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Rosberg wins the title in strategic thriller

NEWS STORY
27/11/2016

In 2015 there were a total of 23 overtakes during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, of which 18 were courtesy of DRS. In 2014 there were 26 passes of which 24 were with the aid of DRS. Back to 2013, under the old formula, it was 34 overtakes, again DRS (34) accounting for the majority.

All of which gives you some idea of how 'easy' it is to pass here. Imagine what it would be like with no DRS... well, ask Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard lost the 2010 title - despite a bigger lead than Nico Rosberg going into today's race - because he couldn't get by Vitaly Petrov. A year later DRS was introduced.

Of course, Mercedes will be hoping that the title is decided in a nice, fair manner, not due to a fluffed start, technical failure... or worse.

Sadly however, no matter how thrilling - or processional - the race, few are here to witness it. The only 'fan' shots we get to see are party goers raising their glasses to the cameras or people standing on the various balconies. There is the odd cluster of fans to be found on one of the small patches of grass and there's a decent crowd in the stands, but it's reminiscent of Silverstone at 6am on a Friday not race day for the title decider.

We've said it before and we've said it before, Yas Marina is not fit to host a season finale... especially one at which the title will be decided.

What we want to see is the passion of fans at Monza, Silverstone, Suzuka, Mexico and Brazil, flags waving and air-horns blasting, not endless shots of yachts, infinity pools and the rest.

Other than not being a good circuit technically, the Yas Marina is sterile and not a fitting host for what will surely be the most watched event of the year. Then again, that's the point.

We'll come on to the title fight later, but first, today is a day of farewells.

Farewell to Jenson Button and Felipe Massa, two highly popular members of the travelling circus that is F1. One realised his dream by winning the title, the other came oh so close... handling the subsequent loss with a dignity that others should learn from.

While Button is already questioning his decision, in our humble opinion now is the right time for both to call it quits, certainly as far as F1 is concerned. There is still lots more racing out there, more races and titles to be won... motorsport doesn't revolve around F1.

We also say farewell to the current design rules as we welcome a new aggressive look for 2017, though in all honesty many of the changes are retro and still see the emphasis on aero as opposed to mechanical grip.

A number of drivers bid farewell to their current teams as they head to pastures new, while a couple more have yet to secure seats for next year.

In recent weeks the sport has lost a number of keys figures, first engine guru Paul Rosche, then Aki Hintsa. Sadly, overnight McLaren revealed that its "marketing stalwart" Peter Stayner had passed away. Sad times.

And talking of McLaren, how sad that Ron Dennis has slipped into obscurity so quickly, but sadly that is the business face of the sport, a cold, clinical face that fits in so well here.

Red Bull, quite rightly, has pointed out that even though it is not fighting for the title it will take the race like any other, going for the win and refusing to kowtow to Mercedes. However, over the course of the three practice sessions and qualifying, Ferrari has emerged as a credible force here.

Should the Maranello cars manage the sort of electric getaway witnessed several times last year, we could see a real upset, especially with the Italian team so desperate to take that first (and last) win of the year.

While we appreciate the aims of both Red Bull and Ferrari, and the others, we do not want to see the title decided by anything other than a decent race. Reflecting on the stats of the opening paragraph, we are minded that on a track like this, with so much at stake, 'mistakes' can happen. After 21 races we deserve better.

Sadly, whatever happens today, the 2016 season will forever be tainted, first by the failures that hampered Hamilton and the subsequent conspiracy theories.

Putting all else aside, honestly, may the best man win.

On any given day Hamilton is the better driver, there is need to say anything more. However, to dismiss Rosberg, to say he lucked into this position is utter nonsense.

You can luck into a race win, but you don't luck into a title, not after the busiest season in the history of the sport. Indeed, what madness, that whoever loses the title today will still have won at least 9 races and taken at least 8 poles.

The pitlane opens, and as Massa heads out of his garage his son, kitted out on Williams overalls, is in the pitlane to wave him off.

One by one the drivers head out, Hamilton, Ricciardo and Bottas among the last.

Air temperature is 26 degrees C, while the track temperature is 29 degrees. The race starts at 17:00 local time, the same time as FP2 and qualifying, however it will be interesting to see how much further the track cools from 18:00 and how the tyres react.

According to Pirelli, the most likely strategy is for two pit stops. Unlike those around them, the Red Bulls are starting on the supersofts.

There is a very, very impressive air display as the drivers gather for the anthem, only a couple resist the urge to look up... Hamilton is one of them.

As the field heads off on the parade lap, all are starting on the ultras bar the Bulls, Gutierrez, Kvyat, Nasr and Sainz who are on supers, while Button, Grosjean, Magnussen, Ocon and Ericsson are on softs.

"Both Mercedes drivers have available to them: two new softs, one new supersoft and three used ultrasofts (including start tyres)," confirms Pirelli.

Slowly the grid forms.

They're away.

They get away cleanly and despite a few lock-ups and poor starts from both Red Bull drivers there are no issues, bar Verstappen who spins in the first corner after appearing to hit Hulkenberg, Alonso running wide in the process.

Hamilton leads and Rosberg falls in behind. Good starts from Palmer, Kvyat and Nasr.

As Verstappen drops to last, there is some fierce fighting; Nasr and Magnussen having clashed, while Palmer and Grosjean are also hard at one another, the pair almost tripping up over Button as they scrap.

Also in serious dogfights are the Force India and Williams duos, both pairs of teammates involved in hard fought battles.

At the end of lap 1, Hamilton leads Rosberg, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Vettel, Hulkenberg, Perez, Alonso, Massa and Bottas. Magnussen pits for a new nose, while Verstappen is up to 17th.

As Hamilton builds a 0.792s lead, Ricciardo is the meat in the sandwich, with the Ferrari duo the bread.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Abu Dhabi, here.

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Kkiirmki, 28/11/2016 21:54

"I've been suffering podcast withdrawal since Japan, surely we have a season wrap-up coming? "

Rating: Positive (1)     Rate comment: Positive | NegativeReport this comment

2. Posted by SouthernMackem, 28/11/2016 0:57

"That's a fair point and I guess that's where F1 starts to have some uniqueness compared to other team sports such as cycling where there is one rider in a team nominated the leader and the other members work to get the leader to win. Well, that's when team orders are not imposed too soon.

In counterpoint it was the last race and the constructors title was sown up. I don't think either would back the other into the clutches of a competitor team earlier in the season. That said, Austria was interesting when Nico pushed Lewis in that corner, and likewise so were other races when it was the other way round. The red mist can descend on any driver at times and give them a win at all costs mentality.

I think this experience has matured Nico with how he had to soak up the pressure and put him on a different level regarding self belief, while at the same time given Lewis a dose of reality. Either way, 2017 should be "interesting"."

Rating: Positive (1)     Rate comment: Positive | NegativeReport this comment

3. Posted by MVR, 27/11/2016 23:29

"While I appreciate Hamilton was doing whatever he could to win the championship, he was effectively trying to help the competition beat his team mate.

Can you imagine the furor if in any other race of the season Rosberg helped Ferrari or RBR beat Hamilton?

And just because it was the title decider race, it cannot be condoned. All the races count toward the title. So if Rosberg put Hamilton into the clutches of a competitor in an earlier race, and Hamilton got fewer points because of it, that would have helped the title being decided too."

Rating: Positive (2)     Rate comment: Positive | NegativeReport this comment

4. Posted by SouthernMackem, 27/11/2016 21:59

"Well, to me I've just seen a very strategic race, in fact the only race Lewis could run to stand a chance to win the WDC. In the end Nico had to show his mettle and soak up the pressure and on balance of the whole season is the champion, just as it should be.

I don't get why people are having a go at Hamilton for his tactics. What was he meant to do, just run off with a huge lead knowing Nico was just going to follow? If that's what Merc expected, and toward the end they virtually ordered him to do that, then they are fools. Rosberg would have done exactly the same as Hamilton.

I don't understand why Nico was on the radio asking the team to get Lewis to move over - it was never going to happen and why should it, Nico wouldn't move if he was trying to win the WDC would he? I would hope not! The team had the team championship and they were guaranteed one of their drivers the drivers championship so where's the problem? Paddy and the others should have practiced what Toto said in the beginning and just leave them to it. Sadly instead they have added more fuel to the conspiracy flames.

Lewis is not perfect and after trying for the strategic outcome should have been gracious in defeat in both the anteroom and afterward. A few words of praise wouldn't have killed him for sure but then he is already thinking toward the next season and trying to assert mental pressure, and yes smarting a bit too.

@GrahamG: sorry, but I don't get where you're coming from. Hamilton came up through different categories and won at GP2. Since then he has been in F1 and has had his share of turkey cars to work with and try to develop. McLaren was a dog after he won his championship there and the Merc needed some work to get it to the dominating car it is was - I say was as next year is a big reset.

Who do you consider a great driver? Senna? Well, he punted off Prost to win the WDC. Prost? Well, he punted off Senna to win the WDC. Schuey? Well, he punted off Damon Hill in Australia and also tried the same move on Jaques V but it didn't work for him that time (and let's not consider trying to drive Rubens into the wall in Hungary) as well as having it contractually sate that he should win ahead of his teammate on track (rumored). All tried dirty tactics, all are great drivers of their time and the list doesn't stop at their names.

Great and good drivers always try to get the best machinery around and have done since the words Go Go Go, and this has been testified to many a time in Mike Lawrence's articles.

@CB120: It will be interesting to see the team dynamic next year. I think for now there is an element of trust gone from both Hamilton and Merc, and this has been deteriorating over the year. Lewis had control of the race, there was no way anyone was getting past him and Paddy Lowe knew that so why give a pointless order then be shocked at the outcome? Personally, I give LH one more year at Merc then he will be off to another team - maybe Ferrari if Kimi retires again, or swap with Vettel. I would say Red Bull but they definitely don't like two cocks in the hen-house.

For me, great drives all round this race and in others through the season. Nico was consistent throughout and justly deserved the title. Roll on next year with wider, faster and noisier cars!!!!!!!"

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5. Posted by CB120, 27/11/2016 20:39

"If Hamilton refuses to obey team orders can Mercedes F1 now trust him? What will Rosberg say, next year, if the team asks him to let Hamilton through? "

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6. Posted by GrahamG, 27/11/2016 20:35

"Hamilton shows his true colours - cheat if you have to, punt people off the road if you have to, get your mates to let you by if you have to. A thoroughly tawdry performance, about what we all expected.
Please don't mention him in the same phrase as truly great drivers. What's he done but drive the best F1 car around, never competed in a different category, Le Mans, Indy, Sportscars, endless testing, developing a poor car into a good one? None of these. "

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7. Posted by -ape-, 27/11/2016 19:22

"Nico is a nice guy but Lewis is still the real champion."

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8. Posted by Willie, 27/11/2016 19:12

"My old, dear late friend, Richard Rinehart (of CBS News) touted Rosberg for years. Finally, earlier this year he told me that he was tired of the spoiled also-ran German so obviously favored by Mercedes Benz.
I am sorry that Dick isn't here to see how his years of faith were finally rewarded. He will make a good Champion."

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9. Posted by Peter Rickitt, 27/11/2016 19:05

"I have just watched a post-race interview of Hamilton by Brundle - in which Hamilton again referred to his car's reliability as a major factor in his championship defeat, a remark unchallenged by Brundle - surely his succession of rubbish starts were the major factor, all down to him: when will some commentator zero in on this and point it out to Hamilton ? Blaming bad luck - which happens - , is fair enough, but conspiracies, hinted or spoken, is demeaning - of the sport, his team, his (now world champion) colleague and, above all, of himself and what he has achieved: come back Antony and sort out your son"

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