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Winners and Losers - Abu Dhabi

28 Nov 2016

A new world champion was crowned at Sunday’s 2016 Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but Nico Rosberg wasn’t the only one earning plaudits at Yas Marina. So who else ended the season on a high? And who left with their minds already set on a brighter 2017?


The Winners

Nico Rosberg

Where else to start?

For the past two years Abu Dhabi has been a hard place for Nico Rosberg. In 2014 it was where his world championship ambitions first faded, and last year despite victory it was another reminder that his Mercedes team mate was the top dog.

Not this time. He did everything he needed to as he took a hard-fought second place, to clinch his first world title and to emulate his illustrious father Keke’s 1982 feat.

“That definitely wasn’t the most enjoyable race I’ve ever had!” he admitted afterwards. “With Max (Verstappen) early on, and then with these guys coming at the end, it definitely wasn’t fun. I’m just really glad it’s over!”

Refusing to condemn his team mate’s tactic of backing him into the pack, he added: "Lewis (Hamilton) was using all his skill to do it perfectly so there was absolutely no way for me to get by. I thought about it but it was pointless - he did it in a perfect way.

"It's simple. You can understand the team's perspective and Lewis's perspective."

Afterwards he looked completely drained, but he had done it. By drawing on every ounce of mental fortitude he has come back stronger every year. And with nine victories this season, he is by any standard a thoroughly deserving world champion. The biggest winner on the day. At last.

Lewis Hamilton

In the final four races of 2016, Lewis Hamilton did everything he could to retain his crown. And in Abu Dhabi he did what surely any of the top drivers would have done in trying to back his team mate into the rivals who might have pushed him into the fourth place in which Hamilton needed him to finish.

In the end, things didn’t work out his way, but he scored a dominant 10th win of the season from his 61st pole position, and he never stopped trying. No other driver in history has claimed 10 wins in a season and not triumphed overall. Hamilton might no longer be the reigning world champion, but he still drives like one.

Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari's strategy call

When he saw several of his rivals making their second pit stops Sebastian Vettel initially became agitated with Ferrari - but by leaving him out to run longer, until the 37th lap, the team gave the German - who started fifth - a spell in the lead and enabled him to rejoin on the faster supersoft tyres and have a shot at the win.

While that didn't ultimately materialise, Vettel was able to charge through to third - his first podium since Monza in September. His pass on Max Verstappen also guaranteed him fourth in the championship, ahead of the Dutchman. 

“I think it was an important race for us today,” Vettel said. “In the final laps, I would have liked to gain two more positions, because the speed was there; but it was difficult to make the move because the car in front also benefited from a tow. Nevertheless as a team we deserve this podium, and I hope it gives some momentum to all of us.

“It’s been a tough year, with lots of up and downs, so I’m really happy with this result. About our global performance in 2016, I think we don't need to find any story or invent something. I think we expected more; but after the first half, where we could have scored more points, I think we showed real strength by coming back. In the last couple of Grands Prix we had very good race pace, always enough to match Red Bull, and probably even a bit quicker.”

Force India's record breakers

Behind all the excitement up the front of the race, Nico Hulkenberg suffered nothing from an early brush with Max Verstappen and took a fine seventh in his final outing for Force India. With team mate Sergio Perez eighth the team easily safeguarded their fourth position in the constructors’ stakes - the team’s best-ever championship finish.

“It was quite a simple and lonely race actually, mainly racing with my team mate because the top six cars were just out of reach,” Hulkenberg said. “Turn 1 was quite interesting because I got hit by Max, which damaged the floor of my car and made things a bit more difficult. Fortunately we had the pace to hold position and bring home the result.

Perez only just got home ahead of a fighting Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso, but in doing so became the first Force India driver to score over 100 points in a season.

“It has been a tremendous year for us and it’s important to pay tribute to each and every member of the team for all their hard work and hours of dedication back at base and at the track,” said deputy team principal, Robert Fernley.

“All the effort has paid off and we can now celebrate the best ever year in our history.”

Felipe Massa

Felipe signed off his great F1 career with a battling drive that maintained his record of scoring points in every Abu Dhabi Grand Prix he has started. After a strong opening stint he pitted from P10 for a new set of soft tyres, rejoined 13th, then made good progress as he overtook Romain Grosjean’s Haas and ran as high as seventh before making his second stop for another set of new softs on lap 31. He was closing on Perez hand over fist, but was still six-tenths of a second shy by the flag in ninth place.

“Well, I’m really proud to have been fighting up to the last lap of the race in the same way I fought in the first lap of my career!” he said.

“I want to say thank you to everyone - everyone who has been with me all the way, racing together. Thank you to the fans and to Williams, who I will keep supporting in the future! Thank you to everyone who has been part of everything I have been through. I have finished my career with my head up, the same way I started it. I also took a little extra care with the car seeing as it will now be mine - thank you again to Williams for that gift!”

Germany as an F1 force

In joining Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel as German world champions, Nico Rosberg also extended his nation's remarkable streak in Grand Prix racing. Having gone 43 years without claiming an F1 title, German drivers have now won 12 of the last 24 championships. 

Rosberg also moved Germany level with Brazil and Finland, with all three nations having produced three different world champions. Only Great Britain has produced more.

 

The Losers

Red Bull

There’s no question that Red Bull made the best they could of the situation once Max Verstappen had been spun around exiting Turn 1 on the opening lap. The team undoubtedly did a fine job switching him to a one-stop strategy, and he drove superbly to stay in contention in the circumstances that Hamilton imposed. But one couldn’t help thinking that had he been on the two-stopper with which he had started, and thus had fresher rubber beneath him, the end result might have been different…

Jenson Button

He so wanted to finish his illustrious F1 career in style with a decent points finish, but fate denied Jenson Button that. He ran as high as seventh by the 10th lap, but when the right-front suspension collapsed as he went over a kerb his day, and his final Grand Prix, was done.

“A suspension component failed on the car - which very rarely happens to us,” he said. “I had a failure on the right-front - and I’m just glad I was able to figure it out before I hit the brakes for Turn 11. It’s always been a massive strength of our team that components so rarely fail, but today - of all days - something did, which is just unlucky.

“Nonetheless, I enjoyed today massively. My race was short, but I loved everything else. I was really emotional before I got in the car - it was such a special atmosphere to have the whole team and all my friends and family cheer me on my way into the garage. I’m just glad I was wearing my sunglasses at that moment...

“I’m very content with all I’ve achieved in my career. Now, it’s done. I live in the moment, though, and tonight’s going to be a helluva lot of fun!”

Toro Rosso

Toro Rosso had a horrible time in practice with rear wheel rim failures. These were traced to the gap between the wheel rims and the brake ducts being just that bit too tight in the search for maximum braking efficiency - the temperature rise led to damage to the rims.

Come the race, the team appeared to have solved the problem, and hoped for points as both Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat longed to get their right feet down after all the frustration.

But Kvyat succumbed early to a suspected gearbox problem - and borrowed a pushbike to get back to the pits! - while Sainz was embroiled in a tough fight with Jolyon Palmer which ended in gearbox failure after the Briton had inadvertently spun him on the 42nd lap.

Renault

Renault, too, had a miserable race. Magnussen hit another car in the opening-lap melee and had to pit for a new nose, but the suspension had also been damaged so the Dane - in his final race with the team before heading to Haas - became the first retirement.

Jolyon Palmer, meanwhile, had been 10th after six laps following a demon start, before falling back to an unhappy 17th thanks to horrific tyre degradation and a five-second time penalty for running into the back of Sainz.