3. Nico Rosberg (1st, 385 points- Mercedes) 8.0
“Is he a deserving champion?” asked many Lewis Hamilton and non-LH44 fans alike when the 31 year old German crossed behind his triple world champion team-mate when the chequered flag waved at the conclusion of this season at Abu Dhabi. In short, yes he is a deserving champion. Not one of the sport’s greats in the vein of Juan Manuel Fangio, Michael Schumacher or even contemporary Kimi Raikkonen, but he accomplished his life ambition. Many Hamilton fans must ask themselves this question: if Nico Rosberg truly was a poor driver, then surely it must reflect Lewis’ past two championships in a miserly fashion. The truth is that Rosberg was an above-average midfielder in his Williams, who only scaled the heights intermittently with his drives at Melbourne and Singapore in 2008, then gradually raised his game and confidence through beating Schumacher and consequently escalated the intensity of his aggression and commitment to defeat Hamilton. Nico definitely fails to fit the purists’ ideal fit of a venerated hardened racer; often articulating over fine details that would evoke an ordinary man with tedium, but his meticulous planning of his approach towards race paid dividends.
Undoubtedly, he was a beneficiary of impregnable reliability, but it must be remembered how Rosberg suffered a gearbox and an electrical failure respectively at Britain and Singapore during pivotal moments back in 2014, as well as his concoction of mechanical issues during the infamous double-points finale at Abu Dhabi. His luck was equally as bad in 2015, where he suffered the ignominy of being tagged by Daniel Ricciardo at Hungary, where an almost certain P2 became P8 due to the resulting puncture. Finishing behind an erratic Hamilton did his morale no good and this was followed by untimely engine and throttle breakages at Monza and Sochi, forcing an early surrender of his 2015 challenge. For Hamilton, he suffered engine and brake failures during the races at Melbourne and Montreal, as well as brake failure and a fire during qualifying at Hockenheim then Hungaroring respectively during 2014.
2015 saw just one mechanical failure with his power unit malfunctioning at that year’s peculiar Singapore Grand Prix. In the realms of 2016, other than his flabbergasting engine disintegration, his gearbox change during qualifying at Shanghai was his only mechanically-issue which impeded him in the hunt for the WDC. The wheel-to-wheel collisions of the two Mercedes drivers cannot be ignored; tensions initially arose at Bahrain 2014, when a thrilling fight emerged when the safety car withdrew, as both pushed the boundaries of legality within track limits. Monaco saw Nico’s infamous swerve to the left at Mirabeau after his pole lap, forcing the mandatory yellow flags to annul a final attempt for Hamilton to clinch pole. Hungary was marred by Lewis’ staunch refusal to give way to Rosberg, with some believing his selfishness lost a potential victory for Mercedes and his German team-mate.
Many therefore saw Rosberg’s slice at Hamilton’s rear left tyre as revenge at the consequent Belgian race; however, others claimed team orders at Monza had forced Rosberg to drive wide at Variante del Rettifilo to permit victory for Hamilton. Hamilton then pulled off magnificent overtaking manoeuvres at Suzuka and Austin, dismantling Rosberg’s pride and took a merited 2nd WDC. The following season saw less confrontation on the track, but more bitter verbal recriminations between the pair. Nico aimed accusations of egotism after China, slamming Lewis for “driving too slowly,” but it wasn’t until Suzuka when Rosberg would take another swipe at Hamilton’s antics. The Briton cunningly hugged the inside at the first corner, then gradually moved to the outside whilst manoeuvring his car through the optimum racing line. Likewise a stubborn Rosberg refused to give way, but ran wide of the rumble strips at the exit, consequently dropping to P4. Acrimony re-emerged when Hamilton clinched his 3rd WDC at Austin, as the race start saw Lewis blatantly understeering into turn 1 so that Rosberg would be forced onto the run-off to avoid a costly collision. The post-race pre-podium dressing room saw Hamilton throw a cap to Rosberg, only for the German to petulantly chuck it back into the re-crowned champion’s direction.
This season saw the two arch-rivals finally crash each other out of a race at Barcelona, although there was no clear intention from either to destroy each other’s Grand Prix in an unsporting manner. Austria saw arguably the last true confrontation before this season’s finale at Abu Dhabi, where Rosberg clearly attempted to block Hamilton from overtaking at the hairpin by taking the widest line possible. If there is any argument of bad luck that can be made in favour of Rosberg, his impaired brakes forced him to finish a lowly P7 at Monaco, whilst Hamilton’s understeering manoeuvre at Turn 1 at Montreal forced Rosberg off the road, where his Mercedes F1 W07’s inability to drive well in heavy traffic became prevalent and his spin whilst defending P4 from Max Verstappen left critics in hysterics. Silverstone witnessed late-race gear issues for Rosberg, who required urgent assistance via team radio to fend off a rampant Max Verstappen, but the dubious regulations of radio messaging reared its ugly head, leaving Rosberg penalised by time penalty which saw him cede P2 to the Dutchman.
The German’s poor start followed by another arbitrary penalty for desperately running Max Verstappen off the hairpin at Hockenheim exacerbated his woeful month of July, where Hamilton became the first driver to win four races in a calendar month. His stirring performances from Belgium to Japan saw him win four races to regain the WDC lead, whilst Malaysia saw a champion’s fightback, where after being punted at Turn 1 by a foolish Sebastian Vettel, his fierce and ruthless overtaking of mid-pack cars followed by his audacious manoeuvre on Raikkonen was punished by another arbitrary penalty, albeit rendered academic when Nico succeeded to pull a 13-second gap over the Finn at the chequered flag. Some were left underwhelmed by the German’s four consecutive P2 finishes in the last four races of his career, but by this crucial stage it would have been foolhardy and naive to push further than required.
Nico Rosberg will not be remembered as a gung-ho, guns blazing, crowd-pleasing, Roy of the Rovers type of champion. He will be remembered for his cultured persona, subtlety and due diligence in difficult circumstances to maximise his equipment and application of his driving aptitude to achieve his objective and retire from F1 as a fulfilled man. He will not be remembered for his passion, as his countless long faces and lethargic performances during his vapid seasons have displayed his need for perfection, which maybe demanded a level of attainment beyond reasonable expectations. Apart from memorable incidents, he breached the unwritten rules of being a ballsy, old school racer with innumerable radio requests such as asking details of Hamilton’s driving lines during a wet Q3 at Malaysia in 2015 or when he selected medium compounds during the Hungarian race that same year, feeling best to cut into Hamilton’s WDC lead rather than pursue Sebastian Vettel for a vital race victory. 2016 witnessed a more single-minded Rosberg, but he did profit from a noticeable descent in commitment from the other side of the garage, whose mindset has been patently divided by non-F1 excursions.
It is palpable to see that he retired when he realised he no longer stomached an appetite for another fight; the prospect of a hard-charging novices such as Verstappen and Stoffel Vandoorne sniping at his heels, and facing questions from a merciless media over and his worthiness of his champion status haunted his conscience. It may sound like a cliché, but he was simply too humble and nice to cement his reputation as a domineering, unrelenting, winner-takes-all racer in the vein of many contemporaries. Ultimately, the fatigue of possessing the indelible objective of defeating an all-time great team-mate, friend and enemy who had won every battle until now, was a beckoning to call upon a ceasefire.
4. Carlos Sainz (12th, 46 points- Toro Rosso-Ferrari) 8.0
On the subject of drivers being viewed as a replacement for F1’s departing new WDC, this young Spaniard’s name has been framed. His debut season in 2015 displayed flashes of speed, but not the same level of virtuosity of a certain highly-esteemed Dutch prodigy. Thankfully, the agony of being Verstappen’s team-mate ended early this season, when Daniil Kvyat was demoted to the junior team after his embarrassing double collision with Vettel at Sochi. From thereafter, Sainz has flourished with flying colours with numerous scintillating drives. A smattering of P6s at Spain, America and Brazil have underlined his reputation, whilst dominating a deject Kvyat, who either lost motivation or is a genuine inferior talent to Sainz. The Spaniard broke in Q3 nine times in a chronically underpowered STR11 chassis, which relied upon a 2015-spec Ferrari power unit, succeeding to qualify a career-best P6 twice at Silverstone and Marina Bay. He outscored Kyvat 42-4 in points and outqualified 11-6, which represents a real headache for the willowy Russian during the winter break, who has this year’s GP2 champion Pierre Gasly snapping at his heels as reserve.
He may not command the overnight sensation status that his illustrious ex-team mate has attained, but he is preparing himself well to be the Dutchman’s future championship contender. With the likes of Esteban Ocon, Lance Stroll & Stoffel Vandoorne, as well as Lando Norris, Charles LeClerc and Mick Schumacher to emerge eventually, F1 has a bright future ahead of itself. Let’s hope Liberty Media capitalise upon this.