TIME Auto Racing

Nico Rosberg Clinches His First Formula One Title in Abu Dhabi

Mideast Emirates F1 GP Auto Racing
Luca Bruno—AP Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg of Germany, left, cheers his teammate Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain on the podium after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Nov. 27, 2016.

The German joins his father Keke Rosberg in the ranks of racing champions

(ABU DHABI) — Nico Rosberg will no longer be known simply as the son of Formula One champion Keke Rosberg.

The German driver is now a champion in his own right after clinching his first title on Sunday to match his father’s achievement from 1982.

“Two Rosbergs are world champions … if I’ve got my statistics right,” Nico Rosberg joked moments after clinching the title.

Graham Hill (1962, 1968) and Damon Hill (1996) are the only other father and son to have won the title.

Rosberg’s second place at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was enough to wrestle the title away from Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton and also prevented his archrival from clinching his third straight and fourth overall.

“It’s unbelievably special to beat him because the level’s so high,” Rosberg said. “It makes this so much more satisfying for me, because he’s the benchmark and I took the world championship away from him.”

Rosberg ended on 385 points to Hamilton’s 380.

Just like his father, Rosberg drives in the No. 6 car.

His 67-year-old father was one of the most flamboyant drivers of his generation.

“Every Saturday night I get a text from him: ‘Pedal to the metal.’ That’s it,” Rosberg said. “It’s been good how he’s let me get on with it and taken a step back. So I’m very thankful for that.”

Rosberg’s title went down to the wire in a nerve-shredding finale.

“I was relieved” his father said after the race in the F1 paddock. “Two laps from the end I was nervous.”

With Hamilton purposefully slowing him down, two other drivers hard on his tail and the title on the line, Rosberg did not crack.

Hamilton won the race from pole position for his 53rd GP win. But Rosberg was 12 points ahead of him before the race and only needed to finish no lower than third if Hamilton won.

“It was so intense, the race, so tough,” said the 31-year-old Rosberg, who finished runner-up to Hamilton in the past two years.

Rosberg repeatedly wiped his face and lowered his head several times in the post-race news conference, appearing emotionally exhausted as he tilted back into his chair and rubbed his eyes.

Still, he expects to find plenty of energy to celebrate his win.

“Tonight’s going to be absolutely nuts,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to be available for a few days.”

Hamilton made it hard for Rosberg by disobeying team orders to speed up near the end, in a bid to back Rosberg toward Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen in third and fourth places, respectively.

“If I had dropped behind those guys, it was over,” Rosberg said.

Vettel could not quite pass Rosberg, finishing third ahead of Verstappen and fourth overall in the championship behind Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo.

“Nico drove well not to make a mistake,” said Hamilton, who won 10 races this year.

As Hamilton deliberately slowed in the later stages of the race, his team told him over race radio to up the tempo.

Hamilton ignored them and then even ignored a direct order from Mercedes’ executive director Paddy Lowe four laps from the end.

“I don’t know why they just didn’t let us race,” Hamilton said. “It’s a bit of a shame.”

Vettel was a wheel’s length away from him on the final lap, but Rosberg kept his cool and his elation was evident as he let out a delighted screech of “Yes! World champion!” when he crossed the line.

Then he jumped out of his car and danced around the track before being hugged by his mechanics and was tossed into the air by his Mercedes crew.

He then grabbed Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone and lifted him into the air.

On the podium, Rosberg’s eyes were watering as the weight of his achievement sank in and he thanked his wife, who also wiped away tears nearby.

Rosberg survived earlier drama when he was close to colliding with Verstappen on lap 21 as they jostled for second place.

For the Mercedes pair, the race had started serenely.

With the sun setting on the Yas Marina track, Hamilton was on pole for the 12th time this season and got away cleanly, as did Rosberg.

Meanwhile, Verstappen’s car went into a spin following contact shortly after the start, dropping him down from sixth to last, but the daring Dutchman soon caught up.

Hamilton came in for his first tire change on the eighth lap, and Rosberg came in for his on the next lap.

But the German driver was held up for a couple of seconds by Vettel, who was just coming in for his stop, and when he came out, he was behind Verstappen and Hamilton.

Rosberg needed to overtake Verstappen, the youngest driver to win an F1 race who has earned a reputation for his risky, borderline dangerous overtaking and has upset other drivers this season.

They twice almost came into contact, but Rosberg showed great courage to then pass him.

“The battle out there with Max was unreal,” Rosberg said. “Max went full on aggressive. As usual.”

Rosberg held on to beat Hamilton by just five points.

“Can’t believe it’s over,” Rosberg said. “I’m ecstatic.”

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