Despite winning for a fourth- consecutive race, Hamilton ended his title defence five points short of Nico Rosberg who emulated his father Keke, the 1982 champion, by securing his maiden world crown.
Hamilton, 31, arrived here knowing that another victory may not be enough for him to become the first British driver to win four titles, and so it proved as Rosberg crossed the line in second place. He needed only to finish in the top three.
But the title battle hung in the balance until the very closing stages of the race as Hamilton desperately attempted to back his Mercedes team-mate into the clutches of the chasing pack.
A number of demands from the Mercedes pit wall for Hamilton to improve his pace, so that Rosberg would not be vulnerable to both Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel, fell on deaf ears. A special req-uest from Paddy Lowe, the team’s technical boss, was also rebuffed.
“Let us race,” Hamilton said over the team radio, before adding: “I am losing the world championship so right now I don’t really care whet-her I win or lose this race.”
Sebastian Vettel, who nearly passed Rosberg on the final lap, added fuel to the fire after he accused Hamilton of “playing dirty tricks”.
“Undermining a structure in public means you are putting yourself before the team,” Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said last night. “It is very simple. Anarchy does not work in any team, and in any company.
“It is about finding a solution as to how to solve this in the future because a precedent has been set. Let me sleep overnight and come up with a solution.”
Mercedes strengthened their so-called ‘Rules of Engagement’ earlier this season after Hamilton and Rosberg collided in Spain and then Austria. The pair were subsequently warned that they could be fined or even suspended if they broke the rules which had been laid down by the team.
“We need to look at the overall situation and say ‘what does it mean?’. Everything is possible,” Wolff said when asked if disciplinary action would be examined.
“Maybe we want to give them more freedom next year, or go with the harsher side where we feel the values were not respected.
“I am not sure yet where my finger is going to point or the needle is going to go.”
The top four drivers were covered by just 1.6 seconds as they took the chequered flag.
“I did nothing dangerous so I don’t feel I did anything unfair,” a defiant Hamilton said. “We were fighting for the world championship. I was leading. I control the pace. That’s the rules.”
Hamilton’s controversial decision to bunch the pack up provided a nail-biting finale as the sport’s longest season reached its dramatic conclusion.
Rosberg’s wife Vivian watched on with crossed fingers and fear etched over her face. Rosberg’s father Keke viewed from afar, but was due to arrive in Abu Dhabi Sunday night to join in the celebrations.
The tyre smoke from Nico Rosberg’s victory doughnuts on the main straight after winning his first world title at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina circuit was still hanging in the air when the debates began.
Is Rosberg a worthy champion? Was Lewis Hamilton bang out of order and unsporting for slowing up and backing his team-mate into the clutches of Ferrari and Red Bull, as I suggested he might on Sunday, and did Mercedes do their best to ensure they got a German world champion?
Let’s deal with Rosberg first. He is clearly the king of cool and proved beyond all doubt, particularly during the last ten laps of Sunday’s race when he was put under extreme pressure by Hamilton’s tactics, that he has matured and is not easily rattled.
He also managed the advantage he found himself with heading into the home straight of the season supremely well, particularly in Brazil when he had to finish second, doing just enough to keep Hamilton at bay and get the job done.
Overall, it was a nicely judged, calculated performance. It is also worth remembering that he had finished second to Hamilton twice in succession, in heart-breaking fashion in 2014 and last year, and yet never let his head go down in belief that he would never get the better of his teammate. He dug in, showed brilliant resiliance and finally got his reward – ending the two year reign of the man he himself describes as the benchmark.
It has to be said though that Hamilton was extremely unlucky with the number of engine problems and mechanical failures on his car. He won more races that Rosberg and without those problems would have won his fourth title.
And strangely, the pit crew he had last season was moved to Rosberg’s garage for this campaign. However, Formula One is a mechanical sport and as such failures come with the territory and the title race did go to the wire so any suggestions of a conspiracy to ensure the German manufacturer got a home grown hero seem a little far fetched. Either that, or it was a risky strategy that was magnificently organised.
But at the end of the day all this speculation, and that is all it is, is unfair on Rosberg who has dreamed of emulating his father Keke, champion in 1982, since he was a child and worked hard to achieve that ambition.
So does winning the title make him the best driver? Absolutely not. As I said earlier, he managed his situation superbly well, but he is still not in the same league as Hamilton. And that’s why I find all the fuss about the Brit slowing up and backing his title rival into the clutches of Ferrari and Red Bull with claims of unsporting behaviour absolutely laughable.
The difference between good Formula One drivers, which Rosberg clearly is, and great drivers is something called killer instinct, a selfish ruthless streak, and more than a little petulance, that motivates this elite group of men to try every conceivable tactic, sometimes controversial, to ensure victory.
What Hamilton did in one final attempt to stop Rosberg winning the title proved that he is among that group of greats. How can it be unsporting to put your rival under pressure, within the rules, in the hope that it guarantees he loses and you win? It’s sport and despite what some schools teach kids these days it’s winning that matters, not just competing.
F1 is boring enough at the moment without taking competitive drama out of races. Mercedes were wrong to tell Hamilton to speed up and ask him what he was going so slowly. They knew exactly why he had taken his foot off the gas and he had every right to try everything he could to retain his crown.
For Toto Wolff to later accuse him of anarchy for refusing to obey team orders is a joke. And, by the way, Rosberg dealt with it supremely well. Look back over the history of F1 and there are far worse examples of true legends resorting to dirty tricks to stop their rivals.
Rosberg may not be a legend and I don’t believe he ever will be, but the German won nine of the 21 races and is world champion and that, in itself, is a major achievement. He is not the first champion to benefit from his team-mate’s misfortune and so I say, yes, Rosberg is a worthy 33rd holder of the F1 drivers’ crown.
Regulation changes for next year mean cars are expected to be heavier and faster and while it’s still unclear how drastic the changes will be, Horner sees it as a chance to try and up the pressure on Mercedes, who have won the last three drivers’ and constructors’ championships.
The Silver Arrows won 19 out of 21 races in 2016, with Red Bull being the only other team able to grab victories, as Max Verstappen triumphed in Spain and Daniel Ricciardo topped the podium in Malaysia.
The Austrian marque finished second in the constructors’ championship but they were almost 300 points behind Mercedes.
“It’s been an amazing season. Our expectations at the beginning of the year were to get in the top-five so to emerge as the nearest challenger to Mercedes, second in the Constructors’, won two grands prix, in Barcelona, Max the youngest ever winner in F1, Daniel achieving a one-two finish in Malaysia plus 14 other podiums, it’s been an incredible year for us,” said Horner.
“(For next year, with the regulation changes) I think yes, absolutely, we see it as an opportunity. There’s no guarantees, Mercedes will be firmly the favourites next year but we’re hoping to close that gap down and hopefully during the course of next year take the challenge to them.”
Mercedes’ dominance, which was preceded by a similar stretch by Red Bull, has left F1 in an uncompetitive state, which has contributed to the fact that less and less people are interested in the sport. Official figures claim that F1 has lost 200 million TV viewers since 2008 and little is being done to stop the bleeding.
The rain-hit race in Brazil two weeks ago saw a spike in TV viewership and F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone believes the multiple interruptions made it more compelling for fans. It prompted him to suggest that a grand prix weekend should feature two shorter races, instead of one long one.
“I’m not a big fan of that,” says Horner.
“I think there’s only one Wimbledon final or one grand slam final. Two races, I don’t think is the way to go, you just need to make the one race a good one.”
On what he believes can make the sport more attractive, Horner added: “I think competition between teams, we saw already in Brazil a spike in TV audiences is significantly up just because of the quality of the race. I think we just need more strong racing.”
Red Bull driver, Ricciardo, is not as sure as his boss when it comes to the idea of having two shorter races.
“If we could race twice on a weekend it could be more fun, I don’t know, I mean the more racing the better I guess,” said the Aussie.
“But now I’m probably going to contradict myself because Jenson (Button) made a comment saying maybe shorter races are better and I kind of think it could work in some places as well.
“It depends, I mean Mexico we had some action towards the end of the race but then some races you feel they drag on a lot. I don’t know. Two shorter races could be ideal, but I don’t know. It’s a tough one. I’d like to race on Saturday and then have Sunday off.”