By Bob Constanduros
On Friday night, Nico Rosberg will be officially crowned 2016 Formula One World Champion. Some people may not agree that it’s deserved but you’ll have to live with that; he’s won the championship by the rules of the game and he gets the title. I’m sure there are some who believe it’s a fix, that Mercedes engineered it this way but most sane folk have worked out that Nico’s got more points than Lewis and therefore he’s World Champion. End of.
I have some sympathy for Lewis and those who believe he should be World Champion. Both he and Nico have had what is obviously the fastest car on the circuit and run by what has proved to be the top team, and it’s come down to the two of them. Lewis has usually been the faster driver of the two – not always – and he may well be right that he’s lost the championship through reliability. But he still doesn’t have as many points as Nico.
Lewis himself often makes the point that he’s the quickest driver out there – he did it after the race on Sunday evening and I was amused that Nico turned that around by just saying that that makes it even better to beat him to the World Championship. “He’s just an amazing driver and of course one of the best in history so it’s unbelievably special to beat him because the level is so high and that makes this even more… for sure, so much more satisfying for me because the benchmark is so… and I took the World Championship away from him which is a phenomenal feeling. It’s been a great year as well, for sure he drove at an extremely high level, he’s done some incredible racing so he’s been a very very tough competitor and I don’t know how many points we are apart at the end, you know, five points, which is unbelievable.”
Lewis was just as congratulatory to his teammate, if slightly later than might have been the case on the podium. But the loss of the championship, I guess, was still raw. But that’s how it was after the race and let no one be in any doubt. However, it wasn’t always so during the weekend.
The war of words, the niggling comments, the to-ing and fro-ing of propaganda, the claiming of the higher ground had been in full swing at the weekend and that, in itself, made for interesting viewing. But Nico wasn’t necessarily very good at it. For instance, he claimed Lewis’s traditional spot at the front of the driver’s parade truck by sneaking onto the truck under the side railings while the others were queued up waiting to get on at the back. When Lewis made his way to the front of the truck, Nico was already in residence. After a while, he obviously thought this was a pretty silly thing to do and went back to join everyone else, leaving Lewis to his usual lonely vantage point.
Go back to Thursday and there were some cryptic comments from Lewis about the changing of his crew during the year, with once again the paranoid hints that forces were working against him. And then there were some amusing comments from Lewis about possibly backing up his teammate into the opposition, something which eventually happened. He pretty much denies that he would do so; here’s what he said:
“ In terms of tactics in the race, that has to come on Sunday. I have to really think about that. But that’s not really ever been my thought process. I’ve always just really just tried to… if I’m out ahead I want to be generally as far ahead as possible. Generally when you have a 18s… 30s lead that’s as painful a blow as you can give to the guy you’re fighting. So, when you look at the last race, if we didn’t have red flags I would have been 30 seconds ahead and those scenarios for me, it’s more valuable, it’s more of an achievement than backing up your team mate. Plus here, while in theory it sounds like it makes a lot of sense, practically it’s not very practical to do. You have two long DRS zones here. Wouldn’t be very easy and very wise to do so. So, no.”
Hmm, makes interesting reading, I’m sure you’ll agree, especially in light of what happened on Sunday. Even so, backing Nico into those behind did make for an enthralling ending to the championship and let’s remember, even if you didn’t like it, Lewis did nothing wrong. Nico frequently used the word intense for those last seven laps or so, and it was a word that I used in my commentary too. We should be grateful to Lewis for making it so exciting and intense, but we should also be thankful to Sebastian Vettel for not wanting to influence the championship outcome. Frequently in those two chicanes, if he’d come down the inside of Nico, he would have been confronted by the side view of Lewis’s car and if he’d left his braking a fraction late, then he might have T-boned the leading Mercedes. Instead, he admitted that he didn’t want to influence the championship, even though he wanted to win the race so exercised caution.
Max Verstappen might not have been so generous. Nico had already had to overtake him – and mentioned that it wasn’t something he wanted to do again and Sebastian on much newer tyres did the same. But would impetuous, youthful Max have been quite so cautious about the championship battle? I’m not so sure…
But Nico was perfectly generous to Lewis about his driving in those last few laps, calling it perfect. Having said that, I’m reminded of something that Nico’s father said of Alain Prost some 30 or so years before. “Alain tried to block me,” said Keke about some race or other, “but he didn’t do it very well because it’s not in his nature to block people!” These days, with tyres that are giving different performances, it’s part of the game: ask Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen who’ve found themselves in similar, if less critical situations this year.
I noticed that Nico didn’t always use DRS when on Lewis’s tail and I still can’t understand why. Nico therefore didn’t give himself the best chance of overtaking his rival. But I don’t think it was that important; I’m not sure Nico was ever going to get that close to Lewis. The faster man was just controlling the race as he could.
Of course, there was also the case of Lewis disobeying team orders when told to speed up – the team was afraid that Vettel could be in a position to win. There was always going to be the potential of Lewis backing up Nico, and according to Christian Horner, Mercedes were naive to think otherwise. This was a clash of team interests versus driver interests and Toto Wolff can add that to his list of problems. It’s just part of a competitive character, which often proves to be immensely selfish to ordinary folk and which is unpalatable to some.
Rosberg, meanwhile, has had to come up with his own approach to combating his immensely talented teammate which he’s done with success. There was a big catalyst and it was Lewis who set it in motion last year. “For sure that was a big turning point,” admitted Nico, “it was Austin, because Austin was a horrible experience for me and I really spent two days just on my own thinking and I said I didn’t ever want to experience that again and then I went and won the next seven races on the trot, so for sure it was a big moment for me and one of the key moments for being here today.”
He worked on his own strategy, his own approach: to totally focus on what was required, to use his mental strength. “For sure it’s a key ingredient, yeah, to why I’m here now. It’s continual, yeah, it’s just my approach that I’ve taken from myself. Everybody does it his own way; for me that feels best and I’ve really learned to focus hard. It takes a lot of sacrifice also to stay so focused during a whole year. For sure that helped, yeah.”
So he’s done it and done it his way, by not necessarily being the fastest man out there but by being the strongest in other ways. And you can’t deny him that. Good luck to him on Friday and we’ll look forward to an even stronger Nico Rosberg next year.
PS: Wow, I wasn’t expecting that. Nico retires at the top, a brave decision but a totally wise one. I love it when people state their retirements rather than their career just petering out. It was shown in the love for Felipe Massa and Jenson Button when they announced their retirement and very much so last Sunday, but also particularly Allan McNish when he won the World Championship for Endurance drivers and retired.
And now Nico’s done the same. I have to admit that I was wondering what Nico’s Mum was saying to him when they had their cuddle after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: ‘now will you quit please?’ It’s well known that Sina gets hugely nervous during races. She used to take the dog for a walk when they had one, even when he was racing on the streets of Monaco. She would go miles out of town to get away from the GP. More recently, it’s been time to clean the house (although presumably not the room in which Keke was watching the race).
I hugely respect Nico’s decision – sometimes wish I could do the same! But it’s what I would expect from a young man who knows his own mind. Fair play and good luck to him.