Rosberg wins final race of season in Abu Dhabi, finishing 2015 with 3-win streak, Hamilton P2 again; Raikonnen 3rd for resurgent Ferrari
Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg finished out his 2015 season on a high note on Sunday by winning his third Grand Prix in a row, bettering his conversion rate after also scoring six consecutive poles. Despite losing out on the Drivers’ Championship to his teammate and archival Lewis Hamilton for a second year in succession, Rosberg was able to earn the psychological salve of big time momentum heading into the off-season. Now, whether Hamilton lifted a bit after claiming his third overall World Championship in Austin four races ago is certainly a valid caveat to Rosberg’s new found supremacy. But there can be no arguing that after his unforced error at COTA sealed the title for Hamilton, Rosberg won the races in Mexico, Brazil and now Abu Dhabi in dominating fashion. He even had his rival complaining about his heretofore superlative Silver Arrows chassis, a sure sign that the Englishman was looking for external excuses for his slight drop off in performance. And during the day-into-night race at the gorgeous and opulent Yas Marina circuit, Hamilton could be heard begging his engineers to gamble on tire strategy by running his second set, the more durable prime soft compound, to the very end of the race. But the team vetoed such a risky strategy on the basis of diminishing returns and despite Hamilton pushing hard and getting to within 6.8 seconds during the closing laps, he was no match for Rosberg this day and wound up finishing over 8 seconds adrift. So for Rosberg it was another sweet victory over his nemesis and something truly positive to hang his hat on over the winter break. Of course, once the championship is up for grabs again in the new year it remains to be seen whether Rosberg really has the mettle to deal with a fiercely competitive Hamilton with his wick fully turned up and gunning for his fourth World Championship. If Rosberg wants to be more than a foil, he has simply got to win a title of his own some day. Otherwise, no matter how well he qualifies, how many Monaco GP victories he notches, or how many wins he picks up when the pressure’s off, he’ll never be considered anything but a “B” driver to Hamilton’s ace. In fact, until Rosberg win’s a title of his own it’s not really certain that he’s Hamilton’s true natural rival at all.
That distinction, as the esteemed Sam Posey pointed out in his pre-race feature for NBCSN, may well go to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. Starting their careers at the same time, the same age and with Vettel’s four Drivers’ titles won with Red Bull to Hamilton’s three combined with McLaren and Mercedes, the German showed again on Sunday why he is such a special talent. Starting from way back in 16th on the grid after his team uncharacteristically butchered their Saturday Qualifying, Vettel methodically worked his way through the field, masterfully maximizing the performance from each set of his tires. This enabled him to finish on the super soft options and vaulted him up to a hard won fourth place finish. That was right behind his teammate Kimi Raikkonen, who started P3 on the grid and secured that position at the end in a strong, drama-free performance to cap a very up-and-down year for the veteran Finn. Nonetheless, Kimi is slated to be back again next season as Vettel’s wingman and by finishing P3 & P4 the Prancing Horse showed that their early season form was no fluke and that the car continued to improve to the point of being undeniably the second best chassis in the field. If they can just get some more power out of the engine to compete with Mercedes’ straight-line speed it could well and truly be game on in 2016. If Vettel has the proper tools to work with he should be the one to pose the biggest threat to Hamilton’s recent run of dominance. After all, the German this year is the only driver to win a Grand Prix other than a Mercedes driver with his three victories thwarting their efforts to run the table. With a rapidly improving Prancing Horse, a classic F1 showdown between Vettel & Hamilton could be in the offing for next year.
Further down the order, Force India’s Sergio Perez drove an inspired race to finish fifth, holding off Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo all afternoon long. While Perez’s teammate Nico Hulkenberg was not quite as quick, the German Le Mans winner managed to come home P7, securing 5th in the Constructors’ Championship for the little team from Silverstone, it’s best ever result, and Force India will surely have earned the much needed cash infusion that such a high placing entails. Ricciardo ended up P6 but his Red Bull teammate Daniil Kvyat could do no better than a P10 finish and the team, which endured a season of mediocrity and acrimony with their engine supplier, Renault, finished up a distant 4th in the Constructors’, well behind third place Williams. But at least Red Bull will not be dropping out of Formula 1 in a fit of pique after all, having finally secured an engine supplier for next season. And despite all the sturm and drang, both they and the junior team Toro Rosso will again run some form of Renault power, a strange if fitting end to their season-long saga.
Despite their impressive fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship, Williams did not have a good end to their season and again the bugaboo turned out to be poor team execution. After Felipe Masa was disqualified from his home Grand Prix in Brazil two weeks ago for excessive tire temperatures, the team committed another faux pas at Yas Marina with an unsafe release of Valtteri Bottas out of his pit box. This led not only to a front wing-damaging collision with the incoming McLaren of Jenson Button but also a race-destroying 5-second time penalty. While Massa was able to soldier on to a decent 8th-place finish, Bottas ended up out of the points in P13. That essentially gifted Raikkonen fourth in the Driver’s standings, a bitter way to end the year for Bottas with no love lost between the fellow Finns. Williams have simply got to make better decisions as a team, as well as figuring out their aero issues, if they are ever going to return to the pinnacle of the sport.
Rounding out the Top 10, Romain Grosjean had a solid P8 in his last drive for team Lotus, the only racing home he’s ever known. The 29-year-old Frenchman, who had to fight for that finish after starting from 15th on the starting grid, is headed to the newly formed American team Haas F1 for its debut season next year. Haas will be running Ferrari power and there is rampant speculation up and down the paddock that they will act as a sort of junior testing team for the big Scuderia from Maranello. This could be yet another phase in Ferrari’s master plan of overhauling Mercedes and regaining what they see as their rightful place at the very top of motorsport, the F1 Championship. Plenty to think about as we head into these dormant months and, as always, we’re left wanting more of the intrigue and the drama, the skill and thrill of Formula 1 racing. But hang in there — it won’t be long until March 20 and the first race in Australia. Hope to see you then!
Top 10 finishers at Abu Dhabi:
|5||SERGIO PEREZ||MEX||FORCE INDIA||+63.952s||10|
|6||DANIEL RICCIARDO||AUS||RED BULL RACING||+65.010s||8|
|7||NICO HULKENBERG||GER||FORCE INDIA||+93.618s||6|
|10||DANIIL KVYAT||RUS||RED BULL RACING||+102.371s||1|
Top 10 Drivers’ Standings for 2015:
|7||DANIIL KVYAT||RUS||RED BULL RACING||95|
|8||DANIEL RICCIARDO||AUS||RED BULL RACING||92|
|9||SERGIO PEREZ||MEX||FORCE INDIA||78|
|10||NICO HULKENBERG||GER||FORCE INDIA||58|
Final Constructors’ Standings for the season:
|4||RED BULL RACING||187|