Now or never for Nico

Nico Rosberg must defeat Lewis Hamilton this weekend, lest his title bid will lie in tatters.

Bahrain is just the fourth event of a nineteen-race calendar, yet it is imperative Rosberg gleans a result of substance prior to the European season commencement. This doesn’t necessarily entail victory, rather, outperforming his team-mate in convincing fashion.

Contemplating his post-China outburst, this is unlikely. The German cast a psychologically tormented soul during the press conference, accusing Hamilton of “thinking about yourself with the pace in front… compromising my race.” Hamilton deftly upheld his belief that “it’s not my job to look after Nico’s race. My job is to manage the car and bring the car home as healthy and as fast as possible.”

Unless Rosberg is willing to leave everything on the race track, he’s going to go home empty handed on each occasion. Working on the assumption that Hamilton was indeed backing into Sebastian Vettel, it is mystifying that Rosberg didn’t counter with an offensive attack on the reigning champion, and not the one which came during the press conference. The Briton remarked as much,”if Nico wanted to get by he could have tried but he didn’t.”

The points margin separating the pair is immaterial so long as one doesn’t have the belief they can win. Hamilton first and Rosberg second at Bahrain would render a 24-point gap – the equivalent of victory. On paper, the deficit could be neutralised by a Hamilton DNF and Rosberg victory at Spain, yet from a momentum perspective, coming home behind Hamilton on a fourth successive occasion would have lethal consequences for the intra-team dynamics, if they’re not already skewed heavily in his team-mate’s favour.

Rosberg engaged in his own set of gamesmanship at Monaco little under 12 months’ ago when he ran off the circuit in the dying stages of qualifying, triggering yellow flags and thus denying Hamilton a chance to claim pole position. The German harvested the momentum in spite of a seething Hamilton – who went so far to say he’d contemplate Senna-Japan ’90 tactics as retribution, to enjoy victory.

The Monaco 2014-prototype Nico Rosberg has been missing since the infamous collision at Belgium –  itself borne from tense wheel-to-wheel combat with Hamilton during the previous race at Hungary, from which point the momentum has been squarely with the Briton. Indeed, the German has prevailed over Hamilton just once in the subsequent ten events.

Rosberg made the magnanimous gesture of limping to the chequered flag at the Abu Dhabi season finale, in the knowledge that Hamilton would be champion. It is apparent that this microcosm of their year-long rivalry has manifested into tacit acknowledgement by Rosberg that Hamilton is the better driver even if he refuses to admit as much.

Twelve months ago, Rosberg got his elbows out and in unison with his team-mate, provided one of the season’s spectacles with a battle spanning the duration of the race. Though he didn’t prevail, Rosberg was afforded much respect on that evening. If ever there was a time to rediscover this brand, it is now, Lewis Hamilton doesn’t need to be asked twice whether he wants to win.

Ferrari is enjoying rapid progress – as it stands, Vettel leads Rosberg in the standings. The German doesn’t want to find himself trailing the four-time champion by Monaco, otherwise the inevitable call will be made for all attentions to be diverted to Hamilton’s campaign.

There will be no race for Hamilton to compromise if he doesn’t have to worry about Rosberg – who in a supporting role would be assigned to compromise the Ferraris, so the time has come for Rosberg to make Hamilton worry, it’s now or never.

 

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