Desert Decider - Abu Dhabi 2016
With the final race of 2016 dawned a series of lasts. The last race before either Rosberg becomes the second-generation F1 World Champion, or Hamilton wins title number four. The last race containing Felipe Massa, Jenson Button, and possibly Esteban Gutierrez and Felipe Nasr. Conversely, it was also the first race of the post-Dennis McLaren era, with the great man no longer involved in the organisation for the first time since 1981. This meant in turn the first race of Zak Brown's tenure at the Woking squad.
Hamilton in FP3 was complaining of brake problems, while the Mercedes pair finished 4th and 5th before sundown in the desert, behind Vettel, Verstappen and Raikkonen. Mercedes announced they would have one strategy for both cars and there would be no in-race changes to that strategy, in the interests of not interfering in the championship decider.
Toro Rosso had been struggling with punctures all weekend, including one particularly scary one which nearly put Kvyat into the wall. Suspension arms were found to be responsible but the team were on the back foot coming into the final race.
Q1 reinforced Toro Rosso's weekend problems, both firmly entrenched in the bottom 6 in Q1. Kvyat, Magnussen, Nasr, Ocon, Sainz and Ericsson fell, Wehrlein just sneaking through and Magnussen losing out again to teammate Palmer.
Q2 was a bit less abnormal, Bottas leading Button, Gutierrez, Grosjean, Palmer and Wehrlein in the second drop zone.
Hamilton did everything he had to in qualifying, taking pole position despite a slight vibration on the right rear corner. Rosberg held 2nd, in turn doing everything he needed to do. Ricciardo then led Raikkonen, Vettel, Verstappen, Hulkenberg, Perez, Alonso and Massa. While most were focusing on the front row, it's worth noting that Raikkonen has outqualified Vettel over the season 11-10. Going back to the front pair, all credit to Nico Rosberg who in every race this year has started on row 1. Even without technical problems, the same could not have been said of Hamilton this year as Ricciardo's pole in Monaco left only one front row slot for the title protagonists.
The Red Bull pair were starting on supers, with the rest of the top 10 on ultras.
Ricciardo lost out to Raikkonen off the line while Verstappen was seemingly tagged out of turn one and dropped to last. Perez overtook Hulkenberg, while Kvyat was 13th after a lap. Magnussen pitted at the end of the first lap for a new nose.
Bottas scythed past Massa for 9th place, Palmer at the tail of the Williams fight. A few laps later Bottas reported a problem with the rear and lost out to his outgoing teammate.
Magnussen, meanwhile, retired the Renault as Bottas was also called in. Williams insisted to Bottas he was not being retired, but that remained to be seen.
Hamilton was called in on lap 7, Raikkonen following suit. Alonso, Palmer and Nasr also pitted. The Mercedes rejoined in 7th ahead of Verstappen, while his teammate was called in on lap 8, Vettel following him in. Hulkenberg and Massa were in behind them but crucially at the front Rosberg stayed ahead of Raikkonen as Kvyat and Gutierrez also stopped.
Ricciardo and Perez pitted on lap 9, Ricciardo just behind the Ferrari of Raikkonen. All the leaders were now on soft tyres, although Verstappen on older supers was still in the mix having not yet pitted.
Raikkonen was warned on lap 11 that his battery was running out, presumably thanks to him using it against Ricciardo's advances.
Button's final race was ended on lap 13, his right front suspension arm deciding it didn't like being slammed into a kerb. He at least got the McLaren back to the pits and waved to the crowd for one final time. Kvyat's Toro Rosso carried on for another couple of laps, then ground to a halt on the back straight, negating DRS for a lap.
Ricciardo tried another lunge on Raikkonen who pinned the Red Bull to the inside, leaving Ricciardo unable to make the move and Vettel well-placed to pressure his former teammate.
Rosberg forced his way past Verstappen, the pair nearly wiping each other out twice.
Verstappen pitted on lap 21 for softs while Rosberg used his new clear air to set the fastest lap. The Dutchman rejoined 8th, behind the warring Force Indias.
Ricciardo stopped on lap 24, taking another new set of softs and rejoining behind Verstappen. Raikkonen was in a lap later and lost out to the Red Bull. Verstappen, just ahead, overtook Perez. The sister Force India pitted as we saw a replay of Grosjean seemingly being run off the road by Sainz but still overtaking the Toro Rosso.
Ricciardo's strategy was explained by a pair of flat spots.
Hamilton was called in on lap 28, Perez having just rejoined further back. Rosberg once again was in on the following lap.
Hamilton was just barely giving Mercedes the minimum they asked for in terms of lap times, Rosberg a tenth faster around the mid-point of the race.
Vettel pitted on lap 37 for supers, rejoining 6th. Nasr turned into Ocon as the Manor tried to overtake him, breaking both front wings and seeing both cars go a lap down as they stopped for repairs.
Ericsson lost out to Palmer, then to Sainz as well in the space of a few hundred metres. The Sauber pitted, releasing Wehrlein into 15th as the lead Manor let the Mercedes pair lap him.
Vettel, with better tyres and DRS, was basically let past by Raikkonen for 5th.
Verstappen lapped Sainz and Palmer, helping the Toro Rosso past the Renault before Palmer rear-ended Sainz after they both yielded to Ricciardo. Palmer dived straight into the pits, while Sainz had a broken gearbox and was limping back for a full lap, mostly in first gear. The incident went under investigation. The Renault got a 5-second penalty but he was already in last.
Vettel scythed past Ricciardo, almost unnecessarily dangerous but it got the 4-time champion the position.
Vettel took 3rd from Verstappen, Hamilton backing Rosberg into that battle as the title fight became ever more tense. Hamilton was warned to pick up the pace, not only by his engineer, but by management as well and basically told at least Paddy Lowe where to go.
Rosberg took the world title as Vettel seemed to back out of the DRS move on the last lap, meaning all Hamilton's hard work backing the pack up and damaging his relationship with the team was for nothing. Behind the Mercedes were Vettel, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, Perez, Massa and Alonso. Outside the points were Grosjean, Gutierrez, Ocon, Wehrlein, Ericsson, Nasr and Palmer. Sainz, Kvyat, Button, Bottas and Magnussen all failed to finish.
This is only the second time in F1 history that the son of a world champion has taken the title also, and given the driving of Hamilton in the last few laps, there can be no doubt that the best man over the year took the crown.