Nico Rosberg clinched his maiden world title on Sunday when he finished second in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix despite Lewis Hamilton ignoring team orders in his quest to foil the German.
The 31-year-old Rosberg concluded the longest season in the sport’s history with a nail-biting second place under intense pressure after leader and ultimate race winner Hamilton had slowed the field to create a difficult finish.
Hamilton reeled off his 10th win of the season – the most by any driver not to win the title – and the 53rd of his career, but his gamesmanship upset his team and his teammate in the closing laps.
His final lap was nine seconds slower than the lap that carried him to pole and was clearly designed to push Rosberg into a vulnerable position as Sebastian Vettel closed in in his Ferrari.
Hamilton ignored two instructions from the team to increase his speed at the front, but was unable to create a situation in which Rosberg could be attacked and passed.
It was Rosberg’s triumph, in the end, as his wife Vivian made clear when she screeched her congratulations on the team radio. “We did it, we did it!” “Yippppeee!” Rosberg replied.
Rosberg joined an exclusive club by becoming only the second son of a former champion to take the title, his father Keke having won the championship 34 years ago with the Williams team.
Briton Damon Hill did the same when he won the title with Williams, following his father Graham’s achievements, in 1996.
He also became Germany’s third champion.
The tension was palpable as they climbed from their cars to go to the podium after the race in which Vettel finished third for Ferrari ahead of Dutchman Max Verstappen and his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo.
Rosberg celebrated by giving F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone a massive bear hug, lifting the diminutive octogenarian high into the air, as Hamilton stared glumly at the floor.
Rosberg reliving the final tense laps, said: “With the guys (Vettel and Verstappen) coming up behind me the end was not the most enjoyable.
“I’m very proud to have done the same feat as my Dad achieved.”
On the podium Hamilton’s good grace returned and he gave his former teenage go-carting companion a handshake and a hug.
“Big congratulations to Nico, good job man,” said Hamilton.
As the sun descended at the end of a hot, dry and dusty day at the Yas Marina circuit, Hamilton made a perfect start from his 61st pole position to lead away from Rosberg.
In a frantic opening lap, Verstappen spun after touching the Force India car of German Nico Hulkenberg, dropping him to 17th as he rejoined and advanced through the pack.
After a series of pit stops and mid-field scraps Hamilton was left in control by lap 34 ahead of Rosberg by 1.3 seconds with Verstappen third and Vettel, setting fastest laps, climbing back to fifth to launch himself in pursuit of the two Red Bulls.
CREATE A THREAT
“Ok, Lewis, we really need to pick up the pace,” Hamilton is told by his team. “Vettel is a threat.” For the defending champion, it was the news he wanted to hear, even if for Mercedes it presented a dilemma.
With 10 laps remaining, it was obvious Hamilton was driving as cautiously as he could to compress the field and create a threat behind Rosberg.
“Ok, Lewis, this is an instruction – we need 45.1 – this is for a win,” said the team on Hamilton’s radio on lap 46. “You should just let us race,” he replied.
Hamilton’s tactics had forced a compressed field and a fight for positions.
Mercedes technical team chief Paddy Lowe followed on the radio. “Lewis, this is Paddy. We need you to pick up the pace to win this race. That’s an instruction.”
“I am actually in the lead right now,” said Hamilton. Lowe’s face on the pit wall fell in despair.
On lap 51, Vettel passed Verstappen for third with a bold move to increase the tension, leaving Hamilton backing Rosberg back towards the charging Ferrari, but he survived to take his title.
1. Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes 1:38:04.013
2. Nico Rosberg (Germany) Mercedes +00:00.439
3. Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Ferrari 00:00.843
4. Max Verstappen (Netherlands) Red Bull – TAG Heuer 00:01.685
5. Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Red Bull – TAG Heuer 00:05.315
6. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari 00:18.816
7. Nico Huelkenberg (Germany) Force India – Mercedes 00:50.114
8. Sergio Perez (Mexico) Force India – Mercedes 00:58.776
9. Felipe Massa (Brazil) Williams-Mercedes 00:59.436
10. Fernando Alonso (Spain) McLaren 00:59.896
11. Romain Grosjean (France) Haas – Ferrari 01:16.777
12. Esteban Gutierrez (Mexico) Haas – Ferrari 01:35.113
13. Esteban Ocon (France) Manor – Mercedes 1 lap
14. Pascal Wehrlein (Germany) Manor – Mercedes 1 lap
15. Marcus Ericsson (Sweden) Sauber – Ferrari 1 lap
16. Felipe Nasr (Brazil) Sauber – Ferrari 1 lap
17. Jolyon Palmer (Britain) Renault 1 lap
r. Carlos Sainz Jr (Spain) Toro Rosso – Ferrari 14 laps
r. Daniil Kvyat (Russia) Toro Rosso – Ferrari 41 laps
r. Jenson Button (Britain) McLaren 43 laps
r. Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Williams-Mercedes 49 laps
r. Kevin Magnussen (Denmark) Renault 50 laps