It seems remarkable that after nine wins out of 21 against a very competitive teammate, Nico Rosberg’s worthiness as a champion is being doubted by some in Formula 1.
Stats, a common occurrence on this website, are often touted to prove that Lewis Hamilton is the better driver. After all, he did win 10 races to Rosberg’s nine, and secured 12 pole positions to his teammate’s eight.
But in a championship fight, only one stat matters: points.
And Rosberg came out on top, 385 to 380.
People will point to reliability as the reason Hamilton did not defend his championship. Reliability played a part, sure, but it was not the only reason.
Hamilton had several poor starts throughout the season that cost him at least second place. There were races where Hamilton was fast but ragged, such as the European Grand Prix in Baku.
In Baku, Hamilton crashed in qualifying and could only finish fifth. While he had an engine issue during the race, Rosberg did have the same issue.
At the Belgian Grand Prix, Hamilton started 21st after taking new engines throughout the weekend and picking up penalties.
He ended up third that weekend, and in the process only overtook four cars on track. Hamilton, despite starting last, got very lucky in Belgium. Kevin Magnussen’s huge crash brought out the safety car, when lots of cars pitted for fresh tyres. Soon after, a red flag was thrown where Hamilton could change tyres without losing time. He was not the only driver to take advantage of this, but he did benefit a lot.
And Rosberg was not trouble free either. He was penalised for unauthorised radio communications in Silverstone after a gearbox issue, before this rule was removed a couple of races later. He then took a five-place penalty in Austria for a gearbox change.
And speaking of Austria, Rosberg also picked up a penalty (a correct one) for a collision with Hamilton.
But correct or non-controversial penalties were a rarity in 2016 for the German. A rule implemented for 2016 banned communications on driver coaching and included bans on fixing issues unless it was a safety issue. This rule was then changed.
In Germany, Rosberg was penalised for forcing Max Verstappen off the track. Was it a fair penalty? No. Verstappen decided to drive off the track to get ahead of Rosberg. He could have used his brakes, slowed down and cut back on the German to get the run to the next corner.
In Malaysia, a race more famous for Hamilton’s engine failure and the two Red Bulls battling on track, Rosberg was penalised for a move on Kimi Raikkonen. There was contact between the two but both could continue.
Both drivers had varying degrees of bad luck throughout the season. Rosberg capitalised on his teammate’s misfortune; something any driver would do.
Rosberg’s drive in Singapore was arguably his best of the season, where he was clearly ahead of everyone on the field. And in Abu Dhabi he proved that he was a worthy champion. He had Hamilton backing him up – essentially Hamilton’s only option to win the title – so his rivals could overtake. He also had pressure from Verstappen and Vettel throughout the race, and pulled off a superb overtake on Verstappen to take second back before the Dutch driver pitted.
Is Rosberg the best driver on the grid? No. Was he the best driver this season? No – that award, for me, belonged to Daniel Ricciardo.
But a deserving champion?