Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg has been crowned F1 world champion despite Lewis Hamilton winning the race today, after a tense and at times controversial season finale at Abu Dhabi.
The stage was all set for what was going to be a tense and nail-biting season finale at Abu Dhabi between Hamilton and Rosberg. For Hamilton to realistically win the title he needed to win the race, and hope that Rosberg could finish off the podium. From pole Hamilton got the better start and cruised into the lead of the race, building up a comfortable lead to his team mate Rosberg. However, the controversy started after the final round of pitstops. With the fate of the drivers’ championship now in the hands of the drivers, barring any reliability issues, Hamilton seemed to deliberately ignore a series of instructions to speed up from the Mercedes pitwall. With Paddy Lowe even issuing a demand to Hamilton to speed up. Though Hamilton simply replied,
“I am losing the world championship, I don’t care if l lose the race, I suggest you guys let us race.”
The controversy was Hamilton appeared to deliberately be driving slow and backing Rosberg up towards a fired-up Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen. Had both drivers been able to overtake Rosberg in the final moments of the race, Hamilton would have gained his fourth world championship. It was clear from the faces inside the Mercedes garage this was not what the team wanted for the championship, they wanted a fair fight between the two of them, rather than the uncomfortable and uneasy conclusion they got. Ultimately, despite his best efforts and winning the race as he had to do, Rosberg clung onto 2nd to become the 2016 Drivers’ World Champion.
“That was definitely not the most enjoyable race I’ve ever had,” said a relieved Rosberg after the race. “Those laps were really not very enjoyable. I’m glad it’s over, and I am ecstatic. Lewis is an unbelievable competitor, it was one of the best of all time, longest season ever and to beat him in unbelievably tough conditions, it was horrendous out there.”
Vettel ended up securing the final podium position in 3rd after becoming a potential headache for Rosberg and Mercedes in the final laps. It appeared after a long 20 races of bad calls, questionable tyre decisions, and at times borderline stupidity from Ferrari, this race they woke up their strategy team, who made the calls they needed to today to get Vettel to a podium position. Vettel went deep on his middle stint, allowing him to put on fresh tyres for the final stint, and thus slice his way through the field on fresher tyres. Tensions mounted as he closed in on the back of Rosberg in the final laps, though it would prove too much for Vettel and he had to settle for 3rd.
Verstappen was able to finish an impressive 4th today after drama at the start, when he hit the rear of Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India and spun to the back of the field. The young Dutchmen fought his way through on a risky one stop strategy, and despite being passed by Vettel in the closing stages, put in an incredible performance to finish so high up. His team mate Daniel Ricciardo was 5th ahead of the sister Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen in 6th. While Force India rounded off their best-ever season in the sport in style as Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez finished 7th and 8th respectively resulting in the team finishing 4th in constructors. The Williams of Felipe Massa finished 9th in his 250th and final race in Formula 1, though Fernando Alonso secured the final point in 10th, denying Massa 10th in the drivers championship.
Meanwhile, Jenson Button suffered a lame end to what is likely to be his final race in F1 after being forced to retire from the race with a broken suspension. It wasn’t a total loss however, as he could be seen with his family and friends soon after, enjoying a drink. He does not win the best retirement moment from the race though. That honour goes to Daniil Kvyat of Toro Rosso, who ended up stealing a marshal’s bike to cycle back to the paddock after his car stopped on track.
Overall, Abu Dhabi is one of those tracks that either has you on the edge of your seat screaming at the TV, or not paying attention due to the procession it’s creating. This was one of the later races, with many members of Overtake Motorsport on the edge of their seats during the tense final few laps. Debate focused solely around what Hamilton was doing, with NASCAR correspondent and Manager of OM Jordan Groves defending Hamilton, describing his actions as “Karting tactics,” going as far as to say “I understand racing and why Lewis tried to do what he did. It’s racing! He did everything he could to win apart from actually crash into him.” However, Jordan’s sentiments were not shared with every member of the team. With BTCC and Junior Formulae correspondent Bethonie Waring arguing “Hamilton ignored his superiors? I understand why he did it and everything, and I’m in two minds. Because on the one hand, I hate team orders. On the other hand, it just didn’t seem right. Winning the championship by going slow. It just felt like a dirty move.” I am inclined to agree with Bethonie. I understand what Hamilton was doing was racing in it’s purest form. He had the desire to win, and rather than admit defeat he tried every tactic he could to maximise his chances, however the move does feel dirty, I’m sure if he won the championship Hamilton would lose no sleep over a move like that. As I’m sure many drivers who have tried moves like that in the past haven’t lost sleep either. There will be many people who disagree with this, as there will be people who support it. Regardless of how you feel, this will go down as one of the tensest finishes to a Formula 1 season in a long time.
I’ll leave you now with my highlight of the weekend, and it is only fitting the moment of the weekend goes to the new world champion himself. The 33rd Formula 1 world champion, the 12th title for a German driver, only the 3rd ever German driver to win a championship, and the 2nd Rosberg on this list. Ladies and Gentleman, the 2016 Drivers world champion, Nico Rosberg.
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 27, 2016
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix race result
1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:38:04.013
2. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, + 0.439
3. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, + 0.843
4. Max Verstappen, Red Bull, +1.685
5. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, + 5.315
6. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, + 18.816
7. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, + 50.114
8. Sergio Perez, Force India, + 58.776
9. Felipe Massa, Williams, + 59.436
10. Fernando Alonso, McLaren, + 59.896
11. Romain Grosjean, Haas, + 76.777
12. Esteban Gutierrez, Haas, + 95.113
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, Toro Rosso, DNF
19. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, DNF
20. Jenson Button, McLaren, DNF
21. Valtteri Bottas, Williams, DNF
22. Kevin Magnussen, Renault, DNF
Feature Image Credit: Mercedes AMG Petronas Press Release.