Nico Rosberg won his first world title at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix despite finishing second behind rival Lewis Hamilton.
Hamilton led from start to finish but only did enough to stay ahead consistently driving slow to push Rosberg back into the chasing pack. It fuelled controversy amid claims that Hamilton used ‘dirty tricks’ knowing that Rosberg would fall out of title contention if he didn’t finish in the top three.
Hamilton’s tactics created a nail-bitting finish with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel ending just 0.843 seconds behind Rosberg, followed closely by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Rosberg Shows Pedigree In Tense Race
Rosberg entered the race knowing that a podium finish will be enough to secure the championship regardless of whether Hamilton took the win.
And the start began smoothly after he easily slotted into second behind Hamilton on the opening lap.
But the tension soon began to build when Rosberg emerged from his first pit stop behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Rosberg initially tried to attack the Dutchman who defended aggressively to block the overtaking attempts. By Lap 19, the Mercedes pit wall were becoming increasingly concerned that Verstappen could make his only pit stop and still come out in front. They told Rosberg over team radio that an overtake was “critical” and he responded with a superb pass on the next lap.
As that played out, Hamilton continued to temper his speed to ensure that the frontrunners were kept bunched together in the outside hope that Rosberg could fall back to fourth.
It got close towards the end when Vettel – running on faster super-soft tyres – got passed Verstappen and Ricciardo, and closed quickly on Rosberg.
Worry again crept into the Mercedes garage and Paddy Lowe, who rarely speaks directly to the drivers during races, told Hamilton: “Lewis, this is Paddy. We need you to pick up the pace to win this race.”
A defiant Hamilton said, “I am losing the world championship so right now I don’t really care whether I win or lose this race.”
Rosberg Shines as Hamilton claims headlines
While Rosberg finished a magnificent season in style and claimed his maiden title, Hamilton’s actions will make most of the headlines – and may well have implications into next season.
Hamilton is a determined figure with a magnified focus on the championship. He was never going to cruise into the distance and lay down without a fight. But, in doing so, the Englishman is polarising with some arguing that he had every right to play his hand and force Rosberg back while others, like Sebastian Vettel, said it was nothing more than “dirty tricks”.
Regardless, team boss Toto Wolff has foreshadowed potential disciplinary action saying: “Undermining a structure in public means you are putting yourself before the team.”
“Anarchy doesn’t work in any company but the other half of me says that it was his only chance of winning the championship and maybe you cannot demand a racing driver who is arguably the best out there to comply with something where his instincts cannot make him comply.”
“It’s about how to resolve that in the future because a precedent has been set.”
Irrespective, Rosberg proved his worth in Abu Dhabi and comes away the champion. His excitement and relief could not be more palpable.
“I’m ecstatic,” Rosberg said.
“It was so intense, the race, so tough.”
“Tonight’s going to be absolutely nuts,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to be available for a few days.”