Lewis Hamilton lies on the precipice of a third World Championship, the Briton a considerable prospect of invoking title-elect status at the United States Grand Prix in Austin this weekend.
Though the 30-year old’s campaign has been peerless, cantering towards a second consecutive crown with ease, it is the name lying second in the drivers’ standings which is the greatest indictment on team-mate Nico Rosberg.
Sebastian Vettel has represented a model of consistency throughout his maiden campaign at Ferrari, gleaning eleven podiums, finishing inside the top five at each event – save for his dramatic penultimate lap blowout at the Belgian Grand Prix whilst running third, condemning him to twelfth.
That he has enjoyed the same three victories as his countryman is academic. The four-time champion has established himself as not only the greatest threat to Hamilton for the balance of this campaign – however minute this prospect may be, but for the foreseeable future.
The erstwhile stance had been to dismiss Vettel’s swag of titles achieved at Red Bull as owing purely to the ingenuity of Adrian Newey. A wanting 2014 campaign led many to contemplate his ongoing commitment to Formula One. It stands to reason that many labelled his move to Marenello twelve months ago as career suicide.
Having witnessed the inexplicable souring of relations between Fernando Alonso and company – a combination deemed a match made in heaven, the consensus was that nobody could rescue the Prancing Horse from the abyss, yet the German has comprehensively silenced his executioners this season.
Where this leaves Rosberg poses the greatest dilemma, not that many are overly concerned. The reality is that the brand presented by the victor of 11 Grands Prix is uninspiring – notwithstanding a spate of reliability issues, he is not an individual exuding World Champion material.
He is a renowned nice guy who attempts to portray a rough and ready persona, though frequently to no avail when it counts. Hamilton, conversely, possesses a veneer of aloofness – yet it is he who delivers most weekends, as opposed to only Sundays as was the case in 2014. The effect is that 2016 looms as the campaign which defines Rosberg’s career.
Rubens Barrichello realised this rapidly during his colourful tenure at Maranello. He was a defeated man the moment he let Michael Schumacher through metres from the chequered flag at the infamous 2002 Austrian Grand Prix. Mark Webber was acutely aware that he was second-billing shortly following Vettel’s arrival at Milton Keynes from Toro Rosso in 2009.
So long as Hamilton remains at Brackley and claiming the majority of races, he is their main man. Having renewed his association with the Silver Arrows until 2018, it’s hard to see the Briton succumbing to the German’s meek advances. Perhaps Rosberg is content to drive out his days, picking up the occasional victory and handsomely remunerated for his efforts.
It’s the other German who poses the greatest threat to the Hamilton-Mercedes supremacy, in tandem with his red machine, a mouth-watering prospect which has been sadly lacking in recent seasons.
As though a potential second place in the standings in his initial campaign for the fabled marque isn’t incentive enough, Sebastian Vettel is going to be the man taking it to Lewis Hamilton in the years to come. For Rosberg, the equation is simple – he must shape up or ship out, otherwise he’ll represent a mere footnote in the record books.