The 2016 Formula 1 season has been up and down for both Mercedes driver’s. Rosberg headed into the Monaco Grand Prix weekend with a 43 point lead over title rival Lewis Hamilton. However, the following six races saw Rosberg fall 19 points behind Hamilton. But ever since the summer break, Rosberg has taken hold of the championship again. Going into the last four races of the season, Rosberg holds a thirty three point lead over his rival. This surely is Rosberg’s best chance to date of taking his first world title. Along the way, there have been some highly impressive performances from the German, which would make him more than worthy of this championship title.
Singapore was an absolutely dominant display from Rosberg, putting the demons of Mercedes 2015 race there firmly to bed. Last year saw the dominant champions outclassed by both Ferrari and Red Bull, and heading into the Singapore weekend neither they nor Mercedes themselves were sure if the situation would be different this year. Mercedes, though pushed by Red Bull, had sorted the issues out and the W07 was much more competitive than the 2015 W06. Rosberg’s supremacy was asserted in qualifying, when he pumped in a 1m42.584s which was almost eight tenths quicker than anything Hamilton could manage. Hamilton himself was beaten to the front row by Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull, which itself was over half a second adrift of Rosberg’s pole lap.
In the race itself, Rosberg got the perfect start and was in full control of the race, whilst his teammate was in a battle for the final podium spot with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. Rosberg was left hung out to dry however, in the last stint of the race. In an attempt to get third place from Raikkonen, Mercedes boxed Hamilton in an attempt to catch him. Ferrari then made a late call to cover off Raikkonen, but a good outlap from Hamilton put him back into third. Red Bull then covered the pair off Ricciardo and he rejoined the race comfortably in second. But, as Mercedes got ready to bring Rosberg in, they noticed that Ricciardo was on a stunning outlap, just as their man encountered some traffic on his inlap. The gap between the two was around 25 seconds. Not enough for Rosberg to come in and rejoin the race in the lead. Mercedes decided to leave him out on his old soft tyres, with Ricciardo catching over nearly three seconds a lap on his fresh super-softs.
As Ricciardo charged on full attack mode at the end of the race, in his attempt to steal the win from Rosberg, the man himself didn’t buckle one bit. He crossed the line just four tenths ahead of the Red Bull, but he had hung on to the victory, and it capped off an absolutely outstanding weekend from the German. If there is one weekend that showed Rosberg is champion material, its this one.
Just like in Singapore, Malaysia was a race where Rosberg really had to work to get a good result. Unlike Singapore though, it was only for third place. But it could have been so much worse. Rosberg’s qualifying was scrappy to say the least, almost being off the front row entirely thanks to running wide on at turn six on his first Q3 run. However, he salvaged a decent lap that put him in second place, four tenths off Hamilton. He was still confident of the win however, and his Friday long run pace was decent. But at the start of the race, he found himself facing the chasing pack into turn one, as Sebastian Vettel in his Ferrari outbreaked himself and pitched Rosberg into a spin as he tried to overtake Max Verstappens Red Bull. Rosberg flicked the car around and began a charge up through the field, knowing that every single point would count as Hamilton lead the race.
It was impressive how Rosberg sliced through the field, as if the other cars just weren’t even there. Obviously it helped that he was in a Mercedes, and none of them were! But Rosberg in the past hasn’t got his head down like he did in Malaysia when in a similar situation, notably Germany this year. This was a level headed and calm recovery drive, with a bit of fantastic and instinctive driving with his overtake of Raikkonen into turn two. He duped Raikkonen into thinking he was looking for the switchback. Then he saw the gap the Finn had left, and floored it down the inside. There was contact, but it was a brilliant move. The fact the stewards gave him a ten second time penalty makes you wonder whether they want anyone to actually race in Formula 1! Hamilton then dropped out in dramatic style with an engine failure at turn one, handing Ricciardo and Red Bull the victory. Rosberg pulled out enough of a gap from Raikkonen to take third and assume a twenty three point lead at the top of the standings. A crucial race for Rosberg, and an impressive recovery. A lucky outcome, but he still worked to get there. Evident from the sweat on his face after the checkered flag!
Up until Saturday, it looked like Baku was all Hamilton. The first race on the new street circuit in Azerbijan had been dominated on Friday by the Briton. But come Saturday, it looked like Rosberg had tuned his car setup much better than his teammate had. Indeed, all through qualifying, Hamilton made error after error. He went off track in every session, almost falling by the wayside before Q3! In Q3 itself, Hamilton pushed too hard, and clipped the wall going through the castle section, ripping off the right front suspension, and he would start the race in tenth place. Just seconds before the red flag for the crash, Rosberg blasted over the line too take pole by over eight tenths of a second from the Force India of Sergio Perez. There was no competition with Hamilton, but Rosberg had looked much more comfortable prior to his crash, so may very well have beaten the Brit anyway.
Come the race, there was no stopping Rosberg. He made a perfect start and no one got a look in from then on. Both he and Hamilton suffered D-rating issues in the race. The difference was Rosberg sorted it out very quickly with no assistance from the team, whereas Hamilton got into a real flap over it, and lost a lot of time in his recovery drive due to that. Baku showed a very calm and shrewd Rosberg, just as we would see later in the year with his Malaysia recovery drive. He drove just as fast as he needed too, and never looked fast in the process. Hamilton had cut into his initial 43 point lead prior to Baku with wins in Monaco and Montreal. But Rosberg fought back, and although Hamilton was to take the advantage again before the summer break, Baku was perhaps the first sign of the year that Rosberg could fight back against Hamilton. He is the rival that won’t go away and perhaps this year, he will take the ultimate prize.
Qualifying in Monza was dominated by Mercedes, and in particular Hamilton. He was almost half a second quicker than Rosberg, but both were comfortably clear of the two Ferrari’s. Rosberg though was pragmatic, knowing there was every chance he could beat Hamilton in the race, particularity off the start. He wasn’t wrong. Rosberg made the perfect getaway. Hamilton, well, didn’t. He dropped back to sixth place, as Rosberg vaulted into the lead, and successfully saw off the challenge from Vettel. Hamilton got past Ricciardo quickly, took a bit longer to pass Bottas, then got stuck behind both Ferrari cars. He was helped though by the fact they were on a two stop strategy, Mercedes on a one stop. When he was in clear air however, he couldn’t make any inroads on Rosberg. Rosberg didn’t just get lucky at the start, he had great race pace to go with it.
When in a situation like this, with his teammate a step ahead, Rosberg has been accused of ‘bottling it’. Or, to put it better, making mistakes. This was the case in 2014, where a very similar situation put Rosberg upfront, but Hamilton fought back and pressured Rosberg into a mistake at turn one. The same thing happened in 2015 too, at Austin. In Italy this year though, Rosberg just didn’t give up. He knew he had a chance still on Sunday, and he took it. He closed the gap at that point in the championship to just two points. Could he really fight back and overhaul Hamilton again? Yes. He could.
Japan will perhaps turn out to be one of the most crucial races of the season. At a track where he was won twice, this was a place where Hamilton really had to fight back. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t manage to do so. He just fell short of grabbing pole position on Saturday, by just 0.013s to Rosberg. But he completely messed up the race start, dropping back to eighth place! Rosberg meanwhile made the perfect launch, and vaulted clear of the field. He had looked like the favorite through practice, and was on Sunday despite the slender qualifying margin. Once clear of the field, he manage the race beautifully. In light of Hamilton’s engine failure in Malaysia a week earlier, he pushed only when he needed too, and did not put a single foot wrong. It was similar to his performance in Singapore. It was a weekend where he was just better than Hamilton, and there was nothing that the Brit could do about it. At the checkered flag, Rosberg extended his championship lead to 33 points, his teammate only salvaging third, Verstappen’s Red Bull keeping him at bay to the line. It was another drive that showed Rosberg’s class.
There are now just four races to go before this season reaches its climax. Anything could happen in those last four races, Malaysia showed us that. Mercedes might find another car between both its drivers like in Suzuka. But whatever happens, Nico Rosberg more than deserves the title of World Champion. Sure, he has got lucky at times. But that’s all part of Motorsport isn’t it? On his day, he is as fast as anyone, and he shown that plenty of times in 2016. Nico Rosberg is inching closer to his first world title. And after the season he has put together, who can begrudge him of that?
*All photo’s used in this article are copyright of Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team.