In F1, the first person you have to beat is your team-mate. Andrew Davies’ Team-Mate Wars returns.
Star of the Race: Lewis Hamilton
Overtaking Move of the Race: Lap 21: Nico Rosberg on Max Verstappen. He had to do it, he was told to do it, and do it he did. Rosberg’s pass on Verstappen was potentially his riskiest moment of the race. Luckily for him, Max gave him a lot of room through the corner. He could have cut back a lot tighter between the first and second apex and Rosberg scrambled through.
Season: Lewis Hamilton 13 – Nico Rosberg 8
Lewis Hamilton produced a masterclass of race management in a grand prix where the Mercedes management acted badly. We have seen team orders used in the sport before to allow one driver or another to win a race, we have never seen an instruction to allow another driver to win the World Championship. Asking Lewis to speed up was gifting Rosberg the title.
After the race the supreme irony was that Toto Wolf went round giving interviews saying that Lewis had set a precedent, not realising the terrible precedent his own team had set. Paddy Lowe’s ‘instruction’ to Lewis Hamilton to speed up at the end of the race was simply the most atrocious bit of sports ‘rigging’ you are likely to bear witness to (because most of the time it’s covert and not in the public domain).
Whatever you think of Lewis Hamilton, he is a competitor in a sport, out to win a race and a World Championship. Although this shouldn’t be a major consideration, people have bet money on him becoming World Champ (anybody remember the betting rumpus when McLaren told David Coulthard to gift the Aussie GP to Mika Hakkinen). Mercedes had already obliterated the Constructors’ title, one of their drivers was definitely going to be the World Champion, and Lewis was in supreme control at the front of the race and really wanted to win. Why interfere?
Instead of pointing the finger at Car 44, Lewis should really be asking Mercedes serious questions why they behaved that way. To interfere in a World Championship battle like that, while claiming they like to let their drivers race is hypocrisy of the highest order. Wolf, Lauda and Lowe run the Tarnished Silver Arrows team.
As it was – and here’s another twist. In backing Rosberg up into Vettel and Verstappen, Hamilton allowed Rosberg to show how he could truly cope with all that pressure. There is much talk of Rosberg not being a ‘deserving champion’, but in putting him through that test of nerve, Lewis helped reinforce the idea that Nico deserves to be champ. Had Lewis blasted off into the distance and put 30 seconds on his rival, then that might have added more weight to the argument that this was down to Lewis’s Malaysia Merc Meltdown.
What Lewis did was immense for F1. It gave the season a cliffhanger end, gave Rosberg the chance to shine under pressure, got him another win and left everyone with memories of a race which they could not take their eyes off in the seven concluding laps.
Mark Webber was a bit underwhelmed that Lewis couldn’t be more gracious to his team-mate afterwards, but that misses the point. The fact that it clearly hurt Lewis not to get his fourth World Championship makes it even more valid for Rosberg. He won a proper fight. Not a “Meh, go on, you have it, I’ve got three already.”
Season: Vettel 13 – Raikkonen 8
Considering that Kimi has outqualified Seb 11-10 over the season – a major result in itself – those positions haven’t necessarily led to better results, and so it was in Abu Dhabi. Between them, Ferrari and Seb worked out a podium-stealing strategy that surely augers well for the future.
Season: Ricciardo 9 – Verstappen 8
This was a race where Max could have been a much more prominent contender, but his self-induced opening lap spin put paid to that. It wasn’t a question of the Force India not giving him enough room, inexplicably he ran too wide and paid the price.
As noted above, he was uncharacteristically generous with Nico Rosberg on Lap 21, but when the Mercedes came past his tyres were dying and it would have made no sense to tough it out when he would have had to come in within two or three laps.
Ultimately, Max’s bottling up of Rosberg was unable to help Daniel Ricciardo. Red Bull were anxious to try things that cut across what Mercedes were doing (like starting on different tyres) but ultimately, with Lewis in a backing-up kind of mood, the best option might have been to do exactly the same.
Season: Bottas 14 – Massa 7
Bottas outqualified Massa before he disappeared with problems, and that was the TMW business done.
Season: Button 7 – Alonso 13
Jenson’s season (and his career) went out with a whimper, a poor race in Brazil and a hearty clip of a ‘sausage’ kerb in Abu Dhabi deranging his suspension. Now the dust covers can be put over him, like a living Norwegian Blue.
He was unlikely to get past his team-mate a little further up the road. Alonso was again making progress, rattling at the doors of Q3 and getting in. The difference between him and Stoffel VanDorne next season will be one of the most interesting aspects of the opening two races.
Season: Perez 9 – Hulkenberg 12
The Hulk edged qualifying, the race and also the season. He was lucky not to sustain too much damage when Max ran into him, and finished the race in front of his much more fancied team-mate. In the Autosport team managers’ poll, each team manager gets to vote on their top 10 drivers of 2016, which is a fantastic idea, but Perez comes in No.8 and Hulkenberg doesn’t make it into the Top 10. Which is strange.
Season: Sainz 14 – Kvyat 3
There was a masterly understatement by Ben Edwards in commentary during qualifying where both Toro Rossos underperformed. “So, Toro Rosso, I think paying the price for all the issues they’ve suffered in free practice.” They had a wheel rim nightmare in practice, and the double DNF in the race was untypical of their season. Sainz made the best use of his underperforming machinery.
Season: Gutierrez 7 – Grosjean 14
Grosjean resumed the team’s typical run of 11th places coming home almost 20 seconds in front of Gutierrez.
Season: Palmer 10 – Magnussen 11
Palmer outqualified Magnussen, and then Magnussen disappeared.
Season: Wehrlein 4 – Ocon 3
There were shades of the Boulder Bothers – when Nick Heidfeld and Rober Kubica drove together and enjoyed taking lumps out of each other – with Ocon and Wehrlein at Yas Marina. The two Mercedes protégés (though one more protégé than the other) collided when Ocon tried to go round the outside of Wehrlein at Turn 11. As you can imagine, it was the other one’s fault.
They both continued on, and both finished in front of the Saubers, even though neither was able to retrieve the necessary points to jump them in the constructors’ table.
Season: Nasr 8 – Ericsson 12
Ericsson finished in front of Nasr, who had tangled with Ocon earlier in the race. Now that Felipe has lost his Banco do Brasil sponsorship he’s exiting the team. Yet it was his supreme skill in Brazil two weeks ago, that secured Sauber many more millions than Ericsson is bringing to the team next year. What did Marcus do in that race again…? He was one of the first to crash.
Haas of the Race
Romain Grosjean is continuing in his trenchant observation of the Haas’s ability to stop before corners. “Goddammit!” he yelled over team radio at one stage in Abu Dhabi, breaking his vow to stay calm in the face of adversity. Romain, they’re bound to have found a solution by March.
David Coulthard C4 speaking ahead of Q3 on Saturday: “Well, this is the Abu Dhabi Doo moment.”
Eddie Jordan C4 talking about Max Verstappen’s ability in F1 machinery: “To do magic so many times in a row is not reasonable.”
Lewis Hamilton on team radio: “I suggest you guys let us race.”