In 2008, very few people, if any, suggested that Lewis Hamilton won the Driver’s Championship purely because Felipe Massa had three DNF’s compared to his one. No one claimed there should be an asterisk beside his name for that season’s title. In 2015, no one argued that Nico Rosberg’s two DNF’s were at all granular to Lewis’s title run.
In 2016, Lewis’s two DNF’s to Nico’s one—along with mechanical issues in qualifying, but not his poor starts—are being used as justification by Hamilton fans of not only an asterisk besides Rosberg’s name, but downright conspiracy theories implicating the team as being intent on thwarting Hamilton’s fourth world title. Lewis even dog-whistled as much in the Abu Dabi post-race press conference saying the team radioed him to pick up the pace and they had a clear mindset as to why they were doing that and not just letting them race.
Reading Twitter and the outrageous commentary by #TeamLH, it has become clear that the mobocracy is in full meltdown over Nico Rosberg’s 2016 championship and feel that it was Hamilton’s had he not had the DNF’s and the team working against him.
This all started over the weekend when Lewis suggested, once again, that the changes the team made with the mechanics and engineers swapping sides of the garage was possibly a bigger issue than just moving team members around to keep parity amongst the employees. He said we’d all have to read about it in his book when he writes it ten years from now.
It also emerged that Lewis had threatened to quit Mercedes after the Spanish Grand Prix debacle that saw he and teammate Rosberg collide and retire from the race. According to Sky Sports F1, Lewis had a meltdown and threatened to walk away and this is why the team very quickly brought Pascal Wehrlein in for the testing session that immediately followed Spain as they were concerned they’d need him to sit in for Lewis for the balance of the season.
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was a case of simply controlling the pace, backing Nico Rosberg up into the clutches of Red Bull and Ferrari in order to shake Nico off the podium—which is exactly what Lewis needed in order to win the title. You could argue that this exactly what he needed to do and it is his right to dictate the pace but it was also clear that Sebastian Vettel thought little of the strategy calling them “dirty tricks” and in the end, the German wasn’t going to make any lunges down the inside and spoil what he felt was rightfully Nico’s title. He even said there were a few moments he may have tried it but Lewis was too close.
In the end, Lewis Hamilton said he did nothing wrong: "I don't think I did anything dangerous, I don't think I did anything unfair," said Hamilton. "We were fighting for the championship, I was in the lead so I control the pace. That is the rules."
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff didn't see it exactly the same way saying: "I'm in two minds: one half of me says undermining a structure in public means you're putting yourself before the team - that's very simple," said Wolff. "Anarchy doesn't work in any team or any company.
"The other half says it was his only chance of winning the championship at that stage and maybe you cannot demand a racing driver to comply in a situation where his instincts did not make him comply. "It's about finding a solution to solve the problem in the future because a precedent has been set.
"Let me sleep over that and come up with a solution tomorrow."
Clearly Toto’s face immediately after the race was not one of sheer joy for Nico’s title win and Lewis’s race win. He was not a happy boss and his comments reveal that he expects drivers to comply with team instruction.
What is, perhaps, more perplexing is that given Lewis’s personality and style, was Mercedes living in a dream to think that Hamilton wouldn’t back Rosberg up into traffic? Red Bull’s Christian Horner thinks so:
"With where they were at, it was just down to those guys, so it was only ever going to be that kind of battle between the two of them," said Horner.
"Congratulations to Nico, he's driven a great season, he's a very worthy world champion but it was naive to think that there would be any different approach with what's at stake."
That’s not the case, according to Toto Wolff, who said they anticipated it:
"It was clear that it was one of the possible ways for Lewis to win the championship, if Nico could come under threat from behind, and that's exactly what happened so it didn't come as a surprise.
"We weren't quite sure which direction he'd go, whether he'd go flat out, or chose the other way. But we calculated it."
Perhaps Nico Rosberg said it best when he explained in the post-race press conference that it is clear to see both sides of the issue. The team has its perspective and Lewis has his perspective of the race. The point being that the team are not engaged in allowing Nico to be sacrificed to Ferraris and Red Bulls to tip the points lead back in favor of Lewis Hamilton winning the title by orphaning Nico to 4th place or worse. For Lewis, that’s exactly what he needed to happen and he was trying everything he could, including ignoring team instruction, to make it happen.
Backing your teammate up into the claws of competitors is within the rules but ignoring Mercedes team instruction may not be in the Mercedes AMG Petronas rule book. It will be interesting to see if anything is said publicly from the team regarding Lewis’s refusal to obey team instruction.
Regardless, Nico Rosberg is not an unworthy or asterisk champion just because Lewis had one more DNF and some mechanical issues earlier this season. The series of poor starts seems to remain out of the conversation when arguing for an asterisk next to Nico’s name. It was an extra DNF that allowed Lewis to win his first title and it was an extra DNF to cost him this season’s title. That’s Formula 1 and that’s all part of the season.
There is no asterisk beside Rosberg's name and it takes a lot to win the title in a 21-race calendar. Sebastian Vettel said:
"I think in my point of view you don’t win a championship by luck, Nico won today and he is a deserved champion," Vettel said.
"Sometimes you might have unfortunate or fortunate situations with your car, but sometimes you have better years or worse years, and it is Nico’s day – we owe it to him as a deserved champion."