In F1 you cannot rule anything out. Really. From the sublime to the truly ridiculous.
How does a driver winning a race, and trying to win a championship, by driving slowly sound? Silly? Like something from satire? Of course. But F1 often is like that. And in the season-closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix we got precisely that.
But even so, the race showed why Nico Rosberg was a worthy world champion. And why Lewis Hamilton would have been too. Lewis as he has consistently in recent weeks done whatever he could to prevail; Nico meanwhile – as he also has done consistently – was resolute and used his formidable brain to do what was needed nevertheless. He even added a little racer’s flourish, with a fine pass on Max Verstappen at mid-distance.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Lewis won the race, despite as outlined spending almost all of it driving deliberately within himself. As had been anticipated he looked untouchable on pace here, relishing his chaser role at a track on which he has long been a specialist.
But the usual result of recent weeks of him winning and Nico following him in – or even Nico finishing third – would mean his title was lost. Therefore Lewis in the race did the only throw available to him – go on a go-slow and hope that the bottled-up Nico behind, suddenly with two Red Bulls and two Ferraris close-by, would lose the couple of places Lewis needed him to.
His team reportedly had warned him in advance not to try such a thing, and got agitated with him on his team radio as it became clear he was doing just that. Though you could ask too why they ever thought they could dissuade him.
No doubt Hamilton’s involvement will ensure wider frenzy, but the consensus within F1 was that Lewis was within his rights, and that almost everyone would have tried the same in the same situation. Rosberg indeed said as much afterwards and even the man ultimately rebuffed, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, also empathised with Lewis albeit a little grudgingly. Sebastian Vettel spoke of “dirty tricks”, but perhaps something was lost in the translation.
The fare therefore was tense, like all were in an impasse, rather than thrilling. Other cars were indeed close to the Merc pair throughout, though mostly it appeared that Lewis’s tactics wouldn’t do much for him. That was until the late laps when Vettel homed in on fresher, softer tyres. He even got alongside Nico at one point, and lingering not far behind them was the man who Nico referred to later as “Crazy Max”. Both getting by would have lost Nico the title.
He held off both though, and it meant that in another theme of recent weeks we ended the race roughly where we started, despite a rather unusual path of getting there. It meant too that Nico had claimed more than enough to ensure his debut world championship.
And that is the part that will live on. Long after the arguments about Lewis’s tactics, Nico’s deservedness or whatever else, have subsided.
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