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Last year Abu Dhabi saw the title showdown. This time around, pretty much everything was already wrapped up. Rosberg stole pole from Hamilton, Raikkonen taking 3rd after Vettel fell in Q1. Perez nabbed 4th, Hulkenberg 7th as the Force India pair sandwiched Ricciardo and Bottas in their team’s 150th race as Force India, not to mention their last before Aston Martin branding came in. Massa lined up 8th, Kvyat following in the second Red Bull with Sainz 10th. Verstappen qualified 11th, leading Button, Nasr and the Lotus pair, although Grosjean was demoted to 19th for a gearbox change. Vettel’s 16th thus became 15th ahead of Alonso, Ericsson, Stevens, Grosjean and Merhi who started from the pit lane in his final race. Stevens dropped to 19th and last on the grid with a replacement ECU.
Alonso had a crash at the first corner, apparently slamming into the back of Maldonado who retired. Ahead, Vettel was 11th and Verstappen had taken 10th by the end of lap 1. Both lost a place to Bottas shortly after.
Replays showed that contact with Nasr fired Alonso into the back of Maldonado, breaking the suspension of the innocent Lotus.
Kvyat pitted on lap 5, dropping to 16th ahead of Merhi. This sparked the first round of stops.
Alonso was given a drive-through penalty for contact with both Nasr and Maldonado.
Bottas pitted on lap 8, pulled out of the pit box and wiped out his wing against Button’s rear tyre as the McLaren eased into his own box. Bottas had to do an entire lap without his wing. It was about as blatant an unsafe release as has ever happened in Formula One. Button did have damage to his rear wing but McLaren felt it wasn’t worth the time to fix it.
Rosberg was the first Mercedes in, stopping on lap 10 and ceding the lead to Hamilton. Hamilton was in a lap later, leaving Vettel between the Silver Arrows.
Bottas was given a 5-second time penalty for his unsafe release.
Perez pulled off a tough move on Grosjean, locking up as he finally made the move he had lined up a lap or two earlier.
Vettel was ordered to yield to Raikkonen, although the Finn seemed to be legitimately faster than his teammate for a change.
Verstappen took 11th from Sainz after a long fight, but only a third of the race had elapsed. A lot can happen in 35 laps, especially as it transpired that Verstappen had been ordered through by the team. One double lockup a couple of laps later forced the teenager into the pits and out of Sainz’ way.
Alonso suggested to McLaren that they should retire the 17th placed McLaren amid rumours of a sabbatical for the Spaniard.
Verstappen did return the favour with Sainz, yielding 11th place. At the front Rosberg had a comfortable net lead, Hamilton out in front on track but yet to pit. Raikkonen suffered with a sticky wheelnut, falling behind Vettel in the fight for 3rd. Ferrari ordered the German aside, then pitted him on lap 39 so he could take on the super-soft tyres. Perez stole 4th but that was Vettel’s target over the remaining 16 laps. Ricciardo also had 5th for a couple of laps.
Verstappen made the move on Button but both played a very dangerous game with track limits, attracting the attention of the stewards in their fight for 12th. Verstappen was considered to have gained an advantage in his part of the fight, gaining a 5 second penalty.
Rosberg won a dominant race from Hamilton, Raikkonen, Vettel, Perez, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Massa, Grosjean and Kvyat. Beyond the points were Sainz, Verstappen, Button, Bottas, Ericsson, Nasr, Alonso, Stevens and Nasr. Only Maldonado retired, ending a season of terrible luck for the Venezuelan.
Verstappen lost out to Button thanks to his penalty. He was investigated after the race as well for ignoring blue flags, earning him a drive-through penalty which dropped him to 16th.
Rosberg’s win, his 14th, brings him level with Graham Hill’s win record on the 40th anniversary of the helicopter crash that claimed the lives of the Embassy Hill team management, including Graham. This race also saw the 83rd and last race for Romain Grosjean in the Enstone team before departing for Banbury and Haas.