Mercedes-Benz won the Formula 1 World Championship for the third year in a row but there was a twist in this familiar tail in 2016. This year it was Nico Rosberg who emerged from the tense Abu Dhabi season finale as champion. In doing so, Keke and Nico Rosberg emulated Graham and Damon Hill as father/son world champions. Five days after satisfying his lifelong ambition, Nico Rosberg stunned the sport by announcing his immediate retirement from racing.
Hamilton won more races (10), led more laps (566) and qualified on pole position on more occasions (12) than the eventual champion. However, poor starts and crucial mechanical failures – most notably a blown engine in Malaysia – handed Rosberg the initiative and the German clinched the title by finishing second in Abu Dhabi. That was despite Hamilton backing him into the pursuing Red Bulls and Ferraris in the vain hope of Rosberg losing the podium finish he required.
Mercedes were the clear class of the field one again – winning 19 of the record 21 championship rounds. The simmering tension between its drivers spilt over when they crashed together on the opening lap of the Spanish GP and again on the last lap in Austria.
Red Bull Racing were the only other team to win during 2016 with Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen third and fifth in the final standings. Verstappen began the year with Scuderia Toro Rosso but he was promoted to the senior Red Bull squad after four races. He promptly benefitted from the Mercedes crash and a superior tyre strategy to win the Spanish GP and become F1’s youngest winner to date at 18 years and 227 days. Ricciardo was robbed of a deserved victory in Monaco when called into the pits before his mechanics were ready. He finally scored a popular fourth GP success in Malaysia following Hamilton’s retirement.
Much was expected of Ferrari but Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen suffered frustrating, winless campaigns. Having lost the Australian GP due to a poor strategy call (a recurring theme), Vettel salvaged fourth in the championship thanks to seven podium finishes. That said, he cut an increasingly angry figure due to Ferrari’s lack of outright pace.
Third for the last two seasons, Williams were edged out of fourth position in the constructors’ standings by Force India for whom Sergio Pérez scored a couple of podium finishes. Nico Hülkenberg qualified on the front row in Austria but was generally outshone by the Mexican. Valtteri Bottas was third in Canada thanks to a one-stop strategy and Williams team-mate Felipe Massa made an emotional retirement from F1 at the end of the season, a decision he later reversed.
McLaren-Honda made some progress after its disastrous 2015 campaign. Fernando Alonso was 10th overall having scored points on nine occasions while Jenson Button left the sport after 17 seasons at the top. Alonso had crashed out of the Australian GP in spectacular fashion and he was forced to miss the subsequent Bahrain GP as a consequence. McLaren reserve Stoffel Vandoorne scored a point on his F1 debut by finishing 10th.
Carlos Sainz impressed for Scuderia Toro Rosso when compared to team-mates Verstappen and the demoted Daniil Kvyat. American industrialist and NASCAR team owner Gene Haas entered F1 with what was effectively a Ferrari “B” team. Romain Grosjean scored points in three of the first four GPs but the team’s form tailed off during the campaign.
Renault returned as a works team following its late deal to acquire the Lotus team from Genii. Kevin Magnussen and debutant Jolyon Palmer struggled all year although both at least scored points. At the back of the field, the cash-strapped Sauber team snatched the crucial 10th place in the championship when Felipe Nasr finished ninth in the Brazilian rain. Pascal Wehrlein was 10th in Austria for Manor-Mercedes although that did not prove enough to beat Sauber.