It was inevitable that Mercedes would rewrite the record book in the final race of the season. When Nico Rosberg led Lewis Hamilton home in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to record a third GP victory on the trot, it marked the twelfth one-two this season for a team that had scooped a remarkable 87% of the championship points available in 2015. Not even Ferrari, Red Bull or McLaren-Honda in their heyday had managed that.
Also true to form. Mercedes had allowed their drivers to race, so much so that Hamilton was encouraged to try a different strategy during the 55-lap Grand Prix. When you have two drivers of similar talent in identical cars united by their searing pace, it is the only way of avoiding a procession. And by taking pole position – his sixth in succession – Rosberg had ensured, barring misfortune, he would be leading that procession.
This was the first blow against Hamilton on a weekend when he urgently needed to put a halt to Rosberg’s impressive late run of success. Hamilton played it down, but such was his almost desperate desire to stop his team-mate’s momentum that he made major adjustments to his Mercedes-AMG, changes that clearly were not working judging by ragged laps and a spin during practice, followed by a yawning 0,3 sec gap to the pole position time.
When Rosberg made a perfect start and Hamilton’s chance of snatching the lead at the first corner was gone, the result would be down to strategy. Two stops were predicted, but Hamilton chose to run a longer middle stint in the hope that fresher tyres – possibly the softer, faster but less durable choice – would make the difference. “We gave Lewis all the options,” said Toto Wolff, Mercedes team principal. “But, in the end, Nico was the quicker guy today. He was too far up the road for Lewis to be able to do anything about it when he made the late stop.”
But that was not for the want of trying on Hamilton’s part. Rosberg had built a five-second lead before his first pit stop, but the Briton closed right up not long before his team-mate stopped again.
This was when Hamilton rolled the dice and stayed out. When he did come in for the last time with 14 laps to go, the gap was 11,5 seconds. Hamilton used his fresh tyres to close the gap initially. Then the tyres began to wear and it became clear Rosberg was controlling the race perfectly. Hamilton backed off in the closing stages, the pair crossing the line separated by eight seconds, but united by writing the Mercedes name into the book of outstanding achievement during a season.
The sliver cars were untroubled but, saying that, had there been the slightest hesitation, Ferrari were close enough to make trouble. Kimi Raikkonen finished third with Sebastian Vettel fourth after a strong drive from fifteenth on the grid. That made it an all Mercedes/Ferrari podium for the tenth time as the Scuderia cemented its reputation as the most improved team of 2015.
That will have given Mercedes food for thought during the closed season, but perhaps not as much as Rosberg has given his team-mate at such a psychologically important time of the year.
When asked who was the happiest, Hamilton said it had to be him because he was World Champion. Rosberg simply smiled and said winning three in a row right at the end made him very happy indeed. Nico didn’t need to add that was also because he had taken the glitter of Hamilton’s highly successful year and made it clear Lewis might have difficulty staging a repeat in 2016. Bring it on!