Rosberg v Hamilton: The Final Showdown
The 2016 season, the longest in Formula One history, concludes with its 21st and final event, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. As in both 2014 and 2015, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg share almost all the victories of the season, winning nine each. In the championship standings, the German (367 points) is ahead of the Briton (355 points) by twelve points. This means Hamilton needs to finish ahead of 4th place to win the 2016 championship.
At first glance, Rosberg has an easy job to win his first title. At the wheel of the ultra-dominant Mercedes, he can still finish second or third and still be crowned champion even if Hamilton wins the race. Rosberg has his destiny in his hands and Hamilton has nothing to lose. Rosberg expressed worries before the race about mechanical problems, as happened to him during the race in 2014 and Hamilton in the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix. Rosberg hopes nevertheless to triumph over Hamilton and to put an end to his three consecutive victories.
As usual, the two rivals prefer to ignore each other rather than clash before the press. The journalists however, find amusement in pitting Hamilton, from the "bling-bling" subculture to "Britney" Rosberg: a young father of a family raised in Monte-Carlo, true to his image, always very polished speech and always avoiding any provocation. An example would be when the French daily ‘Le Monde’ asked him to describe his relations with Hamilton, the reply came that they are "respectful and neutral. We have ups and downs. I think that's normal when you fight together in a world championship. But the basis of our relationship is respect."
Button and Massa say goodbye to Formula One
Felipe Massa and Jenson Button are both starting their last race here in Abu Dhabi, having led very long careers, totaling 555 Grands Prix between them!
Contrary to what he had suggested, Button will not be back in 2018: "As of today, I no longer want to drive in F1 beyond this race", he said. "I've been in motorsport for 28 years, it's a long journey..." To celebrate this last start, the Briton chose to go back to the fluorescent yellow helmet with which he won his title back in 2009. In addition, the McLaren staff pay tribute to their driver for the past seven seasons: "What makes? Jenson special is his ability to attract the world to him to solve the problems he encounters, find the solution to make it go faster and be at the top of what he does", says Racing Director Éric Boullier. "I met Jenson at Silverstone when I was in the army and I remember he was a real gentleman and a great ambassador for McLaren", commented meteorologist Tom Bisset. "He was very smiling and open. It was one of my best professional encounters."
Before the event
McLaren have confirmed the departure of Ron Dennis from his presidency following a dispute with other shareholders including Mansour Ojjeh. The American Zak Brown, former Formula Three driver and head of the highly active JMI marketing firm in Formula One, replaces Dennis as CEO. Brown has a long history with the McLaren Group and has provided them with the financial support of sponsors such as Johnnie Walker, Hilton, GSK and Chandon. He will now also take on the task of finding McLaren a new title sponsor. The team not having one since the end of 2013 with the withdrawal of Vodafone.
Stephen Fitzpatrick, the owner of Manor, revealed that the team has found a new investor. He refused to reveal any information or the name of the buyer but after losing 10th place in the Constructors Championship to Sauber at Interlagos it can be expected that the contract would need to be revised.
Future Red Bull cars will continue to be powered by TAG-Heuer branded Renault engines. The Austrian-British team is extending its two-year contract with the famous Swiss brand. It is worth noting that despite the name this brand does not belong to Mansour Ojjeh’s Techniques d’Avant-Garde (TAG) but instead to the French giant LVMH.
Despite his excellent point-scoring drive in the rain at São Paulo, Felipe Nasr will most likely not be in Formula One in 2017 having lost the support of his sponsor Banco do Brasil. To replace him, Sauber could reach out to Pascal Wehrlein, Esteban Ocon or Rio Haryanto. With Nasr’s potential withdrawal and Massa’s retirement, Formula One could be without a Brazilian representative for the first time in nearly half a century.
Practice and Qualifying
The practice sessions on Friday were very clearly dominated by Hamilton. On Saturday, Vettel surprised by setting the fastest time of FP3 ahead of qualifying.
In the Saturday afternoon qualifying sessions, Hamilton took his 12th pole position if the season, three-tenths ahead of Rosberg. The Red Bulls (Ricciardo 3rd, Verstappen 6th.) and Ferrari (Räikkönen 4th, Vettel 5th.) are pushed to almost a second behind the Silver Arrows. The Force India of Hülkenberg and Pérez occupy the fourth row. The McLaren-Hondas (Alonso 9th, Button 12th) encircle the Williams cars (Massa 10th, Bottas 11th) which still suffer from lack of grip.
As in Brazil, Haas use brakes now supplied by Carbone Industries which do not satisfy Gutiérrez (13th) or Grosjean (14th), victims of several failures. Palmer puts his Renault in 15th and is clearly ahead of Magnussen (18th) little motivated by his last race on behalf of the diamond-logoed team. Wehrlein achieved a splendid performance, reaching Q2 and hoisting his Manor into 16th place. On the contrary, Ocon (20th) finished the Saturday without being able to fully exploit the ultra-soft tyres. The Sauber (Nasr 19th Ericsson 22nd) are at the bottom of the standings, just like Torro Rosso (Kvyat 17th, Sainz 21st) who on Friday suffered serious problems with their wheel-rims, causing two punctures. The smaller Scuderia had to quickly modify their rear suspensions which did somewhat hamper the STR11.
Prelude to the Final Duel
Nico Rosberg is getting ready to potentially win his first title. His wife Viviane and family made the trip to Abu Dhabi to support him. His father Keke however decides to stay in Monaco. Keke could potentially be the first world champion to see his child win in turn, Graham Hill having unfortunately unable to witness Damon’s title in 1996.
Hamilton, meanwhile, is calm and praises Mercedes’s 2016 challenger: "I felt really good on track this Saturday night, it's really sad that this is the last qualifying session with this car! It's a dream for any driver to have such a nice thing to drive! Getting ahead at the start will be crucial. For now, my pace is a bit better. But I cannot control what is happening behind me. The only thing I can do is concentrate on my race. You never know what could happen, so I hope the car will be as good as it has been since the start of the weekend, and I'm aiming for victory."
The season also ends for the lower categories involved in the F1 circus. Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc wins the GP3 championship whilst Pierre Gasly takes the title in GP2 ahead of Antonio Giovinazzi.
Button and Massa, the two soon-to-be retirees, embrace before the TV cameras. Button talks with Alain Prost, idol of his youth and the man who gave Jenson one of his first F1 tests in 1999 at the wheel of a Prost-Peugeot car. The two discuss the many future roles that are open to a retired grand prix driver. "I'm more fit than ever", says Button. "I would like to become a triathlon world champion, not as a professional, but as an amateur. And I would love to participate in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Rallycross is also on my list."
Hamilton, Rosberg, Vettel, Räikkönen, Hülkenberg, Pérez, Alonso, Massa, Bottas, Wehrlein and Palmer all start with the purple ultrasoft tires. The Red Bull drivers are expected to make a long first stint as they start on the red super-soft tires. The Toro Rosso, Nasr and Gutiérrez also opt for the supersoft. Finally, Grosjean, Ericsson and Ocon run the harder soft tires.
Start: Hamilton and Rosberg have good starts and retain their positions. Räikkönen passes Ricciardo under braking into the first corner. Exiting the corner, Verstappen taps Hülkenberg and spins, he manages to stay away from the barriers and other cars and continues to run.
1st lap: Hülkenberg outbrakes Pérez at the end of the long first straight but loses the position to his teammate under braking at the end of the second straight. Magnussen and one of the Manors make contact at turn 8. Hamilton leads Rosberg, Räikkönen, Ricciardo, Vettel, Pérez, Hülkenberg, Alonso, Massa, Bottas and Palmer.
2nd: Hülkenberg gets back ahead of Pérez. Verstappen catches the main group and moves into 16th position. Magnussen pits to examine the damage but continues to race.
3rd: Hamilton is now 1 second ahead of Rosberg. Bottas passes Massa. Verstappen passes Grosjean at T6.
4th: The gaps are stable, the top 5 all being within three seconds of each other. Verstappen gets past Nasr.
5th: Massa retakes ninth from Bottas. At the end of the lap Hamilton leads Rosberg (1.2s), Räikkönen (2.4s), Ricciardo (3.2s.), Vettel (3.9s.), Hülkenberg (7.1s), Pérez Alonso (12.6s.), Massa (14.4s.), Bottas (14.6s.), Palmer (16.5s.) and Button (18s.). Verstappen takes thirteenth place at the expense of Kvyat.
6th: Bottas slows down and comes in to the pits. Magnussen retires because his suspension is too damaged due to his earlier incident.
7th: Verstappen overtakes Button then Palmer. Wehrlein and Sainz are the first drivers to change their tires. Bottas is stopped at the Williams pits where his mechanics have diagnosed a broken hub carrier. The race is over for the Finn.
8th: Hamilton stopped at Mercedes to take new Pirellis. He can’t pull out of his pit box though until after three seconds because he must let Räikkönen pass just in front of him to also change tires. Hamilton leaves as Verstappen. Alonso, Palmer and Nasr also take new tires.
9th: Rosberg stops for new tires. Vettel, Hülkenberg, Massa, Kvyat and Gutiérrez stop too. Ricciardo now leads.
10th: Ricciardo and Pérez now stop. Hamilton retakes the lead. Rosberg attacks Verstappen into T12 to no avail.
11th: The sun goes down and track temperatures fall. Hamilton leads Verstappen? (1.6s.), Rosberg (2.2s.), Räikkönen (3.3s.), Ricciardo (3.9s.), Vettel (4.6s.), Hülkenberg, Perez (13.8s.), Grosjean (17.6s.), Massa (19.7s.) And Ocon (20.9s.). As things stand, Rosberg will be champion with 382 points vs Hamilton’s 380.
12th: Pérez overtakes Button on the long straight. A few meters later, the Englishman runs over a kerb and breaks his front-right suspension, ending his F1 career.
13th: Rosberg closes to within a second of Verstappen. Alonso gets past Ocon. Button returns to the McLaren garage but not without saying goodbye to the crowd.
14th: Hamilton sets a new fastest lap, a 1:46.107 and pulls away from Verstappen. Rosberg knows he can stay behind the Dutchman and still be world champion but he must be careful to not become prey for Vettel or Ricciardo. Massa passes Grosjean.
15th: Hamilton leads Rosberg (2.6s), Verstappen (3.4s.), Räikkönen (4.6s.), Ricciardo (5.5s), Vettel (6.8s), Hülkenberg (14.2s), Massa (27s.), Grosjean (29s.) And Alonso (30.5s.).
16th: Kvyat stops off-track after a gearbox failure.
17th: Hamilton complains of lack of grip on the yellow soft tires as he races on into the night. Kvyat, now out of his car, returns to the pits by bicycle.
19th: Rosberg remains behind Verstappen. Ricciardo tries to out-brake Räikkönen on the outside but is fought hard and slips up, now finding himself under threat from Vettel.
20th: Rosberg is told via radio to try to make a move on Verstappen. He dives on him into T8 without success. He tries again into the next corner, Verstappen leaves no space but Rosberg holds out and moves up into second. Grosjean makes his first stop.
21st: Hamilton now has a five second gap on Rosberg meaning that the German would be world champion by five points. Verstappen pits for softs and prepares to try and make the end of the race on this set, he rejoins in eighth.
22nd: Palmer and Ocon both stop for tires.
24th: Ricciardo makes his final stop for soft tires. He rejoins behind Verstappen who has made his way through the pack from his spin on lap 1. Wehrlein also pits.
25th:? Hamilton ahead of Rosberg (4.1s.), Räikkönen (12s.) And Vettel (12.4s.). Räikkönen pits. Sainz fights Grosjean for 13th and takes the position.
26th: Räikkönen switches to the softs and rejoins behind Ricciardo. Verstappen passes Pérez.
27th: Three seconds separate Hamilton and Rosberg. Hülkenberg changes tires. Ricciardo gets ahead of Pérez as the Mexican driver pits.
28th: Verstappen lowers the fastest lap to a 1:45.361. Pérez comes out of the pits with new tires. Tire changes for Gutiérrez and Sainz.
29th: Hamilton stops for his last tire change of the season. Ricciardo beats Verstappen’s time with a 1:45.058.
30th: Rosberg has a 225 second gap to Verstappen as he pits and comes out comfortably ahead of the Dutchman. Vettel is the new leader. Massa makes the last pit stop of his lengthy career.
31st: Vettel is first ahead of Hamilton (8.5s), Rosberg (9.6s), Verstappen (13.9s), Ricciardo (15.5s), Räikkönen (20.1s), Alonso (34.6s), Hülkenberg 37.8s.), Perez (40.2s.) And Massa (52.8s.).
32nd: Seeing that Rosberg is still following him, Hamilton reveals his plan. He lifts his foot and starts to slow the German, allowing the Red Bull to catch up. Rosberg is not fazed though and finds a balance.
33rd: Vettel is ahead of Hamilton (6.5s), Rosberg (7.5s.), Verstappen (11.6s.), Ricciardo (13.1s.) And Räikkönen (18.4s.). Hülkenberg overflows Alonso. In the championship: Rosberg: 382 pts; Hamilton: 373 pts.
35th: Vettel’s tires are wearing out and he will soon make another stop. To Hamilton’s dismay, the Red Bull does not close on Rosberg. Pérez passes Alonso.
37th: Hamilton is now only four seconds behind Vettel. Ericsson (Who has not stopped yet!) and Ocon fight under braking, the Frenchman losing a piece of wing. He then pits alongside Nasr.
38th: Vettel makes his final stop for supersofts. Ericsson, Palmer, Sainz and Wehrlein fight for 13th.
39th: Hamilton is again ahead of Rosberg (1.3s), Verstappen (4.8s), Ricciardo (5.8s.), Räikkönen (13.3s.), Vettel (18s), Hülkenberg (35.3s), Pérez (36.8s.) And Massa (40.7s.). Alonso makes his second stop and falls to 10th. Grosjean and Ericsson also stop.
41st: Hamilton is in traffic with Rosberg on his heels. Vettel is by far fastest on track. He easily passes Räikkönen who is struggling with front-tire temperatures. 42nd: Palmer follows Sainz very closely into braking for T17 but locks up and runs into the Torro Rosso driver, spinning him. They both carry on but Palmer pits to check for damage.
43rd: Vettel lowers the fastest lap to a 1:43.729. Sainz’s gearbox fails due to Palmer’s impact and the Spaniard parks the car and retires.
44th: Hamilton is ahead of Rosberg (1.4s), Verstappen (5sec), Ricciardo (7.1s), Vettel (9.8s), Räikkönen (16.8s), Hülkenberg (40s), Perez (42.8s), Massa (51.2s), Alonso (1m. 04s), Grosjean (1m. 18s) And Gutiérrez (1m. 29s)
45th: Verstappen closes on Rosberg and Palmer receives a five-second penalty for the incident that ended Sainz’s race.
46th: Vettel attacks Ricciardo on the straight but can’t pass him. He then tries again and makes it stick. Running on the Supersoft tires, the German starts to close on the three cars in front.
47th: Hamilton is still slowing Rosberg, allowing Verstappen and now Vettel to catch up. He has to make sure that he pulls away from Rosberg before the DRS detection zone though lest he comes under DRS-assisted attack from the German.
48th: Hamilton ignores his engineer’s messages to speed up much to the frustration of the team.
50th: The gap between Hamilton and Rosberg stands at around 1 second. Vettel is pushing to catch Verstappen but must be careful not to wear-out his supersoft tires.
51st: Vettel attacks Verstappen using DRS into T8 but fails. He stays close behind though and passes him at T12, immediately finding himself within range of Rosberg. Back in the fight for 12th place, Wehrlein and Ocon make contact and both run off the track with Ocon coming out ahead.
52nd: Hamilton now starts to seriously slow Rosberg, hoping that the other cars will pass him. Mercedes executive director Paddy Lowe tells Hamilton to speed up but the triple world champion does not entertain such an idea.
53rd: Vettel follows Rosberg closely but has by now worn his tires out and so struggles to make any moves on him. Verstappen is also struggling with his tires and starts to drop back from the leading trio.
54th: Hamilton is now going slower than ever. Rosberg daredn’t try a pass on Hamilton as he knows that he could lose it all if it goes wrong. Vettel makes himself known into T12 but cannot do much.
55th and final lap: Hamilton, Rosberg and Vettel are all contained within 2 seconds of each other. Rosberg is safe as Vettel’s tires start to give-up.
Hamilton crosses the line to take his 53rd win but it is Nico Rosberg, second, who wins his maiden world championship at the age of 31. Vettel and Verstappen finish hot on the heels of the Mercedes cars, followed by Ricciardo and Räikkönen. The Force Indias of Hülkenberg and Pérez finish their brilliant season in seventh and eighth. Massa finishes his career with ninth place. The last point goes to Alonso. Grosjean, Gutiérrez, Ocon, Wehrlein, Ericsson, Nasr and Palmer also finish albeit without any points.
Nico Rosberg is now the third German to win the world championship after Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel. Despite the questionable driving from Hamilton, the two teammates talk and Lewis congratulates Nico on his championship. The two Mercedes drivers and Vettel pose for a photo alongside Bernie Ecclestone. They are handed the Pirelli podium caps by Herbie Blash for the last time, the deputy race director who has been involved in grand prix racing for over half a century will now retire.
After the podium ceremony, Rosberg is joined by his wife and his mechanics, with a German flag draped over his shoulders, he reflects on the race: "It was horrible!" He admits, physically stressed. "I have never felt like that in a race car, it was very tense. When I attacked Verstappen, he did not leave me a centimeter but it's done now ..." He comes back to the long-standing rivalry between him and Hamilton. "I feel like I always fought against him and he always managed to get the edge. He even stole the title when we were small, in karting." he recalls. "He's an exceptional driver and obviously one of the best in history, so it's incredibly special to beat him. It is a real achievement. Taking the championship is a wonderful sensation. As for the tactic adopted by Hamilton at the end of the Grand Prix, he avoids the subject: "I do not want to comment on it. I just realized a childhood dream. I will not be around for a few days. I do not know where my father is. I hope he survived this end of the race and that he is doing well!" he jokes.
Hamilton’s behaviour at the end of the race did not satisfy Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda. Despite Hamilton’s attempts, Rosberg is still world champion, with nine wins. A well-deserved championship for a driver who has sometimes been considered to be destined to eternally finish second to his English teammate. His title was one of steadfastness and patience.
Looking back on the season:
Mercedes AMG ends a record-breaking 2016 with 19 wins, 20 pole positions, 33 podiums, 1054 laps lead, 765 points and the Constructor’s Championship. The Silver Arrows steamroll everything in their way for the third year in a row. Only Red Bull have held back the blue and silver tide a few times thanks to their stellar driver line up. Ferrari plunges back into its old demons and ends a disappointing season which it will now want to forget. Force India claim fourth place in the constructor’s standings thanks to the demise of the Williams team. Now the world turns to see whether the sleeping giants, McLaren and Renault will awaken for the 2017 season where the almighty Mercedes flood may finally be beaten.
Rosberg’s shock retirement
On December the 2nd, five days after his championship won, Nico Rosberg announced, to the amazement of the Formula One and sporting world, that he would be ending his career. In a statement to his fans, the German driver explains that the energy he spent to win the title, at the expense of his personal and family life, has convinced him to take a rest. "I'm at the top of the mountain, the climb was very hard, so I feel it's a good time", he said. "For twenty-five years, it was my only dream, to become world champion. I did it. The disappointments of the previous two seasons gave me levels of motivation that I had never felt before. And it had an impact on everyone I love, of course." That makes Rosberg the first driver to end his career following a championship win since Alain Prost back in 1993. Now Mercedes must find a replacement.