There’s a joke currently doing the rounds on social media that Fidel Castro survived 638 assassination attempts, but even he couldn’t make it through 2016.
And it really has been that sort of year – the year when everything was turned upside, ‘experts’ were confounded at every turn and Leicester City won the Premier League. Against this backdrop, Nico Rosberg becoming the 2016 Formula 1 world champion makes perfect sense.
The experts didn’t think he could beat Lewis Hamilton in a straight fight. The keyboard warriors don’t think he’s ‘fever’ or exciting or that a shaved monkey could have won the world championship in that car, although probably not during that bit in the middle of the season when radio communications were banned and all of a sudden no one knew how to get a car off the line, or something. It all seems like a long time ago already.
Twenty sixteen was the last year of the current rules, the much derided quiet cars, with their clever, 1000bhp ‘powertrains’, record-breaking pace, that are so easy to drive a teenager can win in them, although no one else with a Merc really had a look in.
This rules package won’t be missed, even if the one that replaces it, isn’t actually that much quicker and provides poorer racing. So long as someone at least takes the fight to Mercedes it will be an improvement.
There’s never been such a prolonged period of such utter domination by a single team. McLaren’s 1988 form wasn’t carried over to such a massive degree into 1989, Lotus was relatively-speaking nowhere in 1979 after the rest had sussed ground effect. Even those dreadful Ferrari years in the 2000s were interrupted by the occasional competitive year. I genuinely think that 2003 will be viewed as a classic season by racing historians of the future.
They’ll struggle to find much to get their teeth into for 2014-16. With the strangely notable exception of the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix, Mercedes could and probably should have won every race. The fact that it’s only lost 100 million viewers in the face of such domination shows the underlying strength of the F1 brand. This will be sorely tested if Rosberg or Hamilton cruises to victory in Melbourne next March.
The one shining light of the Mercedes Masterclass era has been the disintegration of the relationship between its drivers, which has had a surprising number of twists for a two-act play, although even M Night Shyamalan can write more surprising endings than the one we had in Abu Dhabi.
Quite why Mercedes top brass were in anyway surprised at the drive he produced is a mystery. He clearly had no interest in just winning the race, it was the championship that mattered, and disappearing up the road for victory was only going to ensure an easy second for Rosberg and with it the title.
Backing him into the Red Bulls and Ferraris was the only chance he had, but even at classic Sunday driver pace, such was their advantage that it was only in the closing stages when Ferrari aced the tyre strategy that this even became even remotely threatening.
There did at least appear to be some genuine affection in their podium handshake, orchestrated by David Coulthard to his credit, but there is real enmity in the relationship now, and if – and I so want this to happen – the Red Bull is on the pace next season, Mercedes may well find itself having to favour one driver over the other in order to fend off its rival. Now both are world champions, this will make the sparks fly!
Nico Rosberg: world champion. Yep, that’s right. And it doesn’t bother me one bit. For sure, as racing drivers love saying, he’s not as fast as Lewis Hamilton. But since when has that been the only deciding factor? Was Farina faster than Fangio, Hawthorn faster than Moss, Scheckter faster than Villeneuve, Lauda (1984-spec) faster than Prost?
No, of course not. But Formula 1 has never – except in the blinkered memories of the message board moaners – been a flat-out sprint, rewarding pure pace over everything else. Winning championships has been a balancing act, judging when to push for the win and knowing when to settle for points when the win isn’t possible.
In this era of almost perfect reliability perhaps that’s not so important, but actually in the end it was reliability problems that did for Hamilton. But these were no conspiracy, it’s just that this happens sometimes. Over the course of 21 races there was plenty of opportunities to make these points back. Perhaps he could have been more patient in Spain, perhaps he could have sorted his starts out earlier.
Either way, he’ll be back next year with a fighting chance of regaining his title. Rosberg did what he had to do. He carried on his strong form from the of 2015 and hit the ground running at the start of the season. He made the most of every opportunity that fell his way, pushed for the wins when they were there for the taking, settled for second when they weren’t.
The points table never lies. For all the hard luck stories, for all the one-off freak results, at the end of the season, whoever gets it deserves it. If points were awarded for artistic merit, then Ricciardo or Verstappen would have walked it. They aren’t, Rosberg won it, so get used to it. It’ll be 2017 soon. Chelsea or Man City will win the league, Le Pen will be defeated in the French elections and months will pass without even an obscure celebrity passing away.
Bring it on!
Andrew van de Burgt has been a motor racing journalist for over 15 years. He started working for the Jaguar Racing team on its website in 2000, before moving to AUTOSPORT in 2002. From 2005 to 2014 he was the Editor and then Editor-in-chief of the most prestigious motorsport weekly and online publication in the world. He has covered everything from NASCAR in the States to V8 Superscars in Australia and pretty much everything in between.
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