As the nights were drawing in and weather turning colder, it was time to pack our bags for the final round of the F1 2016 season in UAE. The excitement was building as the championship was still in the balance and everyone was debating who would end up on top. Would it be Lewis, looking for his 4th championship title or Nico who was still holding out for his first? Whoever the winner, the next few days would be electric.
This year our clients had the option of flying to Dubai with Virgin or Emirates and arrived on a gorgeous 25c day. After a short transfer, they arrived at their chosen hotel; this year we had three options. 3* Ibis One Central, great location near to the hustle and the bustle of Dubai Mall; 4* Hilton Dubai The Walk, a chic hotel along The Walk at JBR, a buzzing area with lots of restaurants and shops on it’s doorstep, and a beautiful long beach overlooking the Burj Al Arab; 5* Bonnington Hotel, a great hotel in the Jumeirah Lake Towers area.
Friday offered a day at leisure to relax on the beach, explore the city or even spend an extra day at the track. There is so much to see and do in Dubai, from taking an Abra over the creek to Deira and explore the Gold and Spice souks, a great opportunity to put your bartering skills to the test and bag yourself a deal. Perhaps explore the Dubai Mall with the aquarium, dancing fountains or a trip up the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa, Mall of Emirates which even offers a Ski slope in the desert. For perhaps the more adventurous, head out into the Arabian desert for a 4x4 safari, where you will be driven over the dunes, try sand boarding and enjoy a meal at a Bedouin camp whilst watching the belly dancers perform under the stars.
Saturday we headed to the circuit, the advantage of a qualifying and a race start at 5pm, means leaving the hotels both days a little later than normal. The Yas Marina circuit is a spectacular stage for the climax of the championship, all grandstands covered with Ferrari World and a shopping mall on the doorstep. No one does it better.
Hamilton started his final push for the championship by setting a lap on his first run in Q3 that Rosberg failed to match during the entire session. Hamilton then improved on this to become the only driver to do a sub 1.39 lap, taking pole from Rosberg by a massive 3 tenths of a second, his 12th pole of the season. Followed by Ricciardo and Raikkonen half a second adrift. The two (as we thought) retiring drivers Massa and Button were 10th and 12th respectively.
Following qualifying, some headed back to the city, whilst everyone else stayed to watch Lionel Richie perform in the arena to a packed out stadium.
Sunday is always a special race, following the build-up which includes a spectacular UAE airforce and Etihad airline fly past, the race starts in the blazing heat of the day, racing into the night sky and enjoying sunset over the circuit whilst everyone battles it out, an amazing visual experience seeing the colours of the cars change under the changing light.
The two Mercedes made the perfect start from the front row, Hamilton leading from Rosberg. Further back Verstappen made a poor start, making contact with Hulkenberg in the first corner, spinning and ending up at the back of the pack. Hamilton - playing the strategy game - didn't streak away from the field. If he were to win the the race, the only way to win the championship was for Rosberg to be 4th or lower, so he maintained an easy pace hoping to back Rosberg into the pack, which very nearly worked. Verstappen meanwhile was making progress through the field electing to try a one stop strategy, Hamilton stopped first followed by Rosberg on the following lap. But Verstappen now split the pair, with the Ferrari’s and Ricciardo looming in Rosberg’s mirrors. Rosberg proved his championship mettle passing within a hairs breath of Verstappen in full view of the South grandstand. Jenson Button in his final race unfortunately had a suspension failure on the 12th lap forcing him to retire. For the remainder of the race, Hamilton maintained this strategy, but it wasn't enough, Rosberg managed the gap to the cars behind holding 2nd place to the end of the race. Another 1-2 for Mercedes, and the world championship for Rosberg. Rosberg being the second son of a world champion to take the title, 34 years after his father Keke.
After the race it was Rihanna’s turn to entertain the crowds to end the 2016 season, before we all headed back to Dubai.
A fabulous weekend. Congratulations Nico you are an amazing champion, a title taken with hard work and strong willed determination.
Writing this whilst flying back from Dubai, the shock news report hit that Rosberg had announced his retirement from the sport. Big changes for the sport next year, three long term drivers retiring, Massa, Button - and now Rosberg. Who will replace Rosberg and get a prime chance for next year's title? Wehrlein, Bottas or even Alonso?
Wider tyres, new aero, less engine restriction, driver changes.
We can't wait for next season to begin! 111 days and counting...
Adrian N and Lisa Y