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Blast from the Past: 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Written by Jacob Awcock, Edited by Sharifah Zaqreeztrina

For the fourth time since being paired as teammates in 2013, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton had been able to fight it out for the World Drivers’ Championship and, for the third time, both entered the final round in Abu Dhabi with a chance of winning the World Championship.

Rosberg led in the points total by 12 points and knew that, in order to secure his first ever championship title, he had to finish third or higher. Hamilton, meanwhile, was looking to equal the likes of Sebastian Vettel and Alain Prost with four world titles to his name.

Hamilton knew that it would be a monumental effort to knock his teammate off the top of the championship standings, and his first task was to claim pole, at a track where he had only claimed pole twice before, the last one being nearly four years ago in 2012.

The race would also mark the end of two illustrious drivers' careers, as Felipe Massa and Jenson Button both closed the curtain on Formula One. Both drivers exited with a combination of 26 victories and one World Championship, which was clinched by Button.

Although, both drivers would eventually return to the motorsport series, with Massa returning the following season to drive for Williams again after a shock driver change and Button a one-off return at the 2017 Monaco Grand Prix, also with McLaren, to replace Fernando Alonso as he competed in the Indy 500.

Fernando Alonso impressed over the weekend but it was his teammate who the focus was on as he bid farewell to F1; Image credits: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Hamilton topped the whole of qualifying and stormed to a dominant pole position, leading his teammate by nearly three tenths of a second. Daniel Ricciardo took third place with the two Ferraris and Max Verstappen behind.

Both Force India drivers followed, motivated to claim their best ever finish in the World Constructors’ Championship, their nearest rival being Williams. Following them was Fernando Alonso in the Mclaren, who looked to impress as the team’s new executive director Zak Brown attended his first race in the role. Felipe Massa rounded out the top ten after having a mistake on his final run in qualifying.

It was clear how much winning the championship meant to both leading drivers, as evident in the post race interviews where both drivers stayed grounded and kept expectations low, yet the anticipation and adrenaline was palpable. As the sun set in Abu Dhabi, the cameras focused on the two silver arrows at the front of the grid.

As the lights blinked out, it was Hamilton who led into turn 1 quickly followed by his teammate who was in close pursuit. Further back, Max Verstappen had had a poor getaway and was wheel to wheel with Nico Hulkenberg heading into turn 1. As the pair turned in, Verstappen drifted out and into the side of Hulkenberg, sending the Red Bull driver spinning down to 19th place, while Hulkenberg continued damage free.

However, Verstappen was on the alternate strategy and with a different, more durable set of super soft tyres compared to the rest of the field, began to close back up to the rear of the pack, knowing all was not lost.

The two silver arrows who had been dominant all year were not pulling away from the rest of the pack as expected. On lap 7, Mercedes called race leader Hamilton in for his first pit stop. The Brit was followed by the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen.

As the Ferrari came into the pits, Mercedes had to wait before they released Hamilton, otherwise there would have been a collision. This lost Hamilton valuable time, leaving the Brit and his team unimpressed at the bad luck they had been dealt. Mercedes experienced an identical situation a lap later with Rosberg who was held up for even longer by the other Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel.

Williams, who had been chasing down Force India in the Constructors’ Championship standings, encountered a big blow in their charge as Valtteri Bottas retired from the race on lap 6 with suspension failure.

This proved to be the Finnish driver's last outing with the Grove-based outfit, as he made a shock move to Mercedes for the 2017 season. The Finn finished eight in the championship, having managed only one podium all season.

Hamilton pushed like crazy, but it was what happened behind that mattered most; Image Credits: Mohammed Al-Shaikh/ Getty Images

Back out on track and it was a dismal end to Jenson Button’s career, as his Mclaren’s front suspension failed in spectacular fashion, eliminating the Brit from his 305th Grand Prix after just 12 laps. He managed to crawl back to the pits despite a broken right front wheel. The 2009 World Champion bowed out of Formula One as he stood on top of his car for one last time to wave to the applauding fans.

While one Brit’s race finished, another one was just starting. Lewis Hamilton was extending his lead out front having not long pitted but his teammate was where he didn't want him to be. Third place.

On the alternate strategy Max Verstappen, despite being spun off at the first corner, had climbed his way up to second place and was managing to split the two silver arrows; a feat rarely seen all season. Rosberg was told by his pitwall not to take any risks when trying to pass Verstappen. So, the German backed off and cruised behind the young Dutchman.

Yet, as Verstappen’s pace began to drop and the two Ferraris began to close, the situation became apparent to Mercedes. Rosberg had to pass Verstappen so as not to risk losing positions, which could cost him the championship.

Rosberg’s race engineer made this very clear to his driver claiming the situation was ‘critical’ and Rosberg responded, diving down the inside of the turn 8. The pair were wheel to wheel as they hared down towards turn 11, but it was Rosberg who came out on top, completing the ‘critical’ pass and began to close the gap to Hamilton.

Having been passed by Rosberg, Verstappen and Red Bull decided to complete their first and only pit stop of the race. On lap 21, the Red Bull pulled into the pits, and after a couple of seconds pulled away again.

This seemed to trigger a flurry of action in the pitlane as both Mercedes were called in a few laps later for their second stops. However, Ferrari opted to do something different. With nothing to lose, Vettel stayed out and decided to go longer on his current tyres meaning Hamilton and Rosberg came out second and third respectively.

Everything was looking good for Rosberg. He was four seconds behind his teammate in front and had a comfortable gap to Verstappen behind, at this point all seemed casual for him, and it was, unlike the previous 20 races.

In total, Rosberg had won nine of those twenty with Hamilton equalling him. It was consistency that made Rosberg remain on top of the championship standings. A cool head which delivered excellent, consistent points finishes.

While it is clear Rosberg had the benefit of better reliability with the German suffering no mechanical-related retirements all season, Hamilton was plagued with mechanical issues throughout race weekends that entire time. If Hamilton wanted to win this championship, he had to do something about it, and fast.

As the laps went past, it became apparent that Hamilton was going increasingly slower than in the stints. Mercedes came over the radio to Hamilton, giving him the target laptime of a 1.44, the Brit responded but only for one lap and then slowed down again. At this point Rosberg had closed to Hamilton’s gearbox but, not wanting to risk a pass, stayed stuck behind. The German quickly realised Hamilton’s tactics, and came over the radio demanding that he picked up the pace. Hamilton refused.

With 18 laps to go, Ferrari pulled Vettel into the pits. The Ferrari dropped behind both Red Bulls but he quickly made up time and looked to dispatch them both. As the laps ticked by, Hamilton stayed consistently and the slow pace he was driving at, yet if he was trying to frustrate Rosberg this plan was failing.

The cool and composed Rosberg stayed behind, ticking the laps by and waiting for the chequered flag. Unbeknownst to him, Vettel was flying. The German cruised past Ricciardo and quickly dispatched Verstappen. With less than ten laps to go, he had closed right up to the back of Rosberg, with Verstappen also closely behind.

Rosberg knew the severity of the situation. Despite Mercedes’ best efforts to get Hamilton to speed up, the Brit was adamant he was going at his pace and his pace only. Rosberg could afford to lose a position to Vettel, but if the closing Verstappen passed him as well the championship would be Hamilton’s instead.

With two laps to go, Vettel attacked. Heading into turn 11, the Ferrari pulled to the outside. Rosberg held the inside and maintained his second place. The drivers shot across the line to go onto the last lap of the race, the crowd roared their approval of such a close battle, with the top four all separated by less than two seconds.

As the drivers shot down the back straights, Vettel had used DRS (drag reduction system) but still couldn't pass. No matter how slow Hamilton went and no matter how hard Vettel tried, Rosberg’s determination and defence triumphed, which drove him to the top of the championship standings.

Rosberg won his first world championship, the second for the Rosberg family Image Credits: Clive Mason/Getty Images

Fireworks erupted as Lewis Hamilton crossed the finish line, but the driver who got the biggest cheer of the evening was Nico Rosberg, the 2016 FIA Formula One World Champion. Sebastian Vettel finished third with Max Verstappen a close fourth, the top four all separated by just 1.6 seconds.

Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen rounded out the top six. The ‘best of the rest’ status was taken up by the two Force India cars, who secured their best ever Constructors’ Championship finish with fourth place, ahead of Williams. Felipe Massa supposedly finished his penultimate year with ninth place. Behind him was Fernando Alonso wrapping up the top ten, a lovely early Christmas gift for new McLaren executive director Zak Brown.

It was pure elation for Rosberg. Hamilton had had the edge on him since their karting days and entering F1 but he had finally outdid his rival. And with that he was satisfied. “Two Rosbergs are World Champions now,” the German said in the press conference after the race.

So what’s next for Rosberg was the common question. Well, he has stated that he could finish on a high and that was what he was going to do. Having won the 2016 World Championship, Nico Rosberg retired from the sport to spend more time with his family, a beautiful way to end such a successful career.


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