Nico Rosberg fought back tears as his emotions finally emerged on Sunday after emulating his father Keke’s achievement and realised a childhood ambition by claiming his maiden Formula One drivers’ world championship.
The 31-year-old German finished second behind his ferociously-competitive Mercedes team-mate and defending champion Briton Lewis Hamilton in the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to clinch the title by five points.
“I’m very, very glad that it’s over,” said Rosberg, normally a placid and focused competitor who was forced to fight all the way to the chequered flag, by some uncompromising tactics from Hamilton, to seize the championship.
Rosberg thanked his wife Vivian and daughter Alaia, adding that he would say thank-you to everyone-else later. “It’s unreal… I am very, very proud. I have done the same feat as my dad achieved. He will be here in half an hour and I am so excited to see him.”
Rosberg added that his German mother Sina was also due to fly into Abu Dhabi to join the celebrations. Keke Rosberg, the original ‘flying Finn' won the championship in 1982 with Williams.
“It is unbelievably emotional,” said Vivian Rosberg, in the massed crowd below the post-race podium ceremonies. “He has dreamt of this since being a little boy.”
Rosberg added: “I also want to say congrats to Lewis. You did a great season, always a great competitor and it is always tough to beat you… Now, Mercedes, put the music on – I’m coming down in a second!”
Both drivers complimented their team and each other, Hamilton showing great sportsmanship as he swallowed his disappointment at losing his champion’s crown to Rosberg.
“Congratulations to Nico, great drive!” he said. “Big congratulations. His first world championship.”
Hamilton and Rosberg surprised many observers with the spontaneous respect and warmth in their handshake and a brief ‘man hug’ on the podium, both shrugging aside the tensions of the final laps when the Englishman deliberately drove slowly to compress the field.
Remarkably, Hamilton won a record ten races without taking the title.
He said, despite facing that a possible reprimand from his team for twice disobeying official instructions to drive faster, that he felt proud and happy with his own performance.
“Honestly, I feel great and I want to say thanks to my family for all the support, and this team – I think that’s 32 wins since I joined this team.”
Vivian Rosberg added: “Around 15 of his friends are here and he doesn’t know… We’re going to have a big, big surprise party.”
Hamilton added: “I did all I could and Nico had a clean year and without any issues, but he did a fantastic job and it is a great feeling to win the championship. Congratulations to him.”
On the team’s desire to make him drive faster, he said: “I don’t know why they just didn’t let us race.”
Hamilton reeled off the 53rd win of his career, but his gamesmanship upset his team and Rosberg in the closing laps notably after the team’s technical chief Paddy Lowe came on the radio to order him to driver faster.
His final lap was nine seconds slower than the lap that carried him to pole and was clearly designed to push Rosberg into a vulnerable position as four-time champion German Sebastian Vettel closed in in his Ferrari.
Hamilton ignored two instructions from the team to increase his speed at the front, but was unable to create a situation in which Rosberg could be attacked and passed.
It was Rosberg’s triumph, in the end, as his wife Vivian made clear when she screeched her congratulations on the team radio. “We did it, we did it! Yippppeee!” Rosberg replied.
Rosberg joined an exclusive club by becoming only the second son of a former champion to take the title, his father Keke having won the championship 34 years ago with the Williams team.
Briton Damon Hill did the same when he won the title with Williams, following his father Graham’s achievements, in 1996.
He also became Germany’s third champion.
Hamilton’s car crew consoled him with a message. “Not our year – maybe luck wasn’t with us,” he was told.
The tension was palpable as they climbed from their cars to go to the podium after the race in which Vettel finished third for Ferrari ahead of Dutchman Max Verstappen and his Red Bull team-mate Australian Daniel Ricciardo.
Finn Kimi Raikkonen finished sixth for Ferrari ahead of Renault-bound German Nico Hulkenberg and his Force India team-mate Mexican Sergio Perez.
Brazilian Felipe Massa marked his 250th and final race before retirement by finishing ninth for Williams head of two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso of McLaren Honda.