Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg led his world champion teammate home for another 1-2, completing his first hat-trick in Formula 1. Hamilton and his engineers threw everything they had at the German but he was never genuinely troubled.
PRACTICE AND QUALIFYING
McLaren looked promising - relatively speaking - in practice, as did the Force India of Sergio Perez. Mercedes and Ferrari were obviously quick and Red Bull switched back to the old-spec Renault engine after the disappointing results in Brazil.
Sebastian Vettel caused a bit of stir by falling out of qualifying in Q1. He later said that the team thought his lap on the soft tyres would be enough, but turned out it wasn't. As in practice, the two Mercedes were close all through the qualifying sessions, with Raikkonen and Perez battling with Ricciardo and the Williams cars for the second row.
Rosberg's first Q3 lap was fastest but Hamilton improved on his second run. Ricciardo could only hold fifth, with Raikkonen jumping to third followed by Perez. Rosberg's final run was stunning, taking pole by just under four tenths, his sixth P1 slot in a row. Hamilton later grumbled that the Mercedes development direction hasn't favoured his driving style.
Race evening was bright and clear, with the grid lining up as the sun sank beneath the horizon. Grosjean's overnight gearbox change saw him sent to the back of the grid.
Rosberg shot to the lead and Hamilton was forced to defend a quickish Perez and Raikkonen. Kvyat, Sainz and Massa all squabbled over places and Sebastian Vettel made up for a poor starting position with a good start, twelfth by mid-lap.
Maldonado and Alonso crashed off, but the McLaren got moving again, pitting for a new nose. Felipe Nasr appeared to be the trigger, bouncing the McLaren into a lock-up, the Spaniard collecting the Lotus. The stewards deemed Alonso at fault and he was awarded a drive-through. Alonso returned fire after the race, claiming the stewards got it wrong.
Kvyat was immediately under siege from Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas, losing out first to the Brazilian and then to Bottas as DRS became available. Massa also rounded up Carlos Sainz in the Toro Rosso.
Grosjean's new gearbox seemed to help, the Frenchman carving through the field early on.
Kvyat pitted on lap six, fitting a new set of the prime tyre, while Vettel passed Verstappen.
Ricciardo, Perez and Massa pitted next time around, the Red Bull driver staying behind the Force India driver. Hulkenberg and Sainz pitted too, most cars seemingly opting for a three-stop strategy.
Bottas, who was not looking at all happy, pitted for the prime tyre. Button motored in behind him and the Williams team released him into the McLaren's path. Bottas' wing was destroyed in the contact, Button seemingly lucky with just rear wing endplate damage and a disrupted pit stop. The crippled Williams did an entire lap and the wing was replaced, and a five second time penalty awarded.
Rosberg and Raikkonen pitted on lap 11, again taking on prime tyres, Hamilton a lap later.
Perez and Grosjean enjoyed an absorbing battle for ninth and tenth, with the Force India driver drawing alongside with DRS, but unable to make the pass. Perez finally prevailed on lap 12, with a big move at the second DRS point.
Marcus Ericcson's Sauber was on a two-stop and was engulfed by first Ricciardo then Massa and Kvyat.
Vettel was trying to go for a one-stop, too, losing second place to Hamilton on lap 14, the Mercedes driver having stopped for tyres. Kimi Raikkonen was next to pass, again without drama, the Finn driving faultlessly.
On lap 19, Verstappen was allowed past Sainz to have a crack at Kvyat. He then contrived to make a mistake, locking up and flat-spotting both front tyres. He pitted and threw on a new set, dropping to fifteenth.
On lap 20, Rosberg was well and truly in command, with a six second lead over Hamilton.
Vettel pitted from fourth on lap 24, the German thinking he might have been able to "squeeze one more" lap from the tyres. He dropped to just sixth place.
Hulkenberg pitted for the second time on lap 25, again for soft tyres
Fernando Alonso, who had been struggling, radioed his team to suggest that perhaps his season should finish sooner rather than later as he struggled around a lap down. He was obviously persuaded to continue as he eventually finished.
Ricciardo and Massa pitted on lap 27, dropping the Red Bull driver in front of Grosjean. Perez pitted a lap later to protect his place from the Red Bull undercut, which he duly did.
Lewis Hamilton decided that the wide gap on lap 20 wasn't good news and set about closing down on Rosberg, lopping five seconds from the German's lead by lap 28, with Hamilton continuing to catch at a rate of two-tenths of a second as he drew closer.
Bottas pitted at the end of lap 30 for new tyres and his five second penalty, exiting the pit without incident.
Rosberg pitted on lap 31 as Hamilton got close, another new set of prime tyres fitted. Hamilton responded with a series of fast sectors but Rosberg's out-lap was also very good. Raikkonen pitted before Hamilton, who stayed out to try and beat the undercut. The Finn's pit-stop was slow after the right front wouldn't go on, the mechanic having to change wheel-guns.
The Ferraris again swapped positions to allow Raikkonen to continue his campaign for third while Rosberg was told to pick up the pace to close the gap on Hamilton. Raikkonen started reeling off fastest laps.
Rosberg was now thirteen seconds behind Hamilton, who was yet to stop but would have much fresher rubber towards the end of the race, the Briton proving himself more than capable of catching his teammate. Hamilton debated going to the end without stopping again, but his engineer was having none of it
Vettel pitted on lap 40, fitting the red-banded super-soft option, the car stationary for just 2.4 seconds. The German's race was against Perez, who himself was ahead of Ricciardo. Vettel quickly rounded up the Australian who didn't make it easy for his former teammate, the pass not coming until lap 41.
Hamilton stopped on lap 42 for another set of primes rather than super-softs and set off after Rosberg. He threw in a fastest lap or two to start chipping away at Rosberg's lead, hoping to catch him as quickly as Vettel caught Perez.
Verstappen and Button had an entertaining battle, the McLaren driver creating a race for himself despite his deficit of pace. He had previously rebuffed Sauber's Ericsson and then held off Verstappen through the complex in sector three, the Dutchman ending up off-track as Button pushed him wide. The stewards investigated and decided Verstappen had taken an advantage, handing him a five-second penalty for his efforts and more licence points to add to his collection.
Ricciardo finished fifth, one place behind his pitlane-to-fourth 2014 effort.
"At the start I had a sniff at Hulkenberg and went for it and that paid off. Parts of it were fun. I would have liked more battles, it's a circuit I enjoy fighting on."
"Sixth is probably not that representative of how good our weekend was, but I'm pretty pleased. I would love to go racing next weekend but at the same time I'm happy the season is over and I'm optimistic that next year will be better."
Rosberg crossed the line comfortably ahead of Hamilton, the twelfth one-two of the season and Rosberg's third victory in a row.
Formula 1 returns in late March at the Australian Grand Prix.
1. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
3. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)
4. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
5. Sergio Perez (Force India)
6. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)
7. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India)
8. Felipe Massa (Williams)
9. Romain Grosjean (Lotus)
10. Daniil Kvyat (Red Bull)
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