Abu Dhabi Race Podium M52179 D333913

F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Hamilton wins the race but Rosberg claims the World Championship

Nov. 27, 2016: Lewis Hamilton started from the pole and won the race here at Abu Dhabi. His control of the race was never in question but Nico Rosberg only needed to finish third or better to win the world title. He started in second and held that position throughout most of the race, finishing second just four-tenths of a second behind Hamilton to claim the championship.

In the ante room afterwards, Hamilton played the sore loser and seemed never to acknowledge Rosberg’s presence. On the podium afterwards, David Coulthard, the podium journalist of the day, forced them to make a show of mutual respect – but we had all seen the snub behind the scenes and we knew better.

For all Hamilton’s pique and despite the fact that Hamilton had ten wins this year to Rosberg’s nine, Rosberg won the championship fair and square in accordance with the rules. I am reminded of the 1958 championship year when Mike Hawthorne controversially won the championship by a single point over Stirling Moss despite Moss having won four grands prix to Hawthorne’s single win.

In a way this race was anti-climatic. While it was expected – especially after he won the pole – that Hamilton would win the race, all Rosberg had to do was finish third or better to win the title. The result was no surprise but there were a few developments during the race that caught our attention.

The first came on the start when Max Verstappen, who had started in sixth place, collided with another car and spun without harm – but the spin dropped him almost to the back of the field. An early sequence of pits stops, which started when Hamilton pitted on lap seven of the 55-lap race, scrambled the order for a bit and Verstappen was able to regain all those lost spots. Indeed, when his teammate Daniel Ricciardo pitted on lap 10, this moved Verstappen right up to second within two seconds of the leader Hamilton.

Verstappen had not pitted for tires after his first lap spin and he kept on going on his first set of tires for many more laps, holding second place ahead of Rosberg. Not to worry, Verstappen eventually did pit – on lap 20 – Rosberg regained his place behind Hamilton. Verstappen’s long stint on his first set of tires might have been a lesson for the other teams’ strategies but we did not see much evidence of a lesson learned except for Vettel who made a long run soon afterwards.

On lap 29 Hamilton made his second scheduled pit stop with Rosberg coming in on the next lap. This might have left them running one-two but Vettel was left out on his second set of tires, taking over the lead ahead of Hamilton. Indeed, Vettel kept running long enough to make us wonder just how long he could keep going on this set of tires. He finally pitted on lap 38 restoring the Hamilton-Rosberg order at the front – with Verstappen running in a solid third place behind them.

Now there was some suggestion that Hamilton was deliberately slowing the pace in the hope that he would hold up Rosberg and allow Verstappen and the others behind to catch him up and pass him, dropping him down lower than third place. Despite Verstappen closing up on Rosberg to within a couple of seconds and then Vettel charging through the field on his latest set of tires to take over fourth behind Verstappen and then passing the Dutchman for third, the idea that Hamilton would be able to engineer this craven strategy to rob his teammate of his chance at the championship seemed hard to fathom.

Mercedes control in the pits did tell Hamilton to speed up a number of times and the television commentators saw his failure to respond as flagrant ignoring of official team orders – but Hamilton seemed unscathed by this and he held on to the lead, albeit at a less-than-maximum speed.

Vettel did close right up on Rosberg in the closing laps while Verstappen dropped back a bit. In the end, Rosberg finished second 0.439-seconds behind Hamilton while Vettel was another 0.404-seconds behind him so, while it might have been a close thing, everything played out as expected – and Rosberg won his first world championship, 34 years after his father, Keke Rosberg, had won in a Williams-Ford.

This race marked the end of the Formula One careers for Felipe Massa and Jensen Button. Button’s car retired with broken suspension after completing just 12 laps here while Massa went the full distance to finish in the points in ninth place.

This race marks the end of the 2016 season. The 2017 season gets underway with the Australian Grand Prix on March 26, and the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal returns on June 11.

Photo Credit

F1: Wolfgang Wilhelm, (c) Daimler AG