Nico Rosberg was crowned 2016 Formula One World Champion as he finished second behind team-mate and title rival Lewis Hamilton at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel was third for Ferrari.
Hamilton took the win he needed in the race but despite a hugely tense finish in which the leading Mercedes drivers were hunted down Sebastian Vettel, Rosberg clung on to second to win the title by just five points.
Both Hamilton and Rosberg got away well at the start and the pair slotted into first and second respectively. Behind them Daniel Ricciardo bogged down at the start and was quickly passed for third place by Kimi Raikkonen.
There was trouble too for the other Red Bull driver, Max Verstappen. The Dutchman collided with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg in Turn One and the Red Bull was pitched into a spin. Verstappen dropped to P22 but quickly began to fight back, rising to P15 by the end of lap four.
As the first round of pit stop began, triggered by leader Hamilton who took on soft tyres, Verstappen flew up the order and by the time Rosberg made his stop for soft tyres the Dutchman was in P2 behind Hamilton.
Lapping around half a second off the pace of the race leading Mercedes, Verstappen began to hold up Rosberg, resulting in the German starting lap 17 2.8s adrift of his team-mate. Behind the top three Raikkonen now held fourth ahead of Ricciardo, Vettel, the Force Indias of Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez, Williams’ Felipe Massa and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.
Earlier, on lap 14, Jenson Button, in the second McLaren, had the 305th and, according to him, final race of his F1 career ended by a steering fault.
On lap 20 Mercedes informed Rosberg that he needed to pass Verstappen to keep his race under control and the German responded immediately ROS diving down the inside of Verstappen’s car in Turn 8. The Dutchman resisted the attack but ultimately Rosberg, carrying a bit more speed, got the job done as they head for Turn 11.
Verstappen promptly made his first stop, for soft tyres. That resulted in Mercedes then informing Rosberg that they believed Verstappen would attempt to run to the end of the race on the set and that to guarantee P2 Rosberg would need to up his pace over the following three laps. Again the German obliged, immediately setting the fastest tour of the race to that point.
By lap 28, as leader Hamilton made his final stop, for more soft tyres, Rosberg has 25s in hand over Verstappen. That was deemed enough to call the German in for his final stop and after taking on more soft tyres on lap 30 he emerged behind Hamilton, but crucially was 3.9s ahead of Verstappen.
With only one pit stop made, Vettel led the race, and the German decided to go long on his second set of tyres. He nursed the soft compound set until lap 37 and then took on supersofts in the hope of catching strugglers in the final part of the race. He emerged in P6 and set off after team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
In the meantime Hamilton’s pace began to flag. The Mercedes pit wall questioned his lap times and the defending champion briefly ran quicker but a few laps later he again began to slow, with the result that Rosberg was slowly being pushed back towards Verstappen. On lap 38 the gap between the Red Bull driver and the Mercedes man was 3.4s.
It wasn’t Verstappen who was the threat though. On new supersofts Vettel’s began to surge forward. He quickly claimed the scalp of Raikkonen and lapping up to two seconds quicker than those ahead he swiftly caught up to the front four.
On lap 46 he was inside DRS range of fourth placed Ricciardo and Mercedes were on the radio telling Hamilton to increase his pace due to the “imminent threat”.
The messaging became more insistent as Vettel’s loomed, with Hamilton being told: “Ok Lewis, this is an instruction: we need a 45.1 for the win.” The terse response was “suggest you let us race”, but Rosberg was now on the other channel asking why the pace was so slow and requesting that he be allowed to pass Hamilton.
The situation became even more critical when Vettel blasted past Verstappen and with four laps remained edged inside half a second of Rosberg.
Hamilton was told by Mercedes engineering chief Paddy Lowe that he needed to up the pace. Hamilton responded that he was leading and quite comfortable. The final laps became ever more tense.
Vettel attacked on the penultimate lap, trying to overtake Rosberg into Turn 11. The German resisted though and that was it. Vettel stood off on the final lap and a little under two minutes later Hamilton took his 10th win of the year but the bigger prize – the FIA Formula World Championship title – went to the man in second place, Nico Rosberg.
Vettel finished the season with his seventh podium of the season, while Verstappen finished fourth ahead of Ricciardo. Sixth place went to Raikkonen, while Hulkenberg signed off on his time with Force India with seventh place ahead of team-mate Sergio Perez. Ninth place went the retiring Felipe Massa and the final point went to McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.