Successive victories – the latter an inherited gift courtesy of his team-mate, though first place all the same, followed by a close-run second last weekend at Montreal, betrays the notion that Nico Rosberg is in contention for the drivers’ championship.
The German is yet to take the fight to Lewis Hamilton in direct wheel-to-wheel combat this season – much less emerge superior, the cornerstone of a successful title campaign. Embellished is an appropriate adjective to summarise the 29-year old’s season. A third consecutive triumph on the now infamous afternoon at Monaco, served to embellish Rosberg’s legitimacy to the crown.
In reality, the imminent father was comprehensively outclassed that day. Good fortune intervened, that which is unlikely to be witnessed subsequently for the balance of the season. Thus the German must improve other components of his racecraft, not necessarily huge inroads, yet small ones in each field which, executed correctly, has the potential to provide Hamilton with crippling migraines, as opposed to the occasional mild headache.
Analogous to Kimi Räikkönen’s Saturday woes which has left the Finn with too much to achieve the next day, Rosberg has seldom managed to best Hamilton in Q3 this season. His peerless Spanish weekend serves as an anomaly rather than a constant, this serving the case for his team-mate and reigning champion.
That Hamilton has raised his game to another level in his title defence is undeniable. Further apparent is that Rosberg hasn’t been the same beast since the cataclysmic microsecond at Belgium last season. Admonishment for the episode cut deeply into his psyche, manifesting in the defining moment of his campaign at Monza a fortnight later, carrying on at Variante Rettifilo – conceding the lead and subsequently, victory to Hamilton. Brazil excepted, he didn’t share the same page as the Briton for the balance of the season, a notion which has persisted to the present.
The German trails Hamilton by seventeen points. Not quite the equivalent of a second place, it doesn’t take a great deal to reverse the situation. Realising this, then carrying on with the form which enacted it is another matter. Following the infamous afternoon in the Ardennes forest last season, Rosberg held an ostensibly decisive 29-point advantage over his team-mate with seven races in hand.
Three events later – at the conclusion of the Singapore Grand Prix, Rosberg was trailing Hamilton by three points following an untimely electronics failure which culminated in retirement. Though he ultimately recovered to finish second, his lock-up into turn one at the inaugural Russian Grand Prix on the opening lap was the act of a desperate individual vainly attempting to avert fate.
It was at the upcoming Austrian Grand Prix’s corresponding event twelve months ago that a rare unforced error by Hamilton during qualifying handed the German the initiative, which he seized. These are the outcomes Rosberg needs to encourage, by harassing and being a little bold.
His team-mate’s proclivity to use scenarios such as those witnessed in the fallout from the Monaco qualifying fiasco and the Belgium debacle last season, to mould the image of a man wronged – in a similar fashion to Ayrton Senna, is when Hamilton is dually at his most vulnerable and potent.
This is a risk which Rosberg must assess in the heat of the moment, he is at such a crossroads in his campaign that another Belgium moment would be understandable. To quote the iconic Fargo character, Lorne Malvo, “Maps used to say, there be dragons here. Now they don’t, but that don’t mean the dragons aren’t there.” Translated, such acts are frowned upon and met with contempt, yet you don’t win World Championships without being ruthless.
Rosberg’s legacy arguably hinges on this season, much in the manner that Mark Webber initially came within touching distance of glory, made a series of errors which were cumulatively enough to cruel his chances and never again came close to greatness for the balance of his career. Rosberg must look into his soul and ask himself, “is this what you want?”