The longest season of Formula one concluded with a tense finish at the Yas Marina circuit. Nico Rosberg finally achieved his childhood dream of winning the F1 world championship, beating teammate and defending world champion Lewis Hamilton. He would then shock the racing world by announcing his retirement, becoming the first person since Alain Prost (1993) to not defend their World championship.
The 21 race season, saw a bit of reshuffling and the introduction of the Baku Street Circuit. Here are some of the best races from the 2016 season.
5. The Monaco Grand Prix – Round 6 of 21.
Following an action packed Spanish Grand Prix, Mercedes had to clear the situation that was brewing within the team. Monaco has been a strong circuit for Nico who had won 3 times in a row, while Lewis had not tasted victory here since 2008. Unsurprisingly with an incident packed free practice and qualifying. The biggest surprise was Red Bull’s Max Verstappen starting in the pits with Felipe Nasr as they crashed during Q1. Riccardo took pole ahead of the Mercedes duo.
The Race was a wet day, forcing a wet tyre, safety car start for the first 7 laps. The Renault’s had pitted to Intermediates but Palmer crashed out, showing it was not 100% ready for the Inters yet. Over the next few laps more switched to the Intermediate tyres. Sebastian was the first front runner to switch. Nico Rosberg, who has been ordered to let Lewis past made the switch to the intermediate on Lap 21 and Riccardo on lap 24, letting Lewis take the lead. Despite closing in, Daniel was not able to pass Lewis. His teammate was also charging up the order and soon entered the point’s positions.
The moment of the race was lap 31, when Lewis switched directly to slicks to maximise speed on the drying track. When Riccardo came in a lap later, Red Bull were not even close to being ready. This long stop handed Lewis the lead. Daniel re-joined in 2nd. Rosberg’s switch to the slicks was not memorable as he came out 6th behind Perez, Vettel and Alonso. Lap 34 saw the Virtual Safety car being deployed as Max had crashed. When racing resumed, Lewis nearly backed Riccardo at the chicane after the tunnel exit.
The top 4 of Lewis, Daniel, Sergio and Sebastian pulled ahead, with the Force India driver holding off the Ferrari admirably. There were further Virtual Safety Cars when the Sauber’s collided and an object fell on to the start-finish. Rain fell towards the end of the race but did not cause any incident.
4. The Malaysian Grand Prix – Round 16 of 21.
For the 2016 Season, Malaysia was moved back in the calendar, after traditionally being an early season fixture. Following the Singapore Grand Prix, Nico Rosberg had reclaimed the Drivers championship lead to 8 points.
During Free Practice, Lewis and Nico traded places on topping the time sheets on Friday. Saturday saw Lewis being the quicker than Nico and took a comfortable pole position. On the Race, incidents started on the first turn itself. Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg collided at the first corner itself. This also led to the former retiring from the race.
Nico and Max made early pit stops to their teammates at Lap 9, while Lewis and Daniel pitted around lap 20. The 2nd round of pit stops took place around Lap 32 and the 3rd round around Lap 41 when all the front runners made their final stops. Surprise came at lap 40. Lewis Hamilton’s engine blew up during the race, putting him out of the race. His pain was obvious, in the radio messaging crying “NO”.
The Red Bulls would battle, both being on similar tyres but it was Daniel Riccardo who took the win ahead of Max. Both finished comfortably ahead of Nico, who had a 10 second penalty applied for causing an avoidable collision.
It was the first Red Bull 1-2 since Brazil 2013 and Daniel Riccardo’s first win in over 2 years, who he dedicated to Jules Bianchi. Nico extended his championship lead to 23 points. Toto Wolff believed this was the tipping out of the title, firmly in favour of Nico Rosberg.
Also, with just 45,000 spectators attending the race, and the rising costs of hosting, Malaysia would no longer participate in F1 after 2017.
3. The Spanish Grand Prix – Round 5 of 21.
This race had drama before, during and after the race. Prior to the weekend, Red Bull announced that Max Verstappen would swap places with Daniil Kyvat, promoting the 18 year old to the main team with less than 25 races of F1 experience.
Mercedes were once again the pace setters with Ferrari following close behind. Qualifying would see Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari occupy the first, second and third rows respectively. During the race, Lewis tried to make a move on Nico at turn 3, and Nico moved to defend. This caused Lewis to go off track and spin, which caused a collision between the two, knocking both cars out of the race. It was the first double retirement of Mercedes since 2011 and the first time since the 2012 US Grand Prix where they failed to score points.
A safety car deployment saw Riccardo led Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz to Vettel and Kimi. Red Bull, anticipated Sebastian Vettel as their main threat and switched Daniel Riccardo onto a 3 stop strategy. When the 2nd round of pit stops took place, Daniel Riccardo and Vettel switched to the soft compounds and fell behind their teammates who were on the 2 stop strategy from both teams.
After the 3rd round of stops for Vettel and Riccardo, the action intensified. Riccardo began to close on Sebastian and Kimi closed in on Max (the latter coming within DRS range). However, the Red Bulls were able to pull away on the aerodynamic friendly 3rd sector, ensuring a buffer for the other two, where Ferrari were quicker. 2 laps from the finish, Daniel Riccardo suffered a puncture and also the Renault teammates collided (though both were far from the points). Max would cross the line as the youngest winner in F1 history.
The Drama continued after the race. Mercedes had emergency talks during the race itself, with Niki Lauda blaming Lewis Hamilton. Opinion was split among who was at fault, while Wolff would let both continue to race. It later emerged that Lewis considered quitting the team at that point of time, showing how tough the crash was on him.
Riccardo was not happy with the strategy that Red Bull gave him, as they later claimed they anticipated Vettel as the main threat in the race.
2. The British Grand Prix – Round 10 of 21.
The British Grand Prix is known for its unpredictability of weather. Lewis had been dominant throughout free practice and qualifying. A safety car start led the way for the first few laps, before leaving at lap 5. This prompted a change from the lower and middle orders to switch to the intermediates. While the Mercedes and front runners maintained their leads and pitted a while later, Vettel was the first two make the gamble for slicks on lap 16.
Lewis, Nico and Max closed together as they all made errors during the race. Rosberg managed to overtake Max on Lap 38, after 5 frustrating laps of attempting to pass him. He initially closed the gap to Lewis Hamilton, who then begun to once again, pull away in dominating style.
Back down the order, Sebastian received a 5 second penalty for having been judged for pushing Massa off the track, to cap off a miserable weekend for him. Kimi, Alonso were among those who also spun off a bit.
The biggest drama occurred towards the end of the race. Rosberg reported gearbox issues, which resulted in the team telling him to avoid the 7th gear. This was violating the radio ban that had been in place. While crossing the line 2nd, he would receive a 10 second grid penalty and was demoted to 3rd (pushing young Max up to 2nd). This shrunk his lead in the world championship to a single point at that stage, and Lewis would maintain his momentum till the start of the summer break.
Heading into round 20, Nico Rosberg maintained a 19 point lead over teammate Lewis. The Brition had been on a charge and had taken the previous two races. Lewis had been faster in qualifying, with Nico not far behind. However, race day bought down heavy showers forcing an inevitable safety car start. Romain Grosjean spun out before the race even begun.
After nearly 8 laps, the race got underway, only to redeploy the safety car when Erricson crashed and nearly blocked the pit entrance. Lap 19 saw a red flag, as Kimi crashed heavily on the start-finish race. The red flag and safety car restart were met with resounding Boos from the Brazilian crowd, who no doubt were frustrated.
By the time the race resumed with nearly half distance covered, people hoped for racing action. Max Verstappen was the star of the show, finding alternate racing lines during the safety car periods, to make ambitious moves during the race. This allowed him to even climb into P2 ahead of a struggling Nico Rosberg (who has not been a great wet weather racer).
For the home crowd, an emotional moment took place on lap 46 when Felipe Massa crashed out near the start pit entrance. This time the safety car would not meet with boos as an emotional Massa was applauded by the home crowd and the Ferrari, Mercedes and Williams pit crews as he completed his final grand prix (the race where he nearly won the championship in 2008).
When racing resumed, Red Bull’s switch to Intermediates proved to be an error as the rain intensified, forcing them to pit Max. The young Dutchman re-joined in 14th but in one of the greatest drivers in wet weather, he charged up the field, to finish a comfortable 3rd behind the Silver Arrows.
Lewis, who barely had anything to do, cruised to victory and ensured he would fight it out at Abu Dhabi