Nico Rosberg admitted that beating his long-term rival Lewis Hamilton to the world championship made his maiden Formula 1 title triumph all the more satisfying.
Rosberg survived a nail-biting and dramatic conclusion to the sport’s longest season here in Abu Dhabi as Hamilton’s desperate ploy to back him into the clutches of the chasing pack failed.
The German, who needed to finish in the top three, survived a late onslaught from Sebastian Vettel, with Max Verstappen also breathing down his neck, to clinch the title.
His second place, behind race winner Hamilton, meant Rosberg was champion.
Rosberg, who has been racing Hamilton in a rivalry that dates back to their early teenage years, had never previously beaten the British driver over the course of one season.
But after finishing five points clear of his Mercedes team-mate, despite winning one race fewer, Rosberg has finally put an end to his long-running losing streak.
“I’ve been racing him forever and he’s always just managed to edge me out and get the title – even when we were small in go-karts,” said Rosberg, who had been beaten to the championship by Hamilton in the past two seasons.
“He’s just an amazing driver and of course one of the best in history, so it’s unbelievably special to beat him because the level is so high and that makes this even more satisfying.
“He is the benchmark and I took the world championship away from him, which is a phenomenal feeling.
“The last races has been the best Lewis we have ever seen. He had no pressure, was super motivated, super concentrated, working as much as he has ever worked before, and with nothing to lose. I have the pressure, and that made it more difficult so I am glad it worked out that way it did.”
Rosberg, 31, broke down on a number of occasions during the post-race press conference as he struggled to cope with the enormity of what he had just achieved.
A little more than 12 months ago Rosberg was a broken man after seeing Hamilton win the title in Texas with three races to spare, but here he attributed the failing to his championship success.
Rosberg went on to win the final three races of last season before opening his championship-winning campaign with four straight victories.
“That was a big turning point because Austin was a horrible experience for me,” Rosberg added.
“I spent two days just on my own thinking, and I said I didn’t ever want to experience that again. I went and won the next seven races on the trot, so for sure it was a big moment for me and one of the key moments for being here today.”
Father Keke Rosberg, the 1982 world champion who has become a largely anonymous figure in the paddock in recent years, joined the party at the Yas Marina Circuit last night. Puffing on a cigar, he revealed he watched the race in nearby Dubai.
“I took a deep sip from my beer, and thought, ‘This is going to get hot’,” Keke Rosberg said as he reflected on Hamilton backing up his son in the closing stages.
The Rosbergs become only the second father-son dynasty to win the F1 championship. Damon Hill emulated his father Graham, a two-time title winner, when he secured his maiden championship in 1996.
Elsewhere, Jenson Button’s grand prix career ended in bitter disappointment after he was forced to retire.
Button, competing in what he described as ‘’probably’’ his final race as he makes way for Stoffel Vandoorne at McLaren next season, lasted only 12 laps before he parked his car.
The 36-year-old Englishman ran heavily over a kerb at the Yas Marina Circuit, which damaged his front suspension.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had a failure like this,” said Button over the team radio as he limped back to the McLaren garage.
Button was given a standing ovation by the crowd before he stood on top of his McLaren cockpit and applauded them back.
The Englishman removed his crash helmet and his balaclava before hugging his mother, Simone – who brushed away tears – and the rest of his entourage.
Daniel Ricciardo finished fifth for Red Bull with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg in sixth. Felipe Massa ended his final grand prix in ninth.