By Mat Killeen
Mercedes Nico Rosberg has won the 2016 Formula One World Championship despite team-mate, Lewis Hamilton, taking victory at the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi.
The 31-year old German needed a podium finish if Hamilton finished first and, despite the best efforts of the defending champion to back Rosberg into the pack, the German held on to follow the Englishman home for a Mercedes one-two.
Hamilton had been the quicker of the two championship contenders throughout the course of the weekend and he cemented this by qualifying on pole position on Saturday. However, Rosberg refused to let the pressure get to him, as he did enough to end up alongside his team-mate for Sunday’s race.
The main challenge for Rosberg to stay on the podium, came in the form of a tactical dual with Ferrari and Red Bull, as Kimi Raikkonen’s pit stop on lap 8 forced the championship leader to follow suit a lap later. This caused Dutch teenager, Max Verstappen to gain track position ahead of Rosberg, although the Red Bull driver was yet to stop.
While the battle for the championship continued at the front of the grid, another former world champion saw his career draw to an end further down the field. 2009 World Champion, Jenson Button, suffered a mechanical failure forcing the Brit to pull into the McLaren garage and out of his 305th and final race in Formula One on lap 12.
As the race progressed, Hamilton seemed to ease off the pace, causing members of the Mercedes team to send radio messages urging him to speed up in fear he would not win the race. However, these warnings were not heeded by the three-time champion, as it appeared he was trying to execute his own tactical race to ensure he could manufacture the circumstances required to win a fourth driver’s title.
The race continued in a fairly uneventful manner. Following both Mercedes’ final pit stops, Rosberg’s task was clearer than ever, hold track position and he would be World Champion.
Despite the clarity of the situation, it was not plain sailing for the German as compatriot, Sebastian Vettel set about chasing him down from third. Hamilton’s continued tactical racing was another problem for Rosberg and as the laps ebbed away, so did the championship leader’s gap back to the Ferrari.
With only a few laps to go, Vettel had closed right up to the Mercedes rear-wing of his fellow countryman. It was now more than just a race to the finish, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen hot on the heels of the Ferrari. As Hamilton slowed yet further over the final stages and claimed the race victory, Rosberg fought off the advances of the four-time World Champion to cross the line in second place and achieve his life-long dream of becoming World Champion.
The victory for Rosberg saw him become the second son of a former World Champion to win the title, emulating the feat only achieved by Graham Hill (winner in 1962 and 1968) and son Damon (winner in 1996). The gap between the first win for these two was 34 years, the same gap between Nico and father Keke, who won his only title 34 years ago in 1982.
The race also saw the end of another driver’s career. 2008 championship runner-up, Felipe Massa, bowed out of Formula One after some 250 races with an 9th place finish for Williams.
However, five days later, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix would prove to be the last for yet another driver, as the man who stood triumphant on the podium as this year’s World Champion shocked the sport by announcing his retirement, saying he had achieved his life’s goal and wanted to leave the sport on top.