So Lewis Hamilton won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and Nico Rosberg became the 2016 Formula 1 World Champion. Who’d have thought that eh? Well, to be honest, most of us. It was always the likely scenario but what a tense 55 laps they were on Sunday. Funny how a race run at such a slow pace, turned into such an enthralling spectacle as Lewis Hamilton tried his damnedest to secure a 4th title.
In doing so he went against the wishes and instructions of his Mercedes team. Ignored the calls from his race engineer, Pete Bonnington, to speed up a bit and also from Paddy Lowe, his boss, that the pace he was running was threatening a Mercedes win.
So were Mercedes right to make those calls and was Lewis right to run the race for his own aspirations rather than those of the team? So many opinions have been expressed, but now we’ve had a chance to calm down a bit, here’s how I see it.
Firstly, of course Mercedes were right to ask Lewis to up his pace. The Constructors’ Championship might have been won, but they were there to win the race, pure and simple. They don’t care which one of their drivers takes the chequered flag first, as long as one of them does. That’s why they go racing and that’s why near on 3,000 people work tirelessly throughout the year to try and achieve that. As far as the team are concerned, the two drivers should race to the best of their abilities for the good of the team. That’s why Mercedes draw up a ‘rules of engagement’ document at the start of the season, spelling out exactly what is expected on the track, and why both drivers were given, in the words of Toto Wolff, a yellow card after they clashed on the last lap in Austria and cost the team a 1-2 finish.
Like it or not, that’s the deal and the drivers are expected to abide by it. Formula 1 is a team sport and the two men behind the wheel are part of that team, obviously a pretty important part, but only a part, not a lone wolf.
All of which might lead you to believe that I think that Lewis was wrong to slow down and back his team mate into the chasing pack. But you’d be wrong. In this instance, what else did you expect him to do? He’s a racing driver, he’s there to win, not just races, but titles too and his only chance, bar a mechanical problem for Nico, was to in some way give the opposition a chance to get onto the podium. And I have to admit, he did it very well. Helped by Verstappen’s early spin and subsequent one stop strategy, but also by his awareness of just when he’d be vulnerable to an overtake by Rosberg and when he could take his foot off the gas.
A lot of fans asked on Sunday night, “if Lewis was going so slowly, why didn’t Nico just overtake him?” a fair question I suppose, but when you look at the sector times it’s clear that Lewis was pretty much flat out in the first part of the lap, putting enough distance between himself and Nico so that Nico couldn’t get past him in the DRS Zones, and then rather coasting in the final part of the lap where he couldn’t be passed and where the others could catch up.
I’m sure Nico knew it would be coming, just as I’m sure he felt really uncomfortable throughout the whole race, thinking that his best chance, maybe ever, of becoming champion, might actually get snatched away from him. But would he or anyone else on the grid have done the same thing if they were in Lewis’ driving shoes? Of course they would and there’s nothing wrong in that. All’s fair in love and sport, as long as you don’t break the rules. In this instance, Lewis didn’t break the rules of the sport, but he did go against the rules of the team, which is why he’s liable for a dressing down from his bosses.
Will he be sacked? I doubt it very much, it’s a bold move by Mercedes to get rid of a 3 time champion at a time when the regulation changes just might ensure that his talents are needed even more than they have been in recent years. Could there be a fine though? It’s a difficult one, but after the warnings were given post Austria, to not take any action, might seem like weak management. Toto Wolff has much to ponder over the next few days.
Will what happened affect the relationship between the two drivers? Well, only time will tell on that one. I certainly think that the outcome of this year’s championship will hugely motivate both for the next campaign ahead. And isn’t it great that as one chapter closes in Formula 1, another talking point raises its head to keep us all talking over the winter. Who knows what we’ll be talking about by the time we head to the British Grand Prix? Tickets are on sale now and I get the feeling that the four days of Silverstone will be pretty unmissable.
Next year is sure going to be an interesting one. No Felipe, no Jenson and no Herbie Blash, as the Assistant Race Director steps down after not missing a race since 1973!! All three will be very much missed and it was a huge shame to see JB retiring after hitting a kerb in what will more than likely be his final race. Luckily there are many more, much better memories, that we’ll have of his glorious career.
He was the 31st different World Champion, Nico Rosberg is now the 33rd. Congratulations to him, he’s a top bloke who I expect will have had the biggest party of his life on Sunday, ahead of a long flight to Malaysia to begin the never ending round of sponsors engagements, interviews and award ceremonies that are coming his way before he finally gets a chance to sit down with his family and enjoy what they’ve all achieved together. “We did it” he cried out to his wife Vivien just after he’d crossed the line. How nice was it to hear the two of them celebrate together.
Teamwork, it won out in the end, but thanks to Lewis as, for once, going it alone made for a much better spectacle.