The season is done. We have a champion; trophies and accolades will be handed out. There will be the holidays and then a new year. Some will take a much needed break while others no doubt will be trying to make wrongs right.
Now, the waiting game. Will McLaren field a more reliable and competitive car? Will Sebastian Vettel actually do what Fernando Alonso could not — win a championship for the reds? But the burning question right now is: After six poles and three straight wins, can Nico Rosberg carry this newfound confidence and speed into next season to ensure it is not a one-driver show?
It seems everybody who is anybody has chimed in on Nico Rosberg and his recent and utter change of fortune. Meaning, how the hell did he manage to beat his teammate, a three-time world champion, so comprehensively in the season’s last three races?
I am a big fan of Nico Rosberg. I like his pedigree, I like the fact he married his high school sweetheart. I like the fact that way back in 2013 he did not attempt a pass on Lewis Hamilton in Malaysia at the very strong suggestion of then-team boss Ross Brawn despite the fact he had the speed. I really like that he has come through the ranks and become an accomplished race car diver. I even like the fact he does not wear his hat in the over-sized flat bill style of his teammate and other drivers: Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo, or Max Verstappen to name a few.
However, I have also said many times I don’t think Rosberg is as fast as Hamilton and if he is to finish ahead of Hamilton for the title something has to change. Could we be seeing that transformation now? Could Rosberg have finally become so fed up with ‘Hammer Time’ and his teammate getting all the attention this year that he is just digging deeper into his race craft and focus? Could it be Nico was less than impressed with the way Hamilton tossed the podium hat to him (which caused such a ruckus) right after the Briton won the championship? Was that such a cheeky move that something inside him just clicked or more accurately put him over the edge? Many fans and experts are already saying too little too late, when the pressure was on Rosberg did not deliver. Or is this a case of better late than never?
For public appearances there is mutual respect between the two Merc drivers but it more than likely ends there. Did any of you see the body language of those two in the green room right after Abu Dhabi? Those 30 seconds were quite telling. Hamilton didn’t even look at Rosberg until Rosberg moved to Ham to shake his hand. There they made eye contact (presumably) but only for a few seconds. Both drivers trying to play it very cool. Icy cool. Gamesmanship was in full effect. I love watching the gladiators in these private moments after battle.
Back to the point. If I have all my numbers correct, as far as qualifying goes, here is the match up for all three years Ham and Rosberg have been drivers for Mercedes, Hamilton 21 / Rosberg 21. Even-stevens. Now here is the match up for results (wins) in the same years: Hamilton 23 wins vs. Rosberg 13. This is the match up taking out reliability (I only accounted for when one driver came first and the other DNF’d) Hamilton 19 vs. Rosberg 12. One can see Rosberg’s one-lap speed is there. I rate Hamilton to be the fastest amongst all drivers when it comes to Saturday–that Rosberg has matched him is very impressive.
Sundays are a different story altogether and when you break it down Ham has clearly has the edge on Rosberg, just under double on race wins which is significant, but like I said maybe something has changed in the German. Maybe he is finding that special thing, that sweet spot which separates all drivers – the good ones from the really good ones and then the really good ones from the champions…
If one is to think the last three races through, logically, it is Rosberg who should have come second. The fact that this year’s runner-up [again] could actually pull it together and not throw in the towel says quite a bit about his resolve in not giving in to a pity story: “Aw, what’s the point now that Lewis has won the drivers title, why even bother…” or something along those lines.
It’s tempting to wonder if Hamilton is letting up on the gas, so to speak, but I don’t believe any world champion would ever be content with just going through the motions and my guess is he was just as eager to win the last three races as he was to win the first three or the championship for that matter. If Rosberg has really and truly found an extra step (which we all will have to wait until March 2016 to find out), then next year will definitely be worth watching, between these two at least.
If, as we are to believe from Hamilton, he is again uncomfortable in the car and cannot make the necessary adjustments (although Rosberg and Mercedes are quick to say nothing has changed with the WO6 and it is worth noting that Hamilton did win on three occasions: Suzuka, Sochi, and Austin since the Singapore race he pinpointed as the change), then next year’s championship is most definitely up for grabs.
It would be silly and naive to say I want Rosberg to win the championship next year only because if it is Hamilton again by a landslide it will not be good for F1. I am not a fan of that line of reasoning. The fastest, most consistent (and at times luckiest) driver is the driver that deserves to be champion at the season’s end. Doesn’t matter if it is Michael for five years in a row or Vettel for four, or Hamilton for three. That is racing and to ever artificially change that is silly and does F1 a great disservice. (The FIA disagrees with me on this point and attempts to add artifice from time to time, in my opinion wrongly and with unforeseen consequences.)
And yes, next year may also feature an improved Ferrari, the year after that maybe Red Bull will have the engine they truly want, and hopefully sometime soon McLaren will solve its issue(s) and commonly be in the top five, but that age old racing maxim will still and always be in effect. The first person you have to beat is your teammate. All race car drivers are completely aware of this including Rosberg and if he can do this just 51% of the time next year then by default F1 will be better off for it and that is fine by me. I’m sure it will be fine by you as well.