Forget Lewis, Vettel is Rosberg’s greatest indictment

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.

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Rosberg title bid at crossroads

Rosberg title bid at crossroads

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.

Just because running into a driver is condemned, doesn't mean it can't happen.

Just because running into a driver is condemned, doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

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?”

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.

 

The final countdown – Hamilton vs. Rosberg

The Formula One record books will attribute the surname of the individual who is crowned the 2014 World Champion with two drivers’ titles following Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Only the former – Lewis Hamilton, is already champion in his own right, having triumphed in spectacular circumstances in 2008. Nico Rosberg is yet to taste the ultimate success – he will be hoping to emulate father Keke’s glory, achieved thirty-two years earlier.

Hamilton’s ten victories versus Rosberg’s five to date spearheads the notion that the former is the deserving champion, yet it needs to be remembered that Rosberg Sr. saluted just once on the way to his 1982 title. Then, no driver won more than twice. Food for thought. Hamilton himself won on one fewer occasion (5) than rival Felipe Massa (6) in ’08 – but the debate surrounding that season’s controversial Belgian Grand Prix is always going to be drawn into the equation. Let’s leave this theory alone.

All that matters now is what transpires under the lights at Yas Marina on Sunday evening. And the small factor of double points. The permutations which lend itself to the outcome as a result of this innovation – not long for the sport based on recent conjecture, means barring some unforeseen spanner in the works – mechanical failure, or on a potentially sinister level – a collision, that the identity of the champion won’t be known until the chequered flag.

Simply, Hamilton needs to finish second and he is a multiple champion – and it only gets easier if Rosberg isn’t the driver ahead. The Briton has everything to lose, and little to gain by engaging in brinkmanship. Not that he will be content to park his car behind his team-mate following the first corner. Memories of a commanding lead heading into the 2008 finale and only scraping home by the skin of his teeth courtesy of a penultimate corner pass means Hamilton will be reluctant to leave anything to chance.

The 29-year old endured rotten luck in the first half of his campaign. His first race at Australia lasted just three laps, whilst brake failure at Canada and issues during qualifying at Austria, Germany and Hungary severely hampered his fortunes on race day. That he salvaged podium placings in each situation is testament to his resilience, these points could be the deciding factor.

Rosberg, conversely, is in the position of relying on every factor working in his favour. Perhaps this is a good thing – he knows that he must win the race to give himself the most amount of breathing space in the instance of Hamilton encountering problems. Finishing second, with Hamilton fifth, for instance, would not be sufficient for the German to complete the second father-son title feat. But first, he needs to beat Hamilton into the first corner, anything less and he’s leaving his hopes to divine intervention.

Though the German has seldom outraced his team-mate on-track this season – he was beaten in a straight fight at Bahrain and Spain, and was pressured into a costly error at Italy, his consistency has kept him in contention for the duration of his campaign. Ten second placings are hard to criticise, it could be than an eleventh is enough to secure the crown – but a victory would go a long way to ensuring he is viewed a a worthy champion.

Sebastian Vettel – yesterday confirmed in the season’s equally worst kept secret as a Ferrari driver for 2015, will be looking to sign off his Red Bull legacy on a high note. With four titles in six seasons at the senior outfit, and seven and a half seasons representing the energy drinks umbrella in the sport, the German could be a surprise player this weekend. Whether he meddles in the Mercedes shoot-out is questionable, but the 27-year old has a rich history at the venue, triumphing three times in the event’s five year history.

Fernando Alonso – who will mark his final appearance for Ferrari and is almost certainly bound for a return to McLaren, will also be keen conclude the failed partnership on a high note. Regardless, both parties will go their separate ways following Sunday evening with a bitter taste, so near yet so far on multiple occasions before things fell away spectacularly in the past two campaigns.

Caterham could be marking its’ swansong in the sport having been successful in crowdfunding – despite the dubious nature of the scheme in relation to the administrators. It can only be hoped they aim higher than a token five lap trundle to claim their presence.

Sunday will mark the conclusion of the first campaign for the polarising turbo-era and with this, an intensification in debate about the future of the sport. Two outfits in Caterham and Marussia – in any proposed guise, are set to be non-starters next season, with a large question mark surrounding several others.

The old saying is whoever is champion deserved to win. Whilst it can be argued that one deserves it more than the other, there is no doubting that both individuals are worthy of being in the position to contend for the ultimate prize.

Making sense of Rosberg vs. Hamilton

The notion of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton coming to blows was never hypothetical, it was always a matter of when it would take place.

That it should transpire on the second lap of the first race following the summer break – borne from four weeks of festering tensions and a lingering sense of uneasiness, was poetic.

Human beings can be fickle creatures. With a target in sight, for which they have dedicated so much time and resources, they are prone to single mindedness, whatever it takes. The irrational becomes rational, all consideration for the implications of an action or a sequence of actions are neutralised.

Rosberg came to Belgium with an eleven-point cushion over Hamilton – nowhere near enough to feel comfortable, not least with the season finale essentially accounting for two events.

When the 29-year old made a poor getaway from pole position, and when he saw Hamilton fend off Sebastian Vettel into Les Combes, he saw his team-mate driving into the sunset and just four points separating the pair heading to Monza.

Yet, one lap later, the German enjoyed a good entry into and up Eau Rouge, through the Raidillion and along Kemmel, to sit right on Hamilton’s tail. This represented his best, and possibly only chance to alter that trajectory.

On this principle, Rosberg’s actions in planting his W05 alongside the Briton on the outside exiting Les Combes – and remaining there, where the Briton was expecting clear space, are completely understandable.

The result – Rosberg lacking his right-front wing endplate and Hamilton nursing a destroyed left-rear, whilst clumsy, and ultimately terminal for the latter, was dismissed as a racing incident.

Judgements are altered upon after-the-fact revelations, events are viewed in different contexts. This was no different on Sunday at Spa-Francorchamps.

The reception encountered by Rosberg as he stepped onto the podium, having salvaged second place, was indicative of this.

Hamilton’s post-race remarks, that the German “said he did it on purpose and said he could have avoided it… he said he did it to prove a point”, are hard to draw conclusions from.

As the individual who lost out and who stands to lose the most in the championship equation, he is going to be emotional. His history as somebody outspoken in the heat of the moment serves to further confuse the matter.

Niki Lauda and Toto Wolff both condemned the outcome, but for entirely different purposes to the 2008 World Champion.

Lauda said “I thought they were clever enough to know that (not to jeopardise each other) but obviously they aren’t”, and made clear his belief that Rosberg was at fault. Wolff shared similar sentiments, remarking “this is an absolutely unacceptable race”, but later differed in his take on Rosberg’s culpability, “he could have avoided crashing but didn’t (hit Hamilton) make a point.”

From this, Mercedes’ primary concern lies in the very real threat of sabotaging their own campaign, rather than assessing what took place as an isolated incident.

There’s no doubting that Rosberg was the architect of the collision, but viewing it objectively, no malice was intended, he simply made a poor decision in a crucial moment as many drivers have in the past, as Michael Schumacher did most notably in the past.

It’s now imperative for both protagonists to focus on the next race, instead of allowing the incident to swallow the hard work which had them in such a dominant position. Heads will roll if they squander the initiative, as was the case with McLaren in 2007, and right now, they need to address the issue with an iron fist.

For the record, Daniel Ricciardo won the Belgian Grand Prix, the Australian enjoying his second victory in succession and the third of his campaign. He lies thirty-five points adrift of Hamilton, and will be watching the next chapter very keenly.

 

Rosberg commits to Mercedes

Championship leader Nico Rosberg has committed his immediate future to Mercedes, agreeing a “multi-year” extension with the outfit.

The deal is believed to cover the next three seasons with a reported worth of €55 million.

The news coincides with his and the team’s home event, the German Grand Prix, taking place this weekend at Hockenheim.

Rosberg didn’t pass on the opportunity to emphasise his patriotism in the wake of team-mate Lewis Hamilton’s claims that he is more Monegasque than German, having spent the majority of his life in the principality, declaring “As a German, the heritage of Mercedes-Benz is very special for me.”

The German has been with the Silver Arrows since their acquisition of Brawn GP at the conclusion of 2009.

Rosberg has led the standings this season following all but one of nine events, presently four points clear of Hamilton.

Prior to the British Grand Prix, the German had finished in the top two at each event to lead by 29 points, but the first retirement of his campaign and Hamilton’s subsequent victory has the championship race alive once more.

Each of Rosberg’s six victories to date have come during his Mercedes tenure, the first coming at the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix, having waited 111 Grands Prix for the privilege.

Indeed, he was unlucky not to have won the infamous 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, where he finished second to Fernando Alonso, the Spaniard having benefitted from a deliberate crash and subsequent safety car triggered by team-mate, Nelson Piquet

Rosberg made his debut in 2006 with Williams, finishing seventh and claiming the fastest lap at his first race.

The German remained there for the next four seasons, enjoying several podium appearances with the limited packages at his disposal, and he was more than ready to make a step up by the time of his move.

Rosberg’s stock rose considerably as a result of defeating seven-time champion Michael Schumacher during each of their three seasons as team-mates, but it has been since Hamilton’s arrival that he has earned genuine recognition.

The appraisal even caused some to reconsider the success of Schumacher’s comeback, with many remarking that he did well to compete with his much younger countryman.

The announcement is the culmination of a big seven days for the 29-year old, having married his partner last week. Rosberg will want to consummate these milestones with victory on home soil, as he seeks to re-establish himself as the man to beat.

Hamilton title bid at crossroads

Lewis Hamilton heads to his home event in desperate need of a victory to rejuvenate his championship bid, the Briton again coming home second to team-mate and standings leader Nico Rosberg at the Austrian Grand Prix.

Having lined up ninth following a qualifying error, Hamilton salvaged his weekend to cross the line seconds adrift of Rosberg, but victory and the recouping of a vital seven points was there for the taking.

Tardy pitstops – which some might read a little too much into, didn’t help his cause, but failure to overtake a competitive Valtteri Bottas earlier than he did – undercutting the Finn following the latter’s final service, left him too much to do in too little time.

Gradually paring the advantage ceded to Rosberg courtesy of his non-finish at Australia, Hamilton assumed the standings lead following victory at Spain, his fourth in succession, with most believing it would remain this way for the balance of the season. He hasn’t headed the standings since.

True, the deficit to Rosberg following Austria is only 29 points with eleven events remaining – an argument could be made for twelve considering the polarising double-points finale at Abu Dhabi. True, a Hamilton victory and Rosberg failure to score at Silverstone would reduce the margin to the same 4 points as it was post-Monaco.

Yet the psychological damage inflicted by the German at the past three events has struck a profound blow to the Briton’s quest for his first title since 2008.

The events of Canada were largely out of Hamilton’s control, but the race has the potential to determine which path Mercedes opts for in the back half of the season.

Indeed, Mercedes will keenly monitor the outcome of the final three events prior to the traditional summer break. Should Hamilton fail to reduce, at the least, stabilise the deficit to Rosberg following Hungary, it will be the Silver Arrows’ prerogative to back the German’s bid for the crown.

And what more incentive does Hamilton require to ensure this isn’t the case than the next three outings?

The first two serve as an intriguing aside, as much a part of the wider, long-term picture, relating to intensifying “mind games” being conducted between the duo.

At Silverstone, on home soil – no less a venue which doubles as one of Mercedes’ home events, Hamilton will carry the support of a nation, almost expecting him to be first to the chequered flag. Rosberg claiming a second successive victory there would not be received well.

After this, it’s on to Germany – this occasion at Hockenheim, where Hamilton will be desperate to deny Rosberg the satisfaction of success in front of his own compatriots. It goes without saying that in their utopia, Mercedes executives would want a German driver in a German car on the top step of the podium at the German Grand Prix.

The final stop at Hungary holds happy memories for Hamilton. He boasts four victories from seven attempts, so it is probably the one out of the three where he should be most confident of coming out on top. In contrast, Rosberg has scored points at the venue just twice from eight outings with a best return of fourth place.

Then, the majority expect Hamilton to prevail most weekends, yet Rosberg each weekend this season has continued to deliver. Nothing is certain.

A quick breakdown for Hamilton’s objectives would be: victory at Hungary, and one of Silverstone or Hockenheim – assuming Rosberg continues his trend of finishing first or second. Anything less could be deemed fatal to the Briton’s aspirations.

Two victories to Hamilton, and the gap is contained to the equivalent of a victory. Two Rosberg victories, and the margin would balloon closer to forty points. Three victories to Rosberg, handing him an equivalent two-victory buffer, and it would be as good as game over. The simple calculations below spell out the permutations.

HAMILTON 1st x 3. ROSBERG 2nd x 3 = ROSBERG 8 point lead

HAM 1st x 2, 2nd x 1. ROS 1st x 1, 2nd x 2 = ROS +22 pts

HAM 1st x 1, 2nd x 2. ROS 1st x 2, 2nd x 1 = ROS +36 pts

HAM 2nd x 3, ROS 1st x 3 = ROS +50 pts

There’s yet a lot of water to go under the bridge, but it can’t be emphasised enough that these three races serve as the definitive component of the season as far as titles are concerned.