F1 Gold | How Nico Rosberg took on a 'safe' approach en route to 2016 championship

Nico Rosberg. (AFP / Herbert Neubauer)
Nico Rosberg. (AFP / Herbert Neubauer)
Herbert Neubauer

• Rosberg is the 2016 F1 champion

• He had won only one championship in his career

• Hamilton was Rosberg's greatest challenger

2016 was one of those standout years in Formula 1. Not just for any reason, but it was the year the Mercedes F1 team reshuffled its garage.

At the end of 2015, drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg swapped pit crews. Those who helped Hamilton to two consecutive championships in 2014/5 would now be on Rosberg's side, and vice versa. The 2016 season began, but it soon became evident that Rosberg was in the pouncing seat for championship glory.

Hamilton and the majority of his crew had been together since 2013 – when he joined the team from McLaren – and they grew as a unit; understanding the intricacies of a season-long title fight and how to get the most out of a racing car. Rosberg benefitted directly from this, which laid the foundation for his first, and only, championship.

Should Rosberg have retired without defending his title against Hamilton in 2017? Email us.

Playing it safe

Rosberg began the 2016 season in the best possible way by winning the opening four races of the season. But in Spain, the Mercedes team mates made contact on the first lap, which sent both drivers out of the race. On a side note, this opened the door for Max Verstappen to take his first F1 victory on his first outing for Red Bull Racing.

Following Spain, Hamilton won six of the following seven races, with Rosberg taking one. After Hamilton's win in Germany and the sport returning from its mandatory four-week summer break, Rosberg would win another three races, before taking the final win of his career in Japan.

READ: Rosberg claims he learned how to play mind games 'from the best'

Rosberg would say in later interviews, post-2016, that he knew the championship was his after the Japanese Grand Prix, and that all he had to do was finish each race in second place to secure the title. Regardless of where Hamilton would finish. Hamilton won the remaining four races of the 2016 season, with Rosberg finishing each one in second place. He'd secure the championship with 385 points versus Hamilton's 380.

A real champion?

Much has been said of Rosberg's mindset after his win in Japan, because is he really championship material? How can it be so easy to forego the instinct to win and 'settle' for the next best position. Rosberg also noted that he had always had an ambition to at least win one championship and retire after that.

That was exactly what he had done, with Valtteri Bottas joining the Mercedes team from 2017 onwards.

It was probably in Rosberg's best interest to walk away after 'beating' Hamilton throughout a season because a win over one of F1's best is not to be scoffed at. Pity, because it would have been interesting to see how Rosberg's 2017 title defence would have played out.

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