Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg secures his first Formula 1 World Championship, and equals a record in the process at the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
It took 20 years, but Damon Hill’s record was finally broken when Nico Rosberg became only the second driver in Formula 1 history to succeed his father as a World Champion at the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. An oddly climactic ending to an otherwise disappointing championship.
By round four in Russia, it had become clear that only Ferrari or Red Bull Racing would be challenging Mercedes for ‘the other’ spot on the podium, and by Suzuka – by which point the three-pointed star had secured its third consecutive Constructors’ Championship four rounds early – it became clear that both Max Verstappen’s debut victory with Red Bull in Barcelona and teammate Daniel Ricciardo’s win in Singapore had been shots in the dark. That Mercedes would re-break a record it had set in 2015 – with 722 Constructors’ Championship points versus 703 – the writing was on the wall for a fan interest dive-bomb.
Who though would emerge victorious for the Drivers’ title? Bizarrely, both fans and bookies favoured the challenger, Lewis Hamilton – already a three-time champion – given that he’d been there, done that, and bought multiple t-shirts off the sales of his title-winning merchandise. That he could come from behind and win the big prize had been proven in 2008, and that he could pull a big result when needed was beyond question: his 2014 and 2015 title wins are indelibly linked with fiery drives at Silverstone, Monza and Abu Dhabi during the former, and Canada and Texas during the latter. That he had also won more races in Formula 1 history bar Michael Schumacher going into the season finale in Abu Dhabi – 91 vs 52 (now 53) – meant Hamilton was not only a force to be reckoned with, but also, in many ways, a championship favourite.
Then there was the standings leader, Nico Rosberg. A feisty debut win at the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix with Mercedes earmarked his potential. A further 22 since then – enough for 12th in the all-time winners’ list – confirmed as such. After all, Rosberg had both ended his 2015 season and begun his 2016 year in dominant fashion, seven race wins on the trot equalling similar achievements by former champions M Scbumacher and Alberto Ascari. That Rosberg could bring the results was evidenced by the fact that, by round five in Spain, Rosberg’s lead was already 39 points strong. Championship in the bag, surely?
Hence Abu Dhabi, and, very un-ironically, one of the most tension-filled season finales in living memory. Going in, Rosberg only needed third or better, regardless of where Hamilton finished. And both started on the front row. The first corner of a 55-lap race could decide everything.
Unsurprisingly, Hamilton was out front first – anything less would have been catastrophic – with Rosberg following closely behind. Early charges from both Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s Ricciardo came to naught, an out-of-position Verstappen making his Red Bull as wide as possible after a spin at turn one dropped him to 18th. Ten laps to go, the order was Hamilton, Rosberg, Verstappen, and Sebastian Vettel, the latter on super-soft, very high performance Pirelli tyres. The gap, first-to-fourth, was only 10 seconds. Could Ferrari driver launch an assault, spoil a Mercedes 1-2, and potentially throw a monkey wrench in Rosberg’s championship aspirations?
Ultimately, no. Though Hamilton’s game plan meant his final lap was NINE seconds slower than his pole position time (an attempt to back his championship rival into traffic), a 10th victory of the season was still not enough to wrestle the crown from Rosberg. Whether the newly –crowned champion, performing donuts on the main straight, would care there is anybody’s guess. Damon Hill would probably understand.
- Images courtesy of David Benson