Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor @F1TheaJ
Well, well, well. Hamilton started on pole with Rosberg taking P2. Raikonnen was pipped to P3 by Ricciardo, with Vettel in P5 next to Verstappen in P6. The Red Bulls started on supersofts while the remainder of the top ten started on Ultrasofts.
Either Hamilton or Rosberg would be 2016 Driver Champion by the end of the race but who would it be? Did Rosberg have the easier job (only had to finish on the podium to clinch the title) being 12 points ahead of Hamiilton or does he have more to loose (for the same reasons?)
The race got off to a pretty clean start with Hamilton and Rosberg getting into turn1 in P1 and P2. Ricciardo lost P3 to Raikonnen after a small lock up. Vettel held P5 but Verstappen dropped like a stone to the back of the pack after a minor collision with Hulkenberg which sent Verstappen into a spin and allowed Hukenberg to move up a place.
By L2, Magnusen was in the pits for a very slow pitstop as the front wing just wouldn’t budge. He was the first retirement of the race (L5)
There was a flurry of early pitstops with Sainz and Wehrlein coming in on L6, followed by Nasr, Palmer, Alonso, Hamilton and Raikonnen on L7. Hamilton’s pitstop was slowed by the incoming Raikonnen who had to be allowed past Hamilton’s garage before Hamilton could be released (no risk of a penalty for unsafe release in this race.)
Rosberg swiftly followed suit on the next lap and was covered by Vettel in a remarkably similar move: Rosberg’s stop was also compromised by Vettel coming into his garage. With Hulkenberg, Massa, Gutierrez, Kvyat, Ricciardo and Perez also pitting, Verstappen (having made a couple of overtakes) found himself back at the front of the pack. In fact by L10 Verstappen was in P2 behind Hamilton but ahead of Rosberg, who in P3 was still in a WDC winning position.
By Lap 11 Hamilton was running a good 8 seconds per lap slower than qualifying pace, so it seemed he was taking Christian Horner’s advice and trying to back up the pack leaving Rosberg vulnerable to loosing P3.
The question on everyone’s lips, as Verstappen continued lap after lap on the supersoft tyres, was how deep can he go into the race and was he on a one stop strategy?
Sadly L12 saw a front suspension failure and we lost Button from the race, followed shortly thereafter by Kvyat on L16.
L19 saw a brave but ultimately failed overtake attempt by Ricciardo on Raikonnen which had the unfortunate effect of slowing him enough to make him vulnerable to the chasing Vettel.
By L20 Rosberg was told to get on with it and overtake Verstappen who was (having not pitted) clearly on a one stop strategy. Rosberg duly obliged and after a bit of a scrap took P2. Verstappen made his first (and only) pitstop the following lap, emerging in P8 on a brand new set of soft tyres.
At this point the front runners were Hamilton, Rosberg, Raikonnen, Ricciardo , Vettel, Hulkenberg, Perez, Verstappen, Massa and Alonso.
On Lap 22 Rosberg was told his next three laps were crucial, as it was likely that Verstappen was going to go to the end of the race on his current set of soft tyres.
Having tried and failed to overtake Raikonnen, Ricciardo then pitted on Lap 24 onto a fresh set of soft tyres. Raikonnen coverd him the following lap but crucially came out behind Ricciardo, so Red Bull’s strategy of using the undercut to get Ricciardo ahead of Raikonnen worked nicely, with Ricciardo now in P7 ahead of Raikonnen in P8.
Hulkenberg and Perez pitted over the next two laps, followed by Hamilton on L28 and Rosberg on L29. All this left Vettel leading the race for the next nine laps until he pitted for a fresh set of supersoft tyres on lap 37, emerging into P6. By L41 Hamilton had caught up with the back markers and quickly made short work of Sainz and Palmer. Vettel, on new tyres, was much faster than his teammate and quickly took P5. Verstapen, then Ricciardo also lapped Sainz and Palmer, who unfortunately had a collision (or rather Palmer ran into the back of Sainz and received a five second penalty for his efforts which came as little consolation to Sainz who subsequently retired with gear box failure.)
Vettel continued his charge and by L44, having set the fastest lap, was within three seconds of Ricciardo. By this time Mercedes realized they wouldn’t be having it all their own way and told Hamilton that Vettel was an ‘iminent threat.’ By L46 Vettel had made short work of Ricciardo and taken P4. Hamilton had been lapping around 1:46.2 (slow) and by L46 was given a clear ‘instruction’ by the team that he needed to be lapping at 1:45.1. He responded by telling them to ‘let us race’ and started backing them up even more. By lap 51 Vettel had overtaken Verstappen and was on for the third podium position and at the rate Hamilton was dawdling home, possibly the win.
By now Rosberg had been on the radio saying he could go much faster than the current pace which resulted in Paddy Lowe getting on the blower to Hamilton with ‘a clear instruction’ to Hamilton to pick up the pace. Hamilton’s response? He slowed it down even more and actually said he was loosing the World Championship and didn’t care if he won or lost this race.
By this time Rosberg was less than 0.8s behind Lewis and had even less of a lead over Vettel: Verstappen wasn’t too far behind either. Rosberg was looking very vulnerable now to both Vettel and possibly Verstappen (and if he came 4th he would loose not only the race but the WDC as well.)
With two laps to go there was a bit of a dog fight between Rosberg and Vettel, with Rosberg defending gallantly (in fact his engineers came on the radio and reminded him that he only needed to come home third to clinch the WDC.)
However Vettel’s progression through the ranks was not to be. The race ended with Hamilton (very narrowly) taking victory ahead of Rosberg who was ahead of Vettel followed by Verstappen.
Hamilton won the race but lost the WDC. Rosberg won the WDC and Vettel won Driver of the Day and DHL fastest lap award.
Rosberg and Vettel seemed happy with their lot. Hamilton was not.
So, that’s it for this year folks……
1. Lewis Hamilton GBR Mercedes-Mercedes 1hr 38m 04.013s 55 laps
2. Nico Rosberg GER Mercedes-Mercedes +0.439s
3. Sebastian Vettel GER Ferrari-Ferrari +0.843
4. Max Verstappen NED Red Bull-TAG Heuer +1.685s
5. Daniel Ricciardo AUS Red Bull-TAG Heuer +5.315s
6. Kimi Raikkonen FIN Ferrari-Ferrari +18.816s
7. Nico Hulkenberg GER Force India-Mercedes +50.114s
8. Sergio Perez MEX Force India-Mercedes +58.776s
9. Felipe Massa BRA Williams-Mercedes +59.436s
10. Fernando Alonso ESP McLaren-Honda +59.896s
11. Romain Grosjean FRA Haas-Ferrari +1m 16.777s
12. Esteban Gutierrez MEX Haas-Ferrari +1 lap
13. Esteban Ocon FRA MRT-Mercedes +1 lap
14. Pascal Wehrlein GER MRT-Mercedes +1 lap
15. Marcus Ericsson SWE Sauber-Ferrari +1 lap
16. Felipe Nasr BRA Sauber-Ferrari +1 lap
17. Jolyon Palmer GBR Renault-Renault +1 lap
Rtd.Carlos Sainz Jr ESP Toro Rosso-Ferrari
Rtd. Jenson Button GBR McLaren-Honda
Rtd. Daniil Kvyat RUS Toro Rosso-Ferrari
Rtd. Valtteri Bottas FIN Williams-Mercedes
Rtd. Kevin Magnussen DEN Renault-Renault