Nico Rosberg has done it. Despite being pitted against a teammate as talented as Lewis Hamilton, despite all the pressure and skeptics, he has managed to get the job done. Rosberg finished second and won his maiden World Champion title in Abu Dhabi, bringing an end to a hard fought battle between the duo all season.
For most, Nico Rosberg is an unlikely champion. He doesn’t necessarily have the raw pace of say a Fernando Alonso or Sebastian Vettel on track, nor does he exude Hamilton's rockstar-like vibe. Instead, Rosberg has been consistent and focused, delivering performance after performance every race weekend. In fact, here’s a telling statistic – Rosberg has been on the podium 16 times this season, and failed to score points only once (when the Mercedes drivers collided in Spain.)
Nico Rosberg and his father, Keke Rosberg have now become the second father-son duo to be world champions after Graham and Damon Hill. He’s an eerie coincidence – Graham won in 1962, while Damon won in 1996 (a difference of 34 years). Similarly, Keke won in 1982, while Nico has won in 2016. Another strange coincidence – both Keke and Nico won their championships by five points.
Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton won the battle, but lost the war – his P1 finish at Yas Marina was simply not enough. Hamilton has been in the form of his life, fighting back and wining the last four races of the season on the trot.
While he was denied his fourth championship this year , there is no doubt that he’s going to come back stronger than ever in 2017, hoping to equal his hero Ayrton Senna’s record of four world titles. The one statistic that could trouble Hamilton is the fact that he’s lost the championship to a teammate for the first time. Post race, it was mildly disappointing to see Hamilton continue to perpetrate conspiracies theories, rather than graciously acknowledge his teammate’s victory.
While Formula 1 prides itself on being the fastest sport in the world, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was won by a driver (Hamilton) driving as slowly as he possibly could. He knew that the only way he could win the title was by holding back Rosberg and hoping that Vettel and Max Verstappen overtake. This would’ve meant that Rosberg would have finished P4, giving the championship to Hamilton. However, this was not meant to be – even at its slowest, the Mercedes car was still too quick for its rivals. As they crossed the finish line, the top four were separated by just about three seconds – a measure of how close the race had been. Frustrating for Rosberg, but great for us fans.
It is an interesting question to ask whether Hamilton’s strategy was fair, or even sporting, for that matter (Vettel called it “dirty tricks”.) As a true blooded racer, he was just doing what it took to get his championship, everything else be damned. Races are won as much on strategy as on pure speed, and Hamilton was doing exactly that. Why didn’t Rosberg try and overtake on track? Obviously, it was too risky for him to go wheel-to-wheel with his teammate, who had nothing to lose. Also in the past, Rosberg has emerged the loser in these close battles with Hamilton. Unfortunately, the Mercedes management was not impressed by Hamilton’s tactics and he will certainly have some explaining to do.
As a team, it is not acceptable that a driver blatantly ignores team orders, putting his interests above those of the team. Perhaps Hamilton has learnt the art of ignoring team orders from Max Verstappen?
To complete the podium, Vettel finished the race in P3 thanks to an exciting and alternate tyre strategy from Ferrari. After some serious strategic errors this season (which cost them podiums) it’s good to know that they can still get the job done. It was interesting to note that Vettel never aggressively challenged Rosberg for P2 in the last few laps of the race. Were his tyres giving way (as he claimed), or was he happy to ‘help’ compatriot Rosberg win the 2016 championship, and not let Hamilton equal his record of being a quadruple world champion? Guess we will never know the truth, unless Vettel tells all someday in his autobiography. The German also sealed his fourth place in the Driver’s Championship, holding off the challenge from Verstappen.
Max Verstappen had a scare at the first turn, which dropped him to the bottom of the order. Despite that, Max managed to land himself right in the middle of the Hamilton vs Rosberg battle after the first round of pitstops thanks to his tyre strategy of staying out longer. Rosberg overtaking Verstappen on track was perhaps the most intense moment of the race, especially because the two came so close to having an incident (Rosberg must be very grateful that ‘The Verstappen’ defensive move was banned.) While our wish of a wheel-to-wheel battle between Hamilton and Rosberg was not fulfilled, this wasn’t bad either.
Force India confirmed their fourth place in the Constructors Championship, beating Williams to it. In the end, the battle was not really so close. Force India finished a clear 35 points ahead of their rivals, bringing home both cars in the points at Abu Dhabi. This career best result for Force India has definitely called them out as the ‘best of the rest’ in the field, with a real chance of fighting for podiums.
Finally, Felipe Massa finished the last race of his career in ninth place, while Jenson Button was unfortunate to suffer from a car failure which forced him to retire.
For more analysis on Abu Dhabi, tune in to the podcast
Join Mithila and Zenia on Firstpost's Facebook LIVE on Monday as they discuss the race that was.