Nico Rosberg was crowned the 2016 Formula One World Champion following a tense battle with teammate Lewis Hamilton in Abu Dhabi last weekend. He then announced his retirement from the sport. The German achieved the feat 34 years after his father, Keke Rosberg, won his first World Championship, making the Rosberg only the second father and son pairing after Damon and Graham Hill to win an F1 title, also 34 years apart.
Ahead of the race the permutations were clear. If Rosberg could claim a spot on the podium, irrespective of where main rival and teammate Lewis Hamilton finished, the title would be his. For Hamilton, a race win was required in conjunction with Rosberg finishing outside of the top three in order for the Brit to claim his third world title.
Prior to the Sunday showdown, there was heated speculation over how Hamilton could possibly influence the result of the race within the boundaries of the F1s rules. One theory was for Hamilton to push Rosberg wide at the first corner in a repeat of Canada earlier in the season and Austin last year. The second and altogether more likely option, was for Hamilton to lead from the front and control the pace of the race, forcing Rosberg to be ‘backed up’ into the clutches of the Ferrari and Red Bull cars waiting behind. Hamilton claimed he would use neither tactic, planning instead to drive away into the distance and prove that he was the faster driver.
However, the urge to claim a fourth world title proved too great for Hamilton, who instead opted to slow the pace of the race, which allowed the Red Bulls and Ferraris to put pressure on his teammate from an early stage. Supporters and pundits alike speculated that Max Verstappen would be the key, believing that he would provide the stop-gap between the Mercedes drivers. But almost immediately after the start of the race, Verstappen spun, forcing the Dutchman to the back of the field. As the leaders all made their pit stops, Verstappen and Red Bull then employed a cunning turn, opting to change the 19-year-old from a two-stop to a one-stop strategy, a decision which allowed the young driver to leapfrog the field and climb to second. After his own stop Verstappen emerged in fourth place and not far behind the two Mercedes cars and Sebastian Vettel, who was on a longer second stint.
Vettel eventually came into the pits to change onto the faster tyres, re-emerging in sixth, 15 seconds behind Hamilton who resumed the race lead. This gave Vettel the advantage, allowing the former World Champion to close the gap on the trio ahead by two seconds each lap. Meanwhile at the front, Hamilton continued to dictate a slower pace prompting calls from Mercedes Technical Director Paddy Lowe for Hamilton to speed up, amid concerns that a Mercedes race win could be in jeopardy. Hamilton refused, setting up a tense final five laps. Rosberg, who by this point could see fourth placed Max Verstappen in his wing mirrors, fought on valiantly, resisting the attacks of Vettel to hold on to his second place and claim the title. The top four eventually finished within 1.6 seconds of each other for one of the closest finishes to a World Championship ever.
In the end, it is fair to conclude that the Championship had been all but decided long before the final race in Abu Dhabi.
Hamilton had suffered greatly with reliability problems earlier in the season which had affected his grid positions and ultimately his race performance.
In China his race was compromised following a crash at the start, while in Malaysia he suffered an engine failure when on course to win a race that in hindsight, may have handed him the World Championship ahead of Rosberg.
Despite all of this, Hamilton took more wins than Rosberg across the course of the season, recording ten victories to Rosberg’s nine and twelve pole positions to his team mate’s eight. In some respects Hamilton has been his own worst enemy, failing to take advantage of pole positions in Australia, Canada, Italy and Japan which in the end put a major dent in his title credentials.
By contrast, Rosberg has been the most consistent driver, starting from the front row in every race this season. He has always appeared focused compared to Hamilton who is well known for his love of the celebrity lifestyle, and perhaps it is that which gave Rosberg the edge.
When announcing his retirement from Formula One at the age of 31, Rosberg said: “I have climbed my mountain, I am on the peak, so this feels right.” Rosberg has ended his career having taken part in 206 grands prix, with 23 race wins and 57 podium finishes. In the end, history will tell only one story, Rosberg is the 2016 Formula One World Champion, and a deserving champion at that.