By Adam Tate, Associate Editor
The 2016 Formula One season will go down in history as one of the most surprising, and unique in recent years. It will be known for Nico Rosberg’s epic battle with Lewis Hamilton, for Max Verstappen’s rise at Red Bull, for the retirement of beloved veterans, and Rosberg’s willingness to walk away from the sport having won his only world title. Here are our top five moments of the year.
5. Retirement Announcements
Beloved veterans Jenson Button and Felipe Massa shocked the sport by announcing they would each be leaving Formula One at the end of the season. For Button it is a sabbatical, but he was keen to state that he was treating it like his final season in F1. For Massa, it came via an emotional announcement at the Italian Grand Prix in September, a true retirement. Since then it has come to light that the Brazilian will return to the sport next year to replace Valtteri Bottas who is Mercedes bound to replace WDC Nico Rosberg.
4. Dennis out at McLaren
After over 30 years at the helm of McLaren, Ron Dennis will leave the organization once the clock strikes midnight tonight. After trying and failing to lure tech giant Apple into an investment deal, he was ousted by the board and longtime business partner Mansour Ojjeh. McLaren and Honda may have a resurgent year in 2017, but their long term future without Dennis at the helm will be far from certain.
3. Spanish Grand Prix
The Spanish Grand Prix was a perfect microcosm of F1 in 2016. The rivalry between Rosberg and Hamilton, the rivalry between Red Bull and Ferrari, the rise of Max Verstappen. When Nico Rosberg set off with the wrong engine setting he was a sitting duck for Hamilton. His overly enthusiastic defense and the ensuing collision between them put both drivers out of the race and gifted Max Verstappen, newly promoted to Red Bull Racing, his first victory. Verstappen became a thorn in their side for the rest of the season, pushing Mercedes and Ferrari at every opportunity and becoming F1’s most exciting driver in the process.
2. Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
With one race to go Lewis Hamilton still had a slim chance to win the world championship. He lead from the onset but could never pull away from Rosberg enough to claim the points edge he needed. Instead Hamilton backed Rosberg up into the pursuing cars from Ferrari and Red Bull, most notably an on form Sebastian Vettel who put enormous pressure on the Mercedes duo in the closing laps of the race. Hamilton claimed the victory, with Rosberg and Vettel crossing the line within seconds of him. It was enough for Rosberg to claim the title and finally defeat his long time rival.
1. Rosberg Leaves the Sport
Only days after defeating Hamilton and emulating his father as world champion, Nico Rosberg shocked the entire racing community by announcing his immediate retirement from Formula One. It was a decision that divided many within the sport, but drew glowing praise for Rosberg’s courage to go out on top and dedicate himself to his young family. It also threw the silly season into overdrive as the most coveted ride on the grid was suddenly available. Williams driver Valtteri Bottas still seems the most likely candidate for the seat and his current team has already signed a deal to bring his former team mate Felipe Massa out of retirement in order to replace him.