By Alan Baldwin
Nico Rosberg wrapped up the Formula One season on a winning high in Abu Dhabi on Sunday with team-mate and triple world champion Lewis Hamilton second in a record 12th one-two finish of the year for dominant Mercedes.
The German’s third win in a row, from a sixth successive pole position, dashed Hamilton’s hopes of a 44th career victory in car 44 on the 44th anniversary of the founding of the United Arab Emirates.
The Briton, who clinched the title in Texas last month with three races to spare, finished 8.2 seconds behind after an attempt at a different strategy failed to produce the desired result.
The win was the 16th in 19 races for Mercedes.
“Austin (in Texas) was a tough weekend and since then I’ve just come back a lot stronger,” said Rosberg from the podium after spraying the sparkling rosewater used instead of the usual champagne.
“I’m excited about how the end of the season went and next year -it can come any moment, it could start tomorrow if it were up to me, no problem. I don’t need any holidays.”
Hamilton had asked over the team radio with 15 laps to go whether he could go to the end having made only one pit stop to Rosberg’s two but was left in no doubt that such a move would not work.
He then pitted on the next lap, any hopes of a wheel-to-wheel battle over the final laps effectively disappearing into the night as he did so.
“In hindsight, once Nico had pitted I probably would have backed off a little bit and gone a bit longer…As that didn’t work out, the stop, going too long was probably not the right thing to do, but we gave it a try,” he said.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen took third place ahead of team-mate Sebastian Vettel, who started 15th, for only the Finn’s third podium appearance of the season.
Rosberg’s win was his sixth of the season, 14th of his career, and a hat-trick first for the German who had never before managed to win three races in a row.
Hamilton ended the championship with 10 victories, one fewer than in 2014, but he took more poles and fastest laps than anyone else.
“It’s always tough to race Lewis, he’s doing an awesome job,” said Rosberg. “So it’s an even better feeling to win. It’s a great battle internally all the time, that’s what I race for and I look forward to more next year.”
Mexican Sergio Perez finished fifth, with Australian Daniel Ricciardo sixth for Red Bull and splitting the Force India cars with Germany’s Nico Hulkenberg seventh.
Brazilian Felipe Massa took eighth place for Williams, ahead of Frenchman Romain Grosjean in ninth in his final race for Lotus before moving to 2016 newcomers Haas.
Russian Daniil Kvyat secured the final point for Red Bull.
Rosberg, who made a clean start and was never threatened, was only the second driver to win the day-to-night floodlit race from pole position since Abu Dhabi first appeared on the calendar in 2009.
Hamilton was comparatively slow off the mark on an opening lap that saw McLaren’s Fernando Alonso collide with Lotus’s Pastor Maldonado.
The Venezuelan retired while Alonso, who cannot end McLaren’s worst-ever season fast enough, was given a drive-through penalty.
Finland’s Valtteri Bottas also fell foul of the stewards when Williams released him into the path of Alonso’s team-mate Jenson Button at the first pitstops, with the Finn losing half his front wing in the impact.