The 2016 F1 season ended in Abu Dhabi on Sunday 27 November, and in amongst the glitz and glamour of the Yas Marina Circuit, a new world champion emerged: Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg finally claimed his rightful place on the winner’s trophy after a packed race calendar of nail-biting highs and lows.
Having qualified second to team mate and rival Lewis Hamilton, all Rosberg had to do for the race’s 55 laps to clinch the 2016 title was finish somewhere on the podium come the chequered flag; finishing anywhere below third place would see Hamilton taking the title for a fourth time. With this being Formula One, it’s not unusual for a spanner to be thrown into the works somewhere over a race weekend; mechanical failures, collisions, a safety car period; all or none have the potential to rise up and create chaos on track. But for both the Mercedes’ drivers, neither experienced anything remotely troublesome during the race, so all was running smoothly.
For a few laps, Rosberg was in third place, but a successful on-track overtake on Red Bull’s Max Verstappen saw him comfortably back in second place. Verstappen’s recent run of superb racing – witnessed specifically in Brazil – was a potential concern, and with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel also getting himself into the mix, these were the two flies in the ointment that Rosberg could have done without.
Paddy Lowe, Mercedes F1 Technical Director: Being ignored wasn’t on his list
The last eleven laps were the most significant in the race to the championship title. Hamilton, Rosberg, Vettel and Verstappen made up the top four which, in any other race, would have been exciting enough. But, when Hamilton dismissed a direct order from Technical Director Paddy Lowe over team radio – after the team had described Vettel as being ‘an imminent threat’ – it was a nervous Mercedes team and Rosberg that could only sit and watch how Hamilton’s own tactics would play out. Hamilton’s slower pace was designed to enable both the Red Bull and the Ferrari a chance to gain on Rosberg and displace the German into fourth position, therefore handing the title over to Hamilton. However, with Vettel not quite able to catch the back of Rosberg’s car, and Verstappen’s tyres degrading fast, the plan fell apart, leaving Rosberg in second place, but firmly on the podium.
The 2016 season has been a constant fight between the two Mercedes drivers. Hamilton’s poor start to the season was enough for F1 commentators and fans to suspect that it could well be Rosberg’s year. And while they clearly weren’t wrong, July was where Hamilton began to find his form again, winning every race in that one month. The summer break was an interesting one for sure; Rosberg’s 43-point advantage over Hamilton after the season’s first four races was not only minimised by the mid-season point, but totally diminished with Hamilton being 19 points ahead.
While both drivers have had as equal a win rate as you can – Hamilton’s 10 wins to Rosberg’s 9 – the 21 battles they’ve taken part in over the course of the year came down to the wire in this final race. And now the war has been won; a hard-fought war with as many twists and turns as all the F1 tracks put together, but going the way for someone who has watched the championship slip away from him more than once.
Rosberg and Hamilton: Who’ll be the leader in 2017?
Significant changes to the 2017 cars will clearly have an impact on all teams up and down the paddock, but the one thing that will be notable in the Mercedes camp will be the presence of team mates who are both the most recent world champions. With only Ferrari who have this status in both Vettel and Raikkonen, the management of both ego and confidence will be a job for Mercedes’ management when the 2017 season kicks off in March. Rosberg’s new title will no doubt help to cement assurance in his abilities, while Hamilton’s loss of the 2016 title war will surely see him more determined than ever to reclaim the title for a fourth time.
But who knows how any Formula One season will end? The new rules and regulations will take getting used to by everyone; there will be new faces joining the race series, as well as a handful of driver changes between teams, so the season start could be a tentative one while everything settles down. For Hamilton and Rosberg, we suspect that everything we’ve watched from both sides of the Mercedes garage this year was only a warm up; the real title battle will be on next year from race one.