The practice sessions as well as the qualifying rounds seemed to indicate that it was going to be business as usual, with Lewis Hamilton leading the long procession towards what would ultimately be Rosberg’s throne. There were no engine issues or gear box faults; nothing to stir the calm waters.
Then Hamilton happened. Few would have predicted what ensued, as Hamilton once again delivered a performance worthy not only of staking a strong claim as the best driver of his generation, but also to cement his place amongst the F1 greats.
In reality, there were only two options before Hamilton; either to zoom off thus blazing the trail and leaving all behind in the shadows, or to somehow control the race from the top of the grid, slowing the pace to a level which would give the other cars a fighting chance of keeping up with the Mercedes duo, with the hope that somehow Rosberg would fall off the podium places, handing the title over to him.
He also showed a lot of courage as he openly defied team orders to execute his strategy, thus turning a potentially boring race to an exciting one, a hallmark of great drivers. The fact that this stunt was almost as big a story as the Rosberg win is a testament to how special a driver he is.
As expected, his approach divided opinion. He was criticised by many, including Totto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal and Sir Jackie Stewart, a British three time world champion, who pulled no punches in his criticism.
The argument here is that someone who pays you 20 million pounds a year is well within his rights to expect you to follow team orders to the letter, especially given how the intense rivalry between Hamilton and Rosberg had played out on some occasions in the past, and also because of safety concerns.
The flip side to that argument however, is that this is exactly why Hamilton is paid 20 million a year; the constructors championship was sealed already so there was no major risk to the team, and more importantly, in a sport where team orders, driving strategy, tyre management have often been of priority, it is easy to forget that the greatest attraction is the ability of drivers to actually compete and race.
This fact was even attested to by Wolff himself, who later admitted that the team did not have to interfere with how the race was panning out.There is also a need to keep in mind that Formula 1 is first and foremost an individual sport, a race for the chequered flag. The most important thing, especially for the fans is who is first to cross the finish line.
A failure to also applaud Nico Rosberg would be a great oversight. Faced with such a unique challenge, he responded admirably, holding his nerve to execute his own strategy to perfection. This was the enduring theme of his season: reliability and consistency. He is indeed a worthy champion.
Overall, it’s fair to say that the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was a great exhibition, showcasing the best of F1, most especially the high level of competition and rivalry. It produced in Rosberg, a world champion who divides opinion as to how deserving he is of the title. In Hamilton, the main title challenger who divided opinion on the suitability of his racing strategy, and in Vettel, a former world champion who showed that he is far from a spent force.
It also offered a glimpse into the very promising futures of Max Vestappen and Daniele Ricciardo, both of Red Bull, as well as a fitting swan song for two veterans of the sport, Jenson Button and Felipe Massa, who both retired from the sport at the end of the season and would be missed.
As the dust settles and the sport goes on recess, a big question still lingers: are we going to see more of the same, a case of Mercedes racing primarily against itself, or will the others step up to the plate? In the battle of Mercedes versus the rest, it’s currently advantage Mercedes. How long will this remain? Only time will tell.