Rosberg claims first F1 world title, as Hamilton wins Abu Dhabi GP despite defying team orders


Nico Rosberg clinched his first Formula 1 drivers’ championship by finishing second in Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, following home Mercedes teammate and title rival Lewis Hamilton in a nail-biting end to the 2016 season.

Rosberg kept his cool to dodge any bullets fired at him through the race, getting through his pit stops cleanly before Hamilton backed his teammate into the chasing pack in a late attempt to win a fourth world title, defying Mercedes’ order to up his pace in the closing stages.

Despite having his mirrors filled with the chasing Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel in the final few laps, Rosberg managed to see it home and wrap up his first F1 world title, emulating his father, Keke, who was champion back in 1982.

Rosberg got the start he needed, making a clean getaway to hold on to second place behind Hamilton through the first corner, allaying any fears of an early setback.

Even better news for Rosberg was the fact that the threatening Red Bulls, both starting on super-softs, dropped back: Daniel Ricciardo dropped behind Kimi Raikkonen into fourth, while Max Verstappen fell to the back of the pack after a tangle coming out of Turn 1.

Hamilton was not able to immediately drop Rosberg as he may have liked, with the gap between the two Mercedes drivers hovering at around one second. Raikkonen remained a further second back, making him an ever-present threat for the title fighters.

Hamilton was brought into the pits at the end of Lap 7, handing the lead to Rosberg. The Briton took on a set of soft tires, but was forced to wait an extra second in the pits as Raikkonen brought his Ferrari in.

Rosberg followed Hamilton’s lead by coming in one lap later, also taking on soft tires, and also having to wait for Sebastian Vettel ahead to come into his box. Rosberg emerged from the pits fractionally ahead of Raikkonen, while the recovering Verstappen now split the two Mercedes.

Ricciardo failed to make his super-softs last much longer than the ultra-soft runners, coming into the pits just one lap later. The Australian came out just behind Raikkonen, the two entering battle, as were Rosberg and Verstappen ahead, the title contender being told that he had to make a pass given Verstappen’s strategy. Yet again though, Hamilton did not escape up the road as perhaps would be expected of the Briton. A gentler pace allowed him to not only look after his tires, but also continued to back Verstappen towards Rosberg.

Further back, Jenson Button’s (probable) final race in F1 came to an early end when he suffered a front-right upright failure on his car, causing his wheel to buckle and forcing the Briton to box. Upon returning to the pits, Button jumped on top of his cockpit and greeted the cheering crowd that offered a standing ovation to the outgoing McLaren racer.

Verstappen showed few signs of letting up on the super-soft tire, telling Red Bull that he wanted to extend the stint. Mercedes responded by giving Rosberg the hurry up, prompting the German to attempt a divebomb move at the end of the back straight. Remarkably, the two drivers avoided contact, but with Verstappen left off-line, Rosberg was able to cut back and complete the overtake – one that was significant in his bid for a maiden drivers’ championship.

Verstappen came in for fresh soft tires one lap later, with Red Bull hoping to get the Dutchman to the end of the race without coming in again. Rosberg asked Mercedes how much he could push, with the go-ahead resulting in the German posting the fastest lap of the race and cutting the gap to Hamilton to less than five seconds. With Raikkonen now a further five seconds adrift of Rosberg, Hamilton was running short on championship outs.

The second round of pit stops was sparked not long after Verstappen came in, with Red Bull opting to bring Ricciardo in for his stop early at the end of Lap 25. Raikkonen followed one lap later, but came back out behind Ricciardo after the Australian made the undercut work perfectly. Ferrari’s hopes of a podium to close out 2016 were, like the light, fading fast.

Hamilton made his final pit stop at the end of Lap 28, taking a fresh set of soft tires that would see him to the end of the race. Having been told that second place was safe for now, Rosberg dived in one lap later. A flawless stop from the Mercedes crew sent Rosberg on his way, with just 26 laps separating the German from his first F1 world title.

Rosberg soon found himself edging into battle with Hamilton once again, prompting the Mercedes pit wall to ask the net leader why he was running so slow on-track. Although there was no answer, the reason was clear to all watching: it last-ditch attempt to back Rosberg into the chasing Red Bulls and keep his dreams of a fourth world title alive.

Hamilton began to hit the pace mark given to him by Mercedes, lapping around the 1:45.3 range as the team expressed concern about leader Vettel, who had extended his second stint to fit a set of super-softs for the final stint. Vettel pitted at the end of Lap 37, once again releasing Hamilton into the lead with Rosberg still lurking just over a second behind.

With his fresh boots fitted, Vettel began to light the timesheets up purple. The four-time world champion made light work of teammate Raikkonen to take fifth before setting his sights on the Red Bull duo some eight seconds up the road. Verstappen found himself coming under pressure from Ricciardo behind, but neither could respond to the pace of the oncoming Vettel. The German’s pace was such that Mercedes told Hamilton to up his pace at the front, believing that the 10-second gap could be bridged late on.

Hamilton kept badgering the Mercedes pit wall for more information on the race unfolding behind, asking for information about the pace of the Red Bulls in the hope that they could come to his rescue and catch Rosberg. With fresher tires, the Mercedes cars remained quicker, making Hamilton’s best hope of the title a late safety car period. A clash between Carlos Sainz Jr. and Jolyon Palmer had the potential to cause one, but both drivers were able to continue unharmed.

Vettel’s charge continued at the expense of Ricciardo on Lap 46, again piling the pressure up on Mercedes drivers up front. Rosberg requested that he be let past Hamilton, telling the team that “this is really slow”. Mercedes responded, instructing Hamilton to up his pace, only for the Briton to snap back: “I suggest you guys let us race.” With just seven laps remaining, Hamilton was taking matters into his own hands.

As Rosberg continued to protest over team radio, Hamilton continued to trundle around at the front, allowing Verstappen and Vettel to close as the laps ticked down. Vettel look the quickest of the quartet, crawling all over the back of Verstappen’s Red Bull, before making a superb pass with five laps to go. Rosberg was next on his hit list.

Vettel moved to within half a second of Rosberg, getting DRS on his compatriot, but Verstappen was not able to follow the Ferrari driver into the fight, dropping about a second back. Hamilton was not yet willing to up his pace, continuing to back Rosberg into the clutches of Vettel behind. After yet another call from Mercedes, Hamilton remained defiant: “I’m losing this world championship. I don’t really care if I lose this race.”

The battle for the world championship went down to the very last lap. Rosberg was informed once again that he only needed third place for the championship, but the German remained strong in P2. He fended off Vettel through the final DRS zone, before rounding out the final few corners – with Hamilton ahead going at a crawling pace and taking the race win – to secure his first world title.

Rosberg celebrated the title by completing donuts on the main straight, sending plumes of tire smoke into the air in a release of emotion. After three years spent in Hamilton’s shadow, Rosberg was finally on top of the world.

Hamilton returned to the pit lane knowing that, although the title had been lost, he had secured his 10th victory of the season – a record for a driver not to win a championship – and put up a fight to the very end. The two championship rivals embraced in the pit lane, acknowledging their battle throughout the year.

Vettel was the man to round out the podium, finishing less than half a second off Rosberg in second, reporting to Ferrari over the radio that Hamilton had been playing “dirty tricks”. Verstappen was a further eight-tenths of a second behind in fourth, completing a remarkable fightback from his first lap clash.

Ricciardo was P5 at the checkered flag ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, while the Force India duo of Nico Hulkenberg and Segio Perez were P7 and P8, ensuring the team finished the year fourth in the constructors’ championship, its highest-ever result.

Felipe Massa bowed out of F1 with grace, finishing P9 for Williams after a late fight with former teammate Fernando Alonso, who crossed the line 10th for McLaren.

Haas F1 Team’s debut season came to a close with Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez 11th and 12th respectively. Esteban Ocon and Pascal Wehrlein were P13 and P14 for Manor, the two drivers having clashed late on. Sauber drivers Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr were 15th and 16th, with Jolyon Palmer the last classified finisher in 17th.

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”