Lewis Hamilton did everything in his power he could to be champion with a win in Abu Dhabi, but it wasn’t meant to be as teammate Nico Rosberg finished right behind him to claim the bigger prize.
Hamilton got a great start off the line and beat Rosberg going into turn 1. The race win was pretty much his from that point on. The Mercedes play their strategy very conservative with their drivers for most of the race to minimize the chances of a penalty and/or race incident, which included pitting their drivers much earlier than other teams.
A late wrench was thrown into the mix when Sebastian Vettel of Scuderia Ferrari pitted off cycle of the Mercedes drivers. This put him in the lead coming to the last 20 laps of the race before he pitted onto faster super-soft tires.
Vettel was posting the fastest laps of the race in the closing laps and it started to cause angst in the Mercedes garage. Hamilton used it to his advantage by backing his pace and forcing Rosberg to fight with Max Verstappen and Vettel for second and possibly lose the title.
Vettel made the pass on Verstappen for third with five laps to go. This prompted Paddy Lowe, technical director at Mercedes, to tell Hamilton to pick up his pace and he responded as follows, “I’m actually in the lead and quite comfortable.”
He also said he was “losing the world championship so right now I don’t really care whether I win or lose this race.”
It made no difference in the end as Hamilton crossed the line first to win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and Rosberg crossed runner-up to secure the championship by a five-point margin.
“Honestly, I feel great,” Hamilton said on the podium. “First off, I’d like to say a big thanks to everyone who came out to support us. I want to say thanks to my family for all their support and thanks to the team and especially to the team for doing such a great job. It’s been a real privilege being part of this team and achieving the success we had this year. I never would’ve thought when I joined this team that I’d have that many wins.
“And a big congratulations to Nico (Rosberg) of course on his first world championship. Good job man.”
It’s his 53rd career victory and 104th career podium finish.
“I did everything I could these last four races and that’s all I could really ask of ourselves,” he said when asked his emotional state following losing the title. “So I leave here and have a lot of fun tonight celebrating with the team and everyone.
“You can’t win them all. Obviously, we had a lot of problems this year. So that’s why I’m in this position. But I’m still grateful for all the success up and down we had as a team.”
Rosberg’s 57th career podium finish was enough to win him the 2016 championship.
“That was definitely not the most enjoyable race I’ve ever had, with Max (Verstappen) in the beginning and then with those guys coming up in the end,” Rosberg said when asked if this was “just another day in the office” on the podium. “Really not very enjoyable those last laps. Very very glad it’s over and unbelievably ecstatic. (Indiscernibly gives thanks to wife Vivian and daughter Alaia for their support)…and I’ll thank everybody else afterwards.”
He and his father Keke Rosberg join Graham and Damon Hill as the only father/son pairs to have won drivers titles in Formula 1.
“Very proud of course to have done the same feat as my dad achieved,” he added. “He’s going to be coming in half an hour I think. It’s going to be exciting to see him.”
Vettel’s third place finish was his 86th career podium finish and only his second in 13 races.
He started off by congratulating Rosberg on his championship victory before answering the question of why it took him so long to get back to a podium finish.
“Well it’s tough all day,” Vettel said. “The last couple of laps, I didn’t want to be in his (Nico Rosberg) shoes. I was trying to get close and have another go. I was thinking ‘Why not pass both of them’ if Lewis (Hamilton) is going that slow in front. But yeah, it was difficult because my tires were dropping more towards the end.
“A bit stuck at the beginning of the race, couldn’t really unfold my pace. I was starting to get a bit frustrated. But once I had clean air, I could really unleash the pace that we had today.”
Verstappen finished fourth gambling on a one-stop strategy because of his lap 1 spin in the first turn following contact with Nico Hulkenburg.
In his post-race interview, he said the race “was very enjoyable. Of course after the start, I was a bit like ‘Well, let’s see where we end up now after the spin.’ Good pace and managed to hold onto the super-softs for quite a long time. Basically just recused my race a little bit. Of course, it’s still not an ideal strategy to do with one stop because you’re always protecting the tires. But yeah, I enjoyed it a lot overtaking that many cars and finishing fourth in the end was a great result.”
He was asked if one stopping was the plan the whole time.
“It was not Plan A,” he added. “So yeah we had to change it, but it worked.”
Teammate Daniel Ricciardo rounded out the top-five.
Kimi Raikkonen finished sixth, Hulkenburg finished seventh, Sergio Perez finished eighth, Felipe Massa finished ninth in his final F1 race and Fernando Alonso rounded out the top-10.
The Haas F1 drivers finished 11th (Romain Grosjean) and 12th (Esteban Gutierrez).
Jolyon Palmer was handed a five-second time penalty for causing a collision with Carlos Sainz on lap 42.
Five cars retired from the race, including Jenson Button who was making his final F1 start.