Nico Rosberg has won his maiden Formula One world championship. Needing to finish in the top three in Sunday’s final race of the season in Abu Dhabi he was second to his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
But he had to survive a scary few final laps as the outgoing champion ignored team orders and attempted to back Rosberg into the cars behind.
The result means Rosberg has won the tile by five points. The fact that Hamilton has won 10 races to Rosberg’s nine this year will be of no consolation to him.
It was another controlled, calculated race by the German to bring him the title he has always coveted. But he also showed some courage in his overtaking move on Max Verstappen to regain second place, almost colliding before surging into the lead.
But Rosberg had to survive a late fright as Hamilton employed some gamesmanship by slowing down.
With Hamilton leading, Mercedes told him to quicken up. They asked the driver why he was going so slowly, then said: “Lewis this is an instruction, we need 45.1 for the win.” But Hamilton replied: “I suggest you just let us race.”
With Max Verstappen behind Rosberg, and Sebastian Vettel closing fast on fresher rubber, it was a scary moment for Mercedes and Rosberg. The team’s technical director Paddy Lowe came on the radio and said: “Lewis, this is Paddy, we need you to pick up the pace to win this race.”
But again the plea fell on deaf ears. Vettel went past Verstappen to take third and then closed on Rosberg with Hamilton making no attempt to stretch out the pack. “Right now I’m losing the world championship, whether I win or lose this race,” Hamilton said.
Rosberg was reminded that third would be good enough, and with Verstappen struggling on old rubber there was no real threat on the German in the final lap.
But in the end it was the usual one-two for Mercedes, with Vettel third and Verstappen fourth.
It was a triumph for Mercedes but they were still left a little embarrassed. “We first have to speak to [Hamilton] to get an explanation,” said motorsport director Niki Lauda. “We tried to tell him the danger was coming because Vettel had the fastest car at the end. Thank god it worked out in the end.”
The German driver, the son of Keke Rosberg, who won the title for Williams in 1982, entered the race with a 12-point advantage over Hamilton, with a possible 25 available at the final meeting. Rosberg’s second-place finish and Hamilton’s win left the German driver with 385 points to Hamilton’s 380 at the end of the championship.
The 31-year-old began his F1 career at Williams, where he drove until 2009 before signing for Mercedes the next year alongside Michael Schumacher. The seven-time world champion had returned to racing after retirement and was past his best but Rosberg proved he was a confident and accomplished driver when across the garage from Schumacher. He out scored him in all three seasons they were together and scored the team’s only win during this period, his first in China in 2012.
When Mercedes brought their new car to the turbo-hybrid era in and it immediately dominated, he came his closest to taking the title, with the season also coming down to the last race in Abu Dhabi where Hamilton, who had joined the team in 2013, clinched it. The following year Hamilton dominated and secured the championship three races from the end.
This season however has been nip and tuck between the pair. Rosberg opened strongly while his team-mate suffered from mechanical failures and the German had four wins and an advantage of 43 points by the Russian Grand Prix. Hamilton countered with a run of with six wins from seven and was 19 points to the better after the German Grand Prix.
He did not win again, however, until Austin, by which point Rosberg had regained his advantage with four victories, but three successive wins for the Briton in the United States, Mexico and Brazil took the title chase to the final weekend.
The race in Abu Dhabi was indicative of a season that has gone like clockwork for the German. While Hamilton has suffered a variety of mechanical failures, Rosberg’s only problem was at the British Grand Prix where a gearbox issue forced him to finish in third rather than second.
It does not detract from his achievement however. Hamilton has also committed errors of his own making – particularly in starts, making five poor getaways that lost him places, four of them from pole position.
Rosberg took every chance to capitalise, has absolutely made the most of the superior machinery Mercedes have given both drivers, and has constantly stayed focussed on each individual race as the contest ebbed and flowed, a tactic that proved successful when he took the flag and the title in Mexico.