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Stat Wrap: 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Nico Rosberg celebrates winning the 2016 F1 title

By Sean Kelly, Virtual Stat Man 

When Channel 4 originally went on the air on November 2 1982, it was five and a half weeks after a Rosberg had won the Formula 1 world title in a last-round decider.

Fast forward to 2016, and Channel 4’s maiden season of Formula 1 coverage concluded on Sunday with the exact same result, as Keke and Nico Rosberg join Graham and Damon Hill as the only father-and-son combination to claim the championship. By incredible coincidence, both sons won the crown 34 years after their father won their first titles.

Rosberg Jr made his debut at the 2006 Bahrain GP, famously scoring points and setting the fastest lap for Williams, but it has taken 11 seasons to rise from rookie to world champion. It is the longest wait for any champion since Nigel Mansell took 13 seasons to progress from his debut at the 1980 Austrian GP to being the champion by the 1992 Hungarian GP, the longest span in F1 history.

Additionally, Rosberg – the 33rd driver to wear the title of F1 world champion – is the first new champion on the roll of honour since Sebastian Vettel also emerged from a Yas Marina title decider to become champion in 2010. Rosberg, Vettel and Michael Schumacher are the only Germans ever to win the championship, but between them they have taken 12 of the last 23 titles.

Were that not enough, the drivers’ championship has been won by either German or British drivers in 17 of those last 23 seasons, and has been exclusively held by drivers from these two countries ever since Finland’s Kimi Raikkonen won the crown back in 2007.

With big changes on the horizon for 2017, this was the final race of this era of technical stability that began with the switch to the turbo-hybrid V6 engines in 2014. In those three seasons, Mercedes AMG have won all of the titles as well as 51 Grands Prix – only one less than Red Bull have won in their entire history.

It’s by far the highest total by any constructor in any three-year period since the world championship began in 1950. For reference, Ferrari won 38 races in the period 2002-04, a period in which Michael Schumacher’s dominance was unprecedented.

Mercedes are the first constructor to have its drivers finish first and second in the drivers’ championship for three consecutive years, with Rosberg and Hamilton also being the first teammates to win the title in back-to-back seasons since Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost did so for McLaren in 1988-89.

The team took a record 20 pole positions this year, with only Daniel Ricciardo’s pole in Monaco denied them a clean sweep. Similarly, Nico Rosberg took a record 20 front row starts, and would have been there for every race but for a gearbox penalty at the Austrian GP.

This statistic, largely overlooked amid the avalanche of records set this year, was one of the most critical in setting up a Rosberg championship, as his average starting position this season was 2.3 positions better than Hamilton.

Rosberg took the championship down to the final round in 2014 with a starting position 2.5 places better than his teammate, while in 2015, when Hamilton clinched the crown with three races to spare, Hamilton’s average start position was 0.5 places better than Rosberg.

For every winner there has to be a loser, and Lewis Hamilton eventually fell short by five points, and will surely kicking himself that he lost a likely win in Malaysia due to mechanical failure, which would have tipped the championship in his favour.

This season Hamilton has taken the unenviable records for most wins (10) and podium finishes (17) by a non-champion, as well as also being the first man to win four consecutive races in a season yet fail to claim the title.

Just for added impact, Hamilton actually won four in a row TWICE this year, and his antics at the end of the Abu Dhabi GP obscured the fact that by winning the race, he became the sixth man in F1 history to win four in a row all from pole position, following on from Alberto Ascari (1952-53), Ayrton Senna (1991), Nigel Mansell (1992), Michael Schumacher (2000-01) and Fernando Alonso (2006).

It is ironic that Hamilton lost the title despite winning the most races in the season.  The last time this happened was back in 2008, when it was Hamilton himself who won the championship at Felipe Massa’s expense, despite the Brazilian edging him 6-5 in victories.

Of course, there’s nothing to suggest Hamilton won’t strike back in 2017, and it is possible that at some point next season Lewis Hamilton could break the all-time record for pole positions.

Abu Dhabi was the 61st pole of his career, meaning he needs four to tie Ayrton Senna, the record holder from 1989-2006, and seven more to reach Michael Schumacher, who took over the record at the 2006 San Marino GP, coincidentally where Senna had taken his ill-fated 65th and final pole.

Mercedes were quite rightly the story of this race, this season, and we can now say this era of Grand Prix racing. It is entirely possible that the competitive order is shaken up by new regulations in 2017, so it is therefore fitting that after three years of utter domination by Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, both should end this era as champions.