What we’ll always remember most from the 2016 F1 season, and why.
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU
The final race of the 2016 Formula One season was little more than a fortnight ago in Abu Dhabi, and plenty has happened on the F1 front since then – we’ll get to that later. Memories of the ’16 season are still fresh in everyone’s minds, but what are the moments of the year that will linger long after this campaign fades into the rear-vision mirror? What memorable drives, controversial clashes or displays of brilliance will we recall fondly as the years pass?
A few that were shortlisted but didn’t make the cut: Daniel Ricciardo’s mega pole lap at Monaco to take the only pole position by a non-Mercedes driver all year, his calamitous pit stop in the race on the Monte Carlo streets 24 hours later than scuppered his chances of winning F1’s most prestigious event, and the still-hard-to-believe lap one smash between teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in Spain, which eliminated both cars on the spot and re-ignited simmering tensions in the Mercedes garage.
1. Won and done
When we look back at the 2016 season, we’ll most likely remember something that happened after the 21 races were in the books. Rosberg’s stunning retirement announcement a little less than a week after becoming world champion for the first time caught his team, his peers and F1 fans around the world on the hop – after scaling the summit and finally getting the better of long-time adversary and former close friend Hamilton, the German elected to walk away from a guaranteed contract with the best team in the sport and untold millions at 31 to begin the first chapter of the rest of his life. He’s the first driver to quit from the top since Alain Prost in 1993, but the Frenchman was 38 and had already sat out the 1992 season before coming back with Williams and winning it all the following year, meaning his retirement was less of a shock. “I’ve made it. I have climbed my mountain, I am on the peak, so this feels right,” Rosberg said. There was no bigger story in F1 this year.
2. Up in flames
Hamilton was sailing to victory in October’s Malaysian Grand Prix, and with Rosberg stuck down the field after a first-lap incident with Sebastian Vettel, the reigning and three-time world champion looked set to strike a telling blow in their intra-team fight with five races remaining. But on lap 40, Hamilton’s engine turned into a fireball, handing the lead to Ricciardo, and while Ricciardo’s Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen finished second, Rosberg scrambled back to third to snare 15 precious points for third on a day when he was last and facing the wrong way at the first corner of the race – and when Hamilton openly wondered if a higher power had decided he wasn’t making it a hat-trick of titles. The result gave Rosberg a decisive 23-point championship lead.
3. One for the ages
Yes, Verstappen won his maiden Grand Prix in Barcelona in May, but his Brazilian Grand Prix masterclass was something to behold. In 14th place with 17 laps to go and in weather better suited to boats than F1 cars, the Dutch teenager made the rest of the field look like amateurs as he stormed through to third, his drive evoking memories of Ayrton Senna’s wet-weather second for Toleman at Monaco in 1984, and Michael Schumacher’s 1996 Spanish GP win in atrocious conditions for Ferrari, where the German genius won by 45 seconds. Should Verstappen continue on to the greatness many expect of him, this will be the race that starts any highlight reel. Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff put Verstappen’s display into succinct context. “Physics are being redefined,” he said.
4. The young and the relentless
Was Verstappen’s Brazilian third better than his Spanish success on his Red Bull debut? We say yes, if only for the sheer audaciousness of his driving at Interlagos, but the 18-year-old’s maturity was on full display at the Circuit de Catalunya, Verstappen keeping the far more experienced Kimi Raikkonen at bay for his first F1 win on a day when the first-lap Mercedes mess opened the door for others to shine. Yes, Verstappen (and Raikkonen) were on the more advantageous two-stop strategy in Spain where their respective teammates, Ricciardo and Vettel, made three stops, Ricciardo justifiably lamenting afterwards that his strategy “didn’t make sense” after he led for a large portion of the race. But that shouldn’t take away from what Verstappen did – with a chance to win a race for the first time and with a world champion behind him who was experienced enough to have raced against Max’s father Jos as far back as 2001, he didn’t make a single mistake – and became the youngest F1 winner ever.
5. Thirsty work
The chances of Ricciardo winning a Grand Prix this year looked pretty slim after his Monaco pit stop travails, so when the Australian finished second to Hamilton at the German GP in July, there was only one way to enjoy the spoils of his podium champagne – from his racing boot. No, he didn’t start the tradition, and no, he’s not the first Aussie to swig a celebratory shoey on the international stage. But he was happy to introduce it to the F1 show. “As far as I know I started it in F1 but not worldwide,” he explained. “It was a few loose Aussies, the Mad Hueys. They travel the world fishing, surfing and they like to drink a bit of beer and whatnot, and that’s where the shoey began. I know (MotoGP rider) Jack Miller knows a few of the guys from the Mad Hueys, so when he got his win in Assen, I suspected he was going to do it and he did, so I thought I’d keep the Australian tradition going.” From then on, any time Ricciardo made the podium for the rest of the season, shoeys were close to a certainty. Rosberg didn’t exactly love his sample of champagne from Ricciardo’s boot when the Red Bull driver won at Sepang, but Christian Horner played along. Mark Webber was once bitten and twice shy – after reluctantly joining in at Spa, he threw Ricciardo’s boot into the crowd in Malaysia to avoid a second sip. And Ricciardo himself knew where to draw the line. A shoey after a sweaty second place in Singapore? Pass.