In The Driver's Seat

Percentage tactics will define the Rosberg era

Racing purists will continue to argue whether Nico Rosberg was a fully deserving world champion.

Bear in mind the 27 points Lewis Hamilton lost in one fell swoop in Malaysia, let alone those that fell victim in China and Russia to the energy recovery system problems he faced, and the need in Belgium for him to take grid penalties in order to harvest sufficient power units to see him through the season.

But, as Hamilton himself pointed out philosophically as he offered his congratulations, you cannot win them all.

Rosberg went into the final race with a 12-point cushion, which meant that if Hamilton won he would still need his team-mate to finish fourth or lower. And that effectively meant that Red Bull or Ferrari had to raise their game.

When neither did, there was only one slim chance that remained. Hamilton needed to control the race to such an extent that he had to drive as slowly as possible, while keeping Rosberg behind, in order to back him into slower rivals and to give them the chance to pass.

Again, the purists will debate the ethics of that, but if you put yourself in the position of a man who lost so many points to mechanical frailty in a season when his team-mate finished every race - bar the one in Spain where both crashed - maybe you'd see the same picture that Hamilton saw.

For Rosberg, this day of days yielded the sport's greatest prize even though one might argue he was weak in proffering any sort of meaningful challenge to his deliberately slow team-mate.

If Hamilton wasn't driving fast enough, the obvious answer was to try and overtake. No attempt was forthcoming from Rosberg the way it was from, say, Max Verstappen who blasted his way back from last after a spin on the opening lap, to an eventual fourth.

Rosberg is a percentage player. So long as he finished in the top three, he was golden. A champion is a champion, but the purists love a fighter, such as Hamilton or, indeed, another man who won with a car bearing the No. 6: Nico's ebullient father Keke, as tough a racer as any who ever sat in a cockpit.

Ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone describes Rosberg Jr as bland; time will tell whether his success - thoroughly deserved on the basis of his mental fortitude and nine solid victories to Hamilton's 10 - will see him blossom into a more confident and convincing public character.

It will also tell us whether Hamilton has damaged his standing within Mercedes, after he consistently ignored their pleas to speed up.

His tactics didn't upset Rosberg, though he did admit: "That definitely wasn't the most enjoyable race I've ever had. I'm just really glad it's over. Lewis was using all his skill to do it perfectly, so there was absolutely no way for me to get by. It's simple. You can understand the team's perspective, and Lewis'."

Did Hamilton's disobedience make him too big for his shoes? Of course it didn't. He was the race leader and therefore entitled to set the pace. Although he said he wasn't bothered losing the race if he was also going to lose the world championship, there was actually zero chance he was ever going to let either Rosberg or a pushy Sebastian Vettel overtake and thus compromise a Mercedes win. He had things well under control.

Hamilton himself said it all left him nonplussed: "I don't think I did anything dangerous today. I was in the lead, I control the pace. Those are the rules. We'll discuss it afterwards, as we always do as a team, but we can't let it overshadow that Nico has just won the world championship."

As storms in teacups go, this was a minor one.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2016, with the headline 'Percentage tactics will define the Rosberg era'. Print Edition | Subscribe