It was always going to be a statistical impossibility for for Lewis Hamilton to win his fourth Formula One title after the Malaysian Grand Prix effectively bankrupted his quest to do so. And so it all hinged on the last race of the season two drivers in the same car, the superior car of the season going for the jewel in the F1 crown, the drivers world championship.
Rosberg had to finish outside of the top three for Hamilton to win and of course Hamilton had to take the win. The latter was easier than the former.
So Hamilton’s only option was either to take a dignified and commanding win, let the 2016 stats write the history books and allow Rosberg to wrap up his first championship title or play a cunning strategy.
The cunning strategy or as Vettel said after the race “dirty-games” was to slow his pace and in the process slow Rosberg in the hope that the chasing pack behind would pressure Rosberg into making a mistake of some magnitude.
In most cases that would work if the field was competitively matched give or take a margin of error of about three tenths.
But Hamilton’s strategy was flawed from the very beginning, it was never going to work. Why? Because so superior is the pace of the Mercedes even a relativity slow lap is faster than it’s closest rivals, Red Bull and Ferrari.
What the spectators saw was an artificial race run under artificial lights in a desert region turned into an artificial 21st century oasis.
Hamilton controlled the race from the start as both Mercedes drivers made excellent starts from 1st and 2nd.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was meant to play his part in the race but dropped down to last after spinning while exiting turn 1 on the first lap.
At the front Rosberg followed closely behind Hamilton and suspiciously close was the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen who grabbed third on the opening lap from the Red Bull of Ricciardo.
This indicated Hamilton was indeed slowing his pace trying to back up Rosberg into the Ferrari. Though Raikkonen looked to have pace ultimately it still wasn’t enough to challenge the might of the Mercedes.
A kind of stalemate settled and it wasn’t until the last quarter of the 55 lap race that things started to get tense.
With laps running out, all tyre stops completed and the two Mercedes settled in 1st and 2nd Hamilton realised that he was to far ahead of the chasing pack to allow them to pressure Rosberg.
Meanwhile Max Verstappen had clawed his was back to third after switching to a 1 stop strategy and seemed to have the better pace over his team mate Ricciardo.
Vettel too had looked down and out for much of the race and stayed out for 37 laps before making his one and only pitstop. But on fresher tyres he began to make a charge up the field from sixth.
By lap 47 Vettel was the heels of Max Verstappen ahead of them and looming ever closer lap by lap lay Rosberg and Hamilton.
Vettel dispatched Verstappen by lap 51 and set his sights on Rosberg who was no more than 2 seconds ahead due to Hamilton displaying a masterclass into how to drive slowly without loosing position on a track where overtaking is possible.
Meanwhile team Mercedes instructed Hamilton to speed up for fear of loosing a 1-2 finish however Hamilton ignored the pleas.
Ultimately Hamilton’s tactics failed and he crossed the line to win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with Rosberg finishing second albeit just 0.4 seconds ahead of the Ferrari.
The post race atmosphere was just as tense between Hamilton and Rosberg as the two barely looked one another in eye as they headed to the podium.
But they did manage a forced handshake at the insistence of David Coulthard who officiated the post-race podium interview.
The debate will rage as to whether Hamilton’s tactics were befitting of a three times world champion.
Hamilton made Rosberg work for his trophy for sure and perhaps that might make Rosberg a better driver as a result. For now Rosberg can be satisfied he is deserving to be crowned the Formula One World Champion for 2016.