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

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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.

Tom Blomqvist keeps eye on IndyCar during impressive rise: ‘ I would love to give it a go’

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In between two of his latest superstar-driver-in-waiting performances, Tom Blomqvist walked through the Daytona International Speedway garage in anonymity.

“Nobody knows who the (expletive) I am,” he said to a team member with a laugh (and without a trace of being miffed), evincing the cheeky humor of someone born in England, raised in New Zealand and also of Swedish descent.

The lack of recognition in the garage might have been because he was clad in a relatively nondescript shirt, hat and sunglasses instead of a colorful firesuit covered by sponsor logos. But he also was on the way to a Friday race eve media availability where his entrance was greeted by only one reporter (after a few minutes).

During a news conference a day earlier, he sat patiently on the dais while his Indy 500-winning teammates and car owner fielded nearly all the questions – even though Blomqvist had turned maybe the most impressive lap of the month to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position in the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category.

The Meyer Shank Racing driver still might lack the attention commensurate with his already world-class CV (which expanded Sunday with his second consecutive Rolex 24  victory for MSR), but Blomqvist, 29, clearly isn’t bothered by it.

He carries the quiet confidence of knowing his immense talent will ensure results that will make him impossible to ignore.

“To a degree, I guess, it’s definitely ramped up a lot for me,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports. “In America, I’m starting to get a lot more (attention). In the last year, I’ve quite often got a lot of maybe what you’d call the glory moments. It’s been fun. And within the paddock, there’s a lot of respect for me anyway. It’s been good.”

There have been several moments of acclaim since he joined MSR barely a year ago in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. In his first start for the team at last year’s Rolex 24, Blomqvist turned in a Herculean performance to position the No. 60 Acura for the victory (giving way to Helio Castroneves because he was too “cooked” to complete the last 74 minutes).

He was even better this year at Daytona.

He ripped off a monster “one and done” pole-winning lap to beat the clock in qualifying on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course. During the race, Blomqvist was as dominant in his first stint as his last in the ARX-06 while taking the checkered flag. He set the mark for the fastest time on Lap 6 that no one topped over the final 755 laps.

The 10 fastest laps in the race belonged to Blomqvist, carrying over his speed from the 2022 when he won the Petit Le Mans season finale to clinch the premier prototype championship at Michelin Road Atlanta.

A year earlier at the same track, he had burst onto the radar of car owner Mike Shank, who was intrigued by Blomqvist’s results as a BMW factory driver in the Formula E and DTM series. In 2014, Blomqvist also finished between second in F3, between champion Esteban Ocon (now with Alpine’s F1 team) and Max Verstappen (who has won the past two Formula One championships).

“He did a lot of high-level stuff, and then kind of fell out of favor, or I don’t know what happened, but he was a free agent,” Shank said. “I started looking at his numbers, and I’m like, ‘We should test this guy. So I take him to Road Atlanta in the fall of ’21, and he got in the car and just slayed it.”

Within minutes, he had called co-owner Jim Meyer.

“I’ve got our guy,” Shank said. “This is our guy. There’s no question about it.

Honda Performance Development president David Salters hugs Tom Blomqvist after the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

“Now what’s happened, though, and I think if you look back at the Rolex here last year (and) what he did, he’s a gold nugget. He reminds me a little bit when (Robert) Wickens came into IndyCar out of DTM (as a rookie in 2018).

“He truly believes he’s the fastest guy out there, and he proved it (at the Rolex 24).”

Said David Salters, president for Honda Performance Development: “We love Tom. He’s the real deal, isn’t he? Immensely talented, super smart, and on it.

The great thing about our teams, the strength in depth is tremendous. But if you look through the sports car racing now, that’s the standard you have to have. Tom, brilliant, Filipe (Albuquerque), brilliant. Ricky (Taylor). You can go through that list. They’re all superstars. Tom is awesome. His lap in qualifying quite frankly was unbelievable.”


Having conquered one of the world’s greatest endurance races twice with Acura, Blomqvist could be ticketed for the world’s biggest race next – the Indy 500 — with HPD’s primary brand.

He tested a Dallara-Honda for MSR last October at Sebring International Raceway, and while he plans to focus solely on IMSA this season, he remains very intrigued by IndyCar.

And with Castroneves, 47, beginning a one-year deal with MSR’s IndyCar team, there could be an obvious opening in 2024.

“Obviously, it’s not in the cards this year,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports the day before the Rolex. “Yeah, I would love to give it a go. To be honest, I think that would be an amazing step for me in my career. I enjoy the sports car stuff so much. It’s been really good to me lately. I really enjoyed the style of racing.

“But I feel like IndyCar would be a step up for me and my career. It would be fantastic if I could get that opportunity. But yeah, I guess I have to keep pushing Mike or something to give me a shot. But obviously for now, the focus is here in the sports car stuff. It’s not really down to me at the end of the day. And I’ve got to do my job and then the people who pay the bills and make the decisions obviously have to decide if that’s something worth pursuing.

“But yeah, I’d love to give it a go, and I definitely would be up for it.”

Tom Blomqvist after winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole on the final qualifying lap (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

A transition from IMSA to IndyCar naturally would be easier than switching teams, but it also would be comfortable because Blomqvist already seems such a good fit at MSR.

It might have seemed an unusual pairing given his European-heavy background, but Blomqvist likes the Midwestern culture that’s been built at MSR. Based just outside Columbus, Ohio, the team’s shop has “no egos, and that just enables each and every one of to reach our potential.

“Obviously, with Honda, we obviously have some great resources, but we’re up against Porsche, BMW and some big heavy hitters in the motorsports world,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve got a huge team compared to them, but we’ve obviously got a very capable team, and I think that’s what has been so impressive and really, really nice to see about the work that’s been done. No stone has been left unturned.”


Blomqvist still is living in Europe and planning to commute for the nine-race GTP schedule (which has a nearly two-month break after the Rolex 24 until the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring). But though he’s “got good friends in America, so I do have places to stay,” he seems open to being based more permanently near MSR in America.

“Let’s see what the future brings, and if that means me spending more time over here,” he said. “It’s a fantastic team. It’s a different environment to what I’m used to. It’s obviously now a hugely successful team, but it is a small team. It does feel like a very small family-operated team, which it is.

“I think Mike’s really just built this thing. It hasn’t happened overnight. Mike’s a great guy and put a lot of trust and faith in me, and I played a relatively good part in some of the success last year. I was able to reward him and give him my all every time I’m on track, and he respects that. But we are still a small team. In the grand scheme of things, we still are a really, really small team.”

Blomqvist said the BMW factory program would have two or three times the staffing of MSR – just on one of its two GTP cars.

“But it’s not the number of people that makes a difference, it’s the quality of people, and obviously Mike and HPD are a fantastic operation to go racing,” Blomqvist said. “We’re racers at heart.

“I’ve been part of some big outfits, and the European way of working is very, very different to how people go about racing in America. I’d say it’s more seat of your pants. A lot of emotion and kind of rides on that competitive spirt, competitive nature and on their personalities. It’s a lot more pure. It feels very pure. You want to win, so we go out and don’t cut corners on trying to win.”

Though it’s aligned with Liberty Media and has big-budget backing and support from Honda Performance Development, MSR also is much less corporate than most GTP teams.

A longtime and respected team owner who has built a sponsor portfolio, Shank also describes his maniacal dedication to success as “messed up,” and he’s known for dropping vulgarities into postrace interview with his blunt and self-deprecating sense of humor.

Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Mike Shank congratulates Tom Blomqvist on the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

With a more laid-back but sometimes just as biting demeanor, Blomqvist has become the team’s unquestioned leader behind the wheel

“I definitely feel a lot more immersed,” he said. “Within the team, I was a bit more of an unknown quantity the start of last year. Obviously after last season, the team trusts me a lot. And that gives me a lot of pleasure, pride and confidence. In this sport, confidence is a huge aspect of drivers’ psychology in a way. We’re in extremely high-pressure moments where my job is to perform under the pressure of these organizations and the brand as well.

“It’s just a good, healthy team to be a part of. It’s a high-pressure environment, but the team obviously have put a lot of faith in me, and I’ve been able to deliver for them on occasions.”

Rolex 24 starting lineup
Tom Blomqvist celebrates after winning the pole in the No. 60 Acura ARX-06 (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).