Nico Rosberg is the 2016 Formula One world champion with a five-point margin after finishing second in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Though the German needed only third place to secure his maiden title, the position looked at risk after the tricky first round of pits stops forced him behind Red Bull Racing’s one-stopping Max Verstappen, and then later in the race when teammate Lewis Hamilton attempted to back him into the chasing pack.
A fast-finishing Sebastian Vettel and Verstappen threatened to spoil Rosberg’s championship race, but the German new world champion expertly managed the pincer-like pressure of his slowing teammate ahead and challengers behind to secure second place.
“That was definitely not the most enjoyable race I’ve ever had!” Rosberg said on an emotional podium. “With Max [Verstappen] in the beginning and then with those guys coming up at the end, [it was] definitely not enjoyable those laps. I’m glad it’s over.
“I’m unbelievably ecstatic. Unreal.
“I also want to say congrats to Lewis. You did a great season, you’re a great competitor.”
Rosberg dedicated his championship to his wife, Vivian, and his daughter, Alaϊa, and noted his place as only the second son of world champion to win his own title.
“I’m very, very proud to have done the same feat as my dad achieved,” he said.
Hamilton led an easy race from pole position, but despite his talk in the week that dominating the race would take preference to trying to compromise his teammate’s race, the Briton obviously opted to do the latter, which included ignoring several orders from the pit wall to speed up in the face of Sebastian Vettel’s growing threat.
Last year’s title holder, however, refused to accept he did anything wrong.
“I did everything I could these last four races, and that’s all I could rally ask of myself,” Hamilton said. “You can’t win them all.”
The Briton again pointed to his car’s reliability problems as being, to his mind, the only reason he wasn’t able to win a fourth world championship.
“Obviously we had a lot of problems this year, and that’s inevitably why I’m in this position,” he said.
“I want to say thanks to my family for all their support and especially to the team for doing such a great job.
“And a big congratulations to Nico of course — his first world championship.”
Sebastian Vettel finished on the podium to end Ferrari’s otherwise lacklustre season on something of a high, particularly given his third place was owed largely to a rare clever strategy call from the Scuderia.
The German ran a long middle stint on the soft tyre, which h switched to on lap nine from his qualifying set of ultrasoft tyres, and ended the race with a set of the unflavoured but surprisingly effective supersoft rubber.
The strategy allowed his scythe through the field in the closing 18 laps, passing his teammate and both Red Bull Racing cars on the way to P3.
“I think it was tough out there the last couple of laps [for Nico], a very happy Vettel said on the podium. “I didn’t want to be in his shoes!
“I think the whole team deserves the podium today. We’ve had so much criticism this year… but that’s how it goes.
“It’s a tough game, we’re fighting really tough opponent.
“It’s been a tough year, but it’s nice to finish on a high. We take that momentum into next year.”
Max Verstappen led teammate Daniel Ricciardo home, Red Bull Racing again splitting their strategies in a way that happened to favour the lower-placed driver.
Both drivers started on the supersoft tyre, but Ricciardo was put on a convention two-stop race, stopping on laps 25 and 46 for new softs, whereas Verstappen stopped just one on lap 22 for a long run to the finish, also on the softs.
Kimi Räikkönen lost out on strategy, the lower-placed Vettel similarly proving the beneficiary of an aggressive strategy.
Nico Hülkenberg led Sergio Perez home in their P7 and P8 grid slots, winning their Force India tam fourth place in the constructors championship in the process.
The team’s best ever title finish was guaranteed, however, when Williams’s Valtteri Bottas retired on lap seven, eliminating his team’s only mathematical hopes of winning back fourth place.
Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso likewise finished where they started, in ninth and tenth respectively, in the Brazilian’s last Formula One grand prix.
Jenson Button joined Felipe Massa in F1 retirement, but also happened to retire from the grand prix on lap 13 when his front-right suspension collapsed after clobbering the kerbs.
2016 ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX CLASSIFICATION
|4||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer||55||+1.685s|
|5||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer||55||+5.315s|
|7||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||55||+50.114s|
|8||Sergio Perez||Force India-Mercedes||55||+58.776s|
|13||Esteban Ocon||Manor-Mercedes||54||+1 lap|
|14||Pascal Wehrlein||Manor-Mercedes||54||+1 lap|
|15||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber-Ferrari||54||+1 lap|
|16||Felipe Nasr||Sauber-Ferrari||54||+1 lap|
|17||Jolyon Palmer||Renault||54||+1 lap|
|NC||Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||41||DNF|
|NC||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||14||DNF|