Never give up. That is one of the prevailing messages after an intriguing 2016 F1 season. After being humbled by teammate and arch rival Lewis Hamilton in 2015, losing the title and race victory on a day in Austin when he had the win sown up, belief must have been in short supply.
However, Nico Rosberg used the disappointment of that day in October 2015 as a springboard. The German has finally beaten Lewis Hamilton over the course of a full season, taking the title in dramatic circumstances, as a desperate Hamilton did everything to spoil Rosberg’s coronation day.
Nico Rosberg is the 2016 World Champion and enters the sport’s Hall of Fame.
What a season he has had. Nine race victories, 20 front row starts, 16 podiums and 489 laps led, this was a year when Rosberg emerged from Hamilton’s shadow.
Much has been made of the difficulties Hamilton endured throughout the campaign. I’m going to address the elephant in the room head on and from the outset. Undoubtedly, Hamilton’s unreliability was a factor, but not as big a factor as his poor starts and brace of anonymous weekends in Azerbaijan and Singapore.
Not to mention the Rosberg-Factor. While he may have achieved one less victory than Hamilton this season, he was hugely consistent on both Saturday’s and Sunday’s and delivered under intense pressure.
One of the most impressive elements of Rosberg’s campaign was the way he was able to overcome adversity. Think back to Q3 in Mexico. The German had struggled throughout the weekend. Even on his first run in Q3, his W07 was poorly balanced, making his final run of the session not only technically challenging, but critical to his prospects for the rest of the weekend, on a circuit notoriously difficult to overtake. Just ask Sergio Perez!
Somehow, he managed to find the front row alongside Hamilton. When Lewis faced similar adversity in Baku, he found the barrier.
On Rosberg’s good days, he was imperious. Singapore stands out as one of the German’s greatest drives, let alone the best of 2016. The circumstances that played out were quite extraordinary when you consider that it was Hamilton’s poor pace that ultimately triggered a chain of events that very nearly allowed Daniel Ricciardo to catch and pass Nico.
Ricciardo’s incredible pace in the closing stages on fresh tyres was still not quite enough to reel in Rosberg, who was excellent value for the 25 points he earned that day.
Hamilton may have won the race in Abu Dhabi, but I’d argue that he had the easier job on showdown day. Rosberg was the man with one hand on the championship – a maiden championship no less – and the pressure must have been immeasurable, especially when Hamilton was managing the pace to such an extent out front, and Vettel and Verstappen loomed large in Rosberg’s mirrors.
This was a champions drive. He nailed the start, passed Verstappen to make his strategy work and held his nerve in a finale with near unprecedented levels of tension, with the title protagonists separated by fractions.
Hamilton fought valiantly, and I certainly don’t blame him for backing up his teammate. It was inevitable as the narrative of the race played out. However, Rosberg maintained control and is well worthy of his seat at the top table.
Nico Rosberg – Drivers’ World Champion. There’s something I didn’t think I’d be typing twelve months ago…