There is no asterisk next to Nico Rosberg’s world championship, yet the debate over the manner in which he won it isn’t going away.
|Beat team mate in qualifying||8/20|
|Beat team mate in race||9/19|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||549/1186|
His astonishing decision to leave the sport having won the title has done nothing to quieten his critics. He won’t get lucky a second time, the argument goes, so what’s the point in staying to be beaten by Lewis Hamilton again?
But even though Hamilton undoubtedly lost more points due to factors beyond his control than his team mate did, the Rosberg of past seasons probably wouldn’t have been close enough to take the title. The fact he did does partly reflect the fact Rosberg raised his game.
This was clear at Singapore, the high-point of his season, where he simply out-qualified and out-raced his team mate. Yes, Hamilton had lost some practice time with a technical problem. But the same was true of Rosberg in Baku and he won there too while Hamilton ruined his weekend by clipping a barrier in qualifying.
With the sting of his defeat at Austin in 2015 spurring him on, Rosberg turned to meditation to strengthen his mental approach and bought a go-kart to sharpen his racecraft. One result was a more feisty Rosberg in wheel-to-wheel combat, leading to clashes between the pair in Spain and Austria. The latter led to the Rosberg’s first penalty for a driving infringement in years and two more followed before the season was out as he sparred with Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen. He may have overstepped the mark at times but 2016-spec Rosberg was no pushover.
He began the year with four wins in a row, profiting from two poor starts for Hamilton plus a pair of technical problems in qualifying. By the summer break his team mate was back ahead. Rosberg squandered points in the Monaco rain, where he was deeply unimpressive, and at a slippery Silverstone.
The old Rosberg might have buckled at this point but he returned to action with renewed energy. Again technical trouble for Hamilton helped swing the pendulum but Rosberg was unrelenting in grabbing every point which came his way. Which driver played the stronger mental game in 2016: the one who bickered with the media and fluffed his start at Suzuka, or the one who beat him to pole position and victory?
This was the turning point. Now Mr ‘I’m taking every race as it comes’ only needed second places, and he delivered them. Even when Hamilton turned the pressure up to 11 at Yas Marina, Rosberg didn’t stumble.
It’s undeniable that Hamilton’s worse reliability cost him the title several times over. But Rosberg got within the margin of error because he raised his game. He stunned the man he’d been losing to since they were children, claimed the one success he craved, and bowed out in style.
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Over to you
I cannot help but admire Nico Rosberg this season. He was unflappable and drove the most logical season I’ve seen in a long time.
A crushing start to the season was followed by a crushing restart after the mid-season break and that was all he needed. When Hamilton retired in Malaysia (as happens in Formula One), Rosberg followed it up with a brilliant victory in Suzuka and wisely followed Hamilton home in the final four races.
In my opinion Hamilton was (and is) clearly quicker than Rosberg, but Rosberg is the 2016 world champion and that will be his forever.
What’s your verdict on Nico Rosberg’s 2016 season? Which drivers do you feel he performed better or worse than? Have your say in the comments.
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The F1 Fanatic Driver Rankings are produced by referring to:
- Race-by-race notes on how they performed (see below)
- How well they performed compared to their team mate
- How competitive their car was
- Other data on the 2016 season
View race-by-race notes on Nico Rosberg
Australia – Win number four in a row for Rosberg was not achieved in the same manner as the three at the end of last season. He didn’t quite have the pace of Hamilton in the run-up to the race and needed a second run in Q3 to beat Vettel. He got ahead of Hamilton at the start – he said he did not intend to force his team mate wide – but was passed by both the Ferraris. An early first pit stop got him ahead of Raikkonen and brought him onto Vettel’s tail, but it was switching to medium tyres during the stoppage which won him the race.
Bahrain – “I was sure that I had got pole when I crossed the line” said Rosberg – he was less than a tenth of a second away from Hamilton and joined him on the front row again. He got away more cleanly than his team mate and as his closest rivals had all hit trouble before the race was a lap old he motored on to an untroubled win.
China – With Hamilton compromised and Ferrari tripping up in qualifying, Rosberg was looking at an open net. He delivered on Sunday with a clean second run in Q3 to take his first pole position of the year, and had the added bonus of being able to start the race on soft tyres thanks to Mercedes’ performance advantage in Q2. The Safety Car meant he wasn’t able to take full advantage of the strategy, but with all his major rivals tripping up at the start a sixth straight win was never in doubt.
Russia – Quickest in the morning running on Friday, Rosberg didn’t manage to get a quick lap together on super softs in the afternoon. But in Q2 he produced stunning pace and looked capable of giving Hamilton a run for his money until his team mate’s misfortune gifted him pole position. The biggest threat to his race victory came from an MGU-K problem which he managed en route to his fourth win of the year.
Spain – Impressed throughout practice but was beaten to pole position by Hamilton. Grabbed the lead at the start but his power unit was in an incorrect setting – likely because of an error on Rosberg’s part, which left him vulnerable on the approach to turn four. He defended as firmly as the rules allow, but the consequence was a collision which ended both drivers’ races. A needless accident in more ways than one.
Monaco – Also had a fuel pressure problem during qualifying but was held in the pits and managed to get two runs in. That allowed to to grab second on the grid behind Ricciardo, but as the Red Bull disappeared up the road it was clear Rosberg was holding Hamilton up. Rosberg was at a loss to explain his lack of speed – “possibly a brake issue” – but said he had no qualms with the “simple decision” to let Hamilton by, in spite of the damage it did to his points lead. He slipped behind Alonso in the pits and was mugged by Hulkenberg in the last-lap drizzle. He took the flag a minute and a half behind his team mate and never looked like someone who had won this race three times before.
Canada – Well off Hamilton’s pace on Friday (with, curiously, a much higher top speed), but after scrutinising his team mate’s data Rosberg ran him close for most of qualifying until he got too greedy in the turn one braking zone on his final run. He left himself vulnerable to Hamilton at the start and should have expected his team mate to give him as little room as he did two years ago. After that his progress was hampered by a puncture and a penultimate-lap spin while trying to pass Verstappen.
Europe – It was Rosberg’s turn to run the harder tyre during practice which he felt disguised his pace on Friday, along with a loss of power in the second session. He came to the fore in qualifying and took an emphatic pole position as Hamilton tripped up. He was never headed in the race and while he was never seriously tested either it’s hard to see what more he could have done.
Austria – Headed the times on the first two days of practice but on Saturday morning suspension failure put him in a barrier, leading to a gearbox change penalty. He had the pace to beat Hamilton in qualifying – his sector times were better – but coped less well with the tricky conditions in Q3. From sixth on the grid he moved to the front with little difficulty, though his first set grained more quickly than Hamilton’s. He might have taken the win had Mercedes left their drivers on one-stop strategies but Hamilton took fresh tyres and put him under pressure, and on the final lap Rosberg buckled. Though he also had a brake-by-wire problem and debris from Vettel’s puncture to contend with, his move on Hamilton was cynical.
Britain – Only fractionally slower than Hamilton in first and third practice but was confined to the garage by technical problems in the second session. However when the serious business started in Q2 it became clear his team mate could access levels of performance Rosberg couldn’t reach. The same appeared to be the case in the opening wet stages of the race as Rosberg dropped back and was passed by Verstappen. However as the track dried Rosberg picked up pace and took second off Verstappen, though it proved temporary as he was penalised post-race for receiving radio assistance to fix a gearbox problem.
Hungary – Rosberg was undoubtedly lucky that Alonso’s spin in Q3 compromised his team mate yet gave him a chance to take pole position. As he passed the yellow flags he backed off sufficiently for the stewards – just as Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen did two races ago – and it’s unrealistic to expect a driver to do more. He was out-dragged at the start by Hamilton and Ricciardo and though he smartly re-passed the Red Bull and gave chase to his team mate it proved to be in vain.
Germany – Fastest in all three practice sessions, Rosberg’s pole chances took a blow when an electronic problem forced his to abandon his first run in Q3. However, despite having a couple of extra laps of fuel on board, he beat Hamilton to pole. However a tardy start threw it away and left him scrapping with the Red Bulls. He was unlucky to lose time at his first pit stop, but a repeat of his Austria defensive move while trying to pass Verstappen led to another penalty. The damage was amplified when Mercedes held him in his pit box too long, and Red Bull’s pace in the final stint was quick enough to block him from the podium.
Belgium – With Hamilton compromised Rosberg duly delivered pole position, though it looked like there was more pace in the W07. After his rivals tripped over themselves at turn one he built up a four-second lead in the first lap alone. This wasn’t a day when Rosberg was significantly taxed, though he managed two medium-tyre stints very well to make a two-stopper work. This was little to get excited about, but nothing to fault either.
Italy – Simply not on Hamilton’s pace in qualifying and admitted as much afterwards. If they were in slower cars there would have been several rivals between them on the grid. But they aren’t, so when Hamilton fluffed the start Rosberg was straight into a lead he never looked like losing.
Singapore – While Hamilton toiled away, Rosberg had a rather smoother practice and was on top form in qualifying, blowing away the competition in Q2 and Q3. Although he pulled out a healthy lead early in the race it wasn’t an easy cruise to victory this time: Ricciardo came on strong in the final stint while Rosberg had to stay out on worn tyres. He coped with the pressure superbly, moderated his pace well and clung on to maximise his points haul on a tough day for his team mate.
Japan – Finally took the victory to go with the speed he has shown at Suzuka in the past. He delivered under pressure in Q3 and started cleanly, after which he had a straightforward run to the chequered flag.
Malaysia – Couldn’t live with Hamilton’s pace in qualifying and had to settle for second on the grid. He was blameless in the turn one collision with Vettel, and had to give his all as he made his way back to the front. He acted quickly and decisively to put a move on Raikkonen and collected a penalty which seemed harsher than those he’s previously had in 2016, but it couldn’t keep him from retaking third place.
United States – Always seemed to have the three-tenths deficit to Hamilton which was apparent in first practice, and qualifying bore that out. Like his team mate he started on the soft tyres but he allowed Ricciardo to get the better of him in turn one, falling to second. He was going to have to pass Ricciardo on the road to get the place back until the Virtual Safety Car handed him the position.
Mexico – Said Mercedes had a lot of work to do having been some way off Hamilton’s pace on Friday. He didn’t have his team mate’s pace during much of qualifying, but pulled out a decent final lap in Q3 to reach the front row. The gap in performance between the pair of them was apparent in the race, too: Rosberg never looked likely to catch Hamilton and instead came under attack from Verstappen, but kept second place.
Brazil – Heading into the final sector on his last lap in Q3 he needed only to replicate his run from his first lap to take pole position. But he fell short by a tenth of a second. If Rosberg genuinely was trying to win rather than settle for second it didn’t look like it, though his half-spin early in the race could have cost him dearly.
Abu Dhabi – Couldn’t keep up with Hamilton in qualifying but the chasing pack was half a second slower. Hamilton took care of that in the race, of course, which made for a very uncomfortable 55 laps for Rosberg. However at key moments he did what he needed to: he was quick enough on his first out-lap to keep Raikkonen behind, fought superbly to pass Verstappen, and kept his cool at the end. Slower than Hamilton, but deeply impressive under pressure.
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