Mercedes chairman Niki Lauda is not one to doff his hat for any old reason, but on the occasion of Nico Rosberg claiming the 2016 Formula 1 World Championship title after a tense and decisive Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the great Austrian did just that.
Speaking in the wake of one of the most exciting season finales in the history of the sport, Lauda said of Rosberg’s triumph, “I am madly happy. It is touching that Nico is finally world champion. He deserved it, a perfect season and an incredible performance. Coming back after the defeat last year, I can only take my hat off to him.”
As for the outgoing world champion Lewis Hamilton, Lauda did not mince his words, “Lewis woke up too late. From the start, Nico has dealt with nuances and details of the car and the tyres better. He trained over the winter, which Lewis did not do. Only after the defeat in Singapore did Lewis again start to take care of every little detail. But it was too late.”
The biggest talking point of the season finale, and perhaps the entire season, was Hamilton’s last gasp tactics to try and unsettle Rosberg by backing him into the chasing pair of Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen.
Lauda said, “As a racing driver I understand that he tries every tactic, because that is what makes him a world champion. But I have not yet understood why he was so slow in the end that he almost threw away the victory and thus his title chance. He was so slow, that in the end Vettel may have have profited. One mistake by Lewis and Sebastian would win the race.”
The triple Formula 1 World Champion added, “In my position at Mercedes, I cannot approve of that because he put a victory at risk. Lewis knows that victory is the top goal of this team. He must respect that.”
“In Nico’s place I would have been green and blue with anger. Your team colleague is driving slowly in front of you, impeding you and slowing you down on purpose. Your car gets bad air, starts to slide and the lose grip. You do not know what’s going on behind you or if you can control things….”
“Lewis could simply have raced into the distance won comfortably, probably everyone would have said: This is the real world champion. But instead he put Nico on a pedestal almost as if he won the race. Nico defended relentlessly under mad pressure. It was impressive.”
“To release the pressure we even offered him to allow Vettel to pass, because third place was enough for the title, but Nico decided to fight. He showed that he is a true world champion,” added Lauda.