Abu Dhabi a worthy race to crown a worthy champion: Nico Rosberg has earned his success

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It was fitting that Yas Marina Circuit was the venue where Nico Rosberg was crowned the Formula One drivers’ champion of 2016.

The Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix has been the scene of many milestone moments in the German’s career, with Sunday undoubtedly the best of the lot.

When F1 first came to the UAE in 2009, it was where the move that would catapult Rosberg towards the front of the grid happened.

He was driving for Williams at the time, the team he entered F1 with in 2006, but in the paddock at Yas Marina Circuit that weekend he confirmed the race would be his last with the British team and he would be heading to new pastures for 2010.

He would not tell the media where he was going, but it would turn out to be Mercedes-GP that he was leaving Williams for.

Fast forward to 2014 and Rosberg was established as a front-runner and race-winner. He pushed teammate Lewis Hamilton to a final race decider in Abu Dhabi before losing out.

Twelve months ago, Rosberg stood on the top step of the podium in Abu Dhabi.

More from Abu Dhabi Grand Prix:

• Reaction: Hamilton defends tactics: 'I was never going to lose'

• Photo gallery: Race day — in pictures

• Race report: Hamilton wins, Rosberg champion

• Talking points: Verstappen's recovery, farewell to two greats

It was a dead rubber as Hamilton had already claimed the championship, but reflecting on his title success on Sunday night, the German said the roots of this season’s triumph began with his strong end to 2015.

He had won the final three races, and proceeded to win the first four events of 2016.

“Austin [the 2015 US Grand Prix, where Hamilton won the title] was a really horrible experience for me,” Rosberg said. “I spent two days just on my own just thinking, and I said ‘I don’t want to experience that again’.

“Then I went and won the next seven races on the trot, so for sure it was a big moment and one of the key moments for me being here today.”

It was apt that Rosberg did not have an easy time of getting across the finish line in Abu Dhabi, spending the race bottled up behind Hamilton.

Ever since he won in Japan last month, the last of his nine wins this season, it has been his title to lose.

As long as he finished second three times and third once he would be champion, even if Hamilton won all four times. That is how things played out.

But knowing it is in your hands, and that you are in the best car in the field, and that it is yours to lose, creates pressure.

To his credit, Rosberg handled it. He finished second in the United States and Mexico, and then dealt with the treacherous wet conditions in Brazil to do what he had to.

Hamilton tried to goad him on Thursday, taking every opportunity in the pre-race news conference to remind him and everyone that he had dominated him on raw speed in Brazil.

Rosberg did not bite. He knew second was all he needed there, and he did that.

Rosberg has come in for criticism, sometimes deservedly, for how he has handled wheel-to-wheel racing this season, but the calmness he showed in overtaking Max Verstappen’s Red Bull Racing car on Lap 20 was the move of a champion.

Verstappen had recovered from his first-lap spin to gain track position when Rosberg made his first pit stop, with the Dutchman able to run a longer first stint on the supersoft tyres.

Rosberg had been warned by his race engineer it was “critical” to pass Verstappen, and he went down the outside of the Red Bull on the long run down to Turn 8.

Though he did not get past, better traction out of the turn allowed him to get cleanly by a driver who has proven notoriously difficult to overtake.

That freed him up and those extra seconds he was able to find as he moved clear of Verstappen would prove vital in giving him enough of a gap over the looming Sebastian Vettel when Hamilton really slowed his pace in the closing laps.

“It was definitely not the most enjoyable race I’ve ever had,” Rosberg said. “So intense. I have never felt anything like that in the car.”

It is no surprise that Rosberg did not crack. He has had to live with expectation his entire life given he is the son of Keke Rosberg, the 1982 world champion.

The Rosbergs are only the second father-and-son duo to claim titles after Graham and Damon Hill.

Rosberg took time out of holding his emotions together to pay tribute to Hamilton’s efforts over the season.

Hamilton’s engine failure in Malaysia, when he was leading, was ultimately the pivotal moment of the championship, but it should not detract from Rosberg’s achievement. The German won nine races, took eight pole positions, and more so than in any other season, beat Hamilton fair and square on a number of occasions.

The history books will not have an asterisk next to the 2016 championship, saying Rosberg won it, but actually Hamilton was faster over the season.

He is a worthy world champion and it was appropriate that he achieved his childhood dream at a place where so many other important parts of his career had happened.

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