Knowing he would have to see his team-mate finish off the podium for any chance of taking the title, Hamilton’s race got off to a steady start. Pulling away from the grid cleanly and leading out of the first corner.
The start of the race was far from clean for Verstappen, though. Pulling away slowly then clipping the rear of Hulkenberg, pitching his Red Bull into a spin. A spin that nearly brought his race to an immediate end and eliminate one of Hamilton’s potential podium finishers. Nothing bar a good save by the Dutchman to keep his race going.
While Verstappen then set about working his way back through the field, Hamilton was steadily edging away from Rosberg to break the DRS zone. And with a one-second window in hand, he stopped stretching the gap. Keeping Rosberg within touching distance of Ricciardo and the Ferrari’s.
Ricciardo may have slipped behind Raikkonen off the line, when his super-soft tyres gave him less grip than the ultra-soft tyres around him, but he kept his Red Bull in the mix. All the while Verstappen picked up his fight, taking Grosjean at turn eight and costing the Frenchman another place to Gutierrez.
Then when the leaders stopped for their first change of tyres, Verstappen came into play. Emerging between the Silver Arrows after both Hamilton and Rosberg were held up by the Ferrari duo. The extra seconds Nico found himself held in his box also dragging Raikkonen closer to his gearbox.
Max also did what Lewis did not want to. Hold Rosberg up.
As Hamilton kept a controlled distance between himself and Verstappen, Max was aiming to stretch out his opening stint on the super-soft tyres. Even at the expense of Rosberg, as the champion-elect failed to make a move.
Mercedes to Nico: “They’re purposely making Verstappen go slow, you need to get past him.”
Verstappen stretching his stint also meant Ricciardo would close up to the Ferrari’s in their battle for the constructors’ championship. But when he reported he was beginning to lose the rear tyres, Ricciardo and Raikkonen were falling away into their own fight.
With Ricciardo gaining on Raikkonen for fourth place, the Australian made a lunge down the inside of the Ferrari at Turn 11. But Daniel could not get the car to slow down and overran the corner. Now bringing Vettel into play as he just stayed ahead.
Still behind Verstappen, Rosberg was now being told it had become “critical” he overtook the Red Bull. Yet even after feeling his rears begin to go, Verstappen told his pit wall “I think we shouldn’t box, we are quick.”
But his pace was not enough when Rosberg made a move from a long way back at Turn 8. Fighting back through the chicane even made the move easier for Nico as he carried far more exit speed from nine to give him the drive down the following DRS straight.
With the position gone, it was time to box for Verstappen. With Red Bull calling in the young charger for his one and only stop of the race. The team then kept their mechanics busy as Ricciardo came in shortly after as he aimed to undercut Raikkonen.
An undercut he completed, as did Verstappen, as Raikkonen came out behind both Red Bulls. Yet Vettel remained out, attempting a different strategy that would tee up a tense and fast ending to the race.
Mercedes, on the other hand, were keeping their drivers on the same strategy. Calling Hamilton in first and then Rosberg on the following lap with both cars completing smooth pit stops and emerging clear of Verstappen.
Prior to their stops as well, Nico’s race strategy became clear. Finish second, even if Hamilton wins.
Rosberg “How is my race looking?
Engineer: “P2 is safe at the moment, Nico”
Rosberg: “That’s good to know!”
Hamilton, though, was thinking differently. Still vying for the title, even at the annoyance of Mercedes.
An annoyance triggered by Hamilton backing off and lowering his pace in a bid to back Rosberg into Verstappen and the oncoming challengers. With Mercedes not favouring one driver other the other, rather aiming to end the year with at least one of their drivers stood atop the podium.
Mercedes to Lewis: “Just wondering why you’re so slow? Currently unsafe to Vettel,” as Sebastian tried his contrasting strategy.
When Vettel emerged from the pits in fifth place but with a set of super-soft tyres, he set about catching the leaders like a bolt of lightning. Charging up to the Red Bulls and picking off Ricciardo as quickly as he caught him.
Vettel’s move on Ricciardo, though, did cut it tight. Putting the Red Bull off-line before swooping straight across Daniel’s front wing, as Vettel knew he had to take the inside line to prevent Ricciardo from darting back in the braking zone.
Hamilton was then repeatedly ordered to pick up his pace, with Executive Director (Technical) – Paddy Lowe – even coming over the radio to instruct him to pick up the pace.
Rosberg, meanwhile, was making a questionable request of his own. Asking the team to swap places with Hamilton as Lewis was setting “really slow pace”. Claimed “if he is still second at the end I will let him back past.” Needless to say, Mercedes did not swap their drivers around.
Nor was it likely Hamilton would swap places with Nico as he continued to push him back into the clutches of Verstappen and Vettel. An order that did swap as Vettel snatched third from Max at the end of the second DRS zone.
Now came the tense ending to an endless fight between Hamilton and Rosberg. With the title still to play for, Hamilton kept pushing his team-mate back and back and back. Completing laps nearly nine seconds off his flat out pace.
But in the end, Vettel could not challenge Rosberg for second. A change of positions that would still have seen Nico crowned champion. And with Verstappen falling marginally away from Vettel’s Ferrari, Nico’s name was etched on the trophy.
Joy for the Rosberg family as Nico Rosberg followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming champion of Formula One, 34 years after Keke claimed his crown.
But while it was joy for Rosberg, the day saw the careers of Felipe Massa and Jenson Button come to an end. With Felipe bringing his Williams home in the points for one last time.
Unfortunately for Button, his farewell Grand Prix came to an end early on with a suspension failure. A failure not regularly associated with a McLaren, but one that saw Jenson limp home after clouting the kerb at turn nine. A retirement, however, would not dampen his day. Standing on his McLaren’s nosecone and waving to the fans that rose to their foot and applaud the 2009 champion.
Valtteri Bottas also retired from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix early on, alongside Kevin Magnussen. With Valtteri’s retirement confirming Force India’s position ahead of Williams in the Constructors’ Championship.
|4||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||1.685||12|
|5||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||5.315||10|
|7||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India||50.114||6|
|8||Sergio Perez||Force India||58.776||4|
|13||Esteban Ocon||Manor||1 lap|
|14||Pascal Wehrlein||Manor||1 lap|
|15||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber||1 lap|
|16||Felipe Nasr||Sauber||1 lap|
|17||Jolyon Palmer||Renault||1 lap|
|18||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Toro Rosso||DNF|
|19||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||DNF|