Sunday 23 October 2016

Rosberg makes most of Hamilton's mistakes


Daniel Johnson

Published 22/06/2015 | 02:30

The Austria Grand Prix circuit
The Austria Grand Prix circuit

Nico Rosberg simply refuses to be a footnote, a member of the supporting cast, in Lewis Hamilton's quest to dominate Formula One.

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It would be foolish to deny it, but we have all been there, part of the 'Rosberg is finished' brigade.

With seemingly boundless mental fortitude, he continues to prove everyone wrong.

While Hamilton faltered in the Austrian Grand Prix, fluffing the start and making a careless blunder when leaving the pits, Rosberg was peerless. He led from the first turn and never looked back, narrowing his world championship deficit to 10 points.

The German's third win in four races - one handed to him on a plate by Hamilton's pit-stop debacle in Monaco - was arguably the finest of his 11 career victories. It was a display of complete control.

The characterisation of these two intriguing sportsmen was once of the cerebral engineer against the immensely talented but haphazard racer.

The eight races of this year so far, which have yielded four victories for Hamilton and three for Rosberg, have given us a more intriguing but complicated picture.


On the one hand, Rosberg has shown himself to be volatile at times (China springs to mind) and at others in need of team assistance.

Hamilton has managed all of Formula One's complex gismos better than anyone had imagined. But Rosberg's sheer will, his refusal to be denied, is an ever-present theme. So, too, is Hamilton's failure to reach perfection.

Even if they are more of a rarity, he still has not made himself an error-free driver. This mistake was needless; not the sort you expect a two-time champion to make.

The assessment of their boss, Toto Wolff, was that this season has all the ingredients to go down to the wire in Abu Dhabi once again.

"We have this discussion every time. I remember a couple of races before when Nico finished second, and the question came up, 'is this the tipping point? Is he now going to be number two?'", Wolff said.

"I kept repeating how I see him, which is he's mentally very strong, and we've seen that today. Both of them are under pressure because they're pushing each other so much.

"Nico was faultless. We saw from today it's going to go down to the wire. I don't think they are feeling the pressure of the overall championship yet but they are definitely pushing very hard to beat each other."

Despite qualifying on pole seven times, Hamilton still has only a slender lead in the championship. The fundamentals remain in his favour - he is the faster qualifier, the better racer and the quicker driver. But Rosberg will not go away.

Delighted does not quite do justice to the 29-year-old's demeanour afterwards.

Once Gerhard Berger, the Austrian former F1 driver, had got his usual expletive on the podium out of the way and managed to actually ask a question, Rosberg was ecstatic.

"It's an awesome feeling," he said. "The start made the race. I was really happy with the car to see the gap open up to Lewis, so it worked out perfectly today."

Perhaps the biggest factor in Hamilton's favour is that he deals with disappointment far better than in years gone by. His reaction here was phlegmatic.

"At the end of the day, Nico was quicker during the race," the reigning champion said.

There was no denying that.

What this race also demonstrated was that this championship should be a two-horse race. Ferrari simply do not have the firepower to challenge.

On a circuit which was supposed to favour the Italian team, Sebastian Vettel never had the pace of the Mercedes duo.

Thanks to a botched pit stop by his mechanics, he fell to fourth and could not overhaul Felipe Massa in the closing stages. The four-time champion finds himself 49 points adrift of Hamilton.

In truth, while this was a result to enliven Formula One, it was hardly the race everyone wanted to brighten the mood. Once Rosberg had passed Hamilton off the line, that was it as far as the lead went.

The Englishman's race was over when he left the pits on lap 35, straying over the white line. The five-second time penalty simply turned it into a job of consolidation.

Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso's horrifying accident - miraculously both emerged unscathed - brought out the safety car and it got worse for McLaren. Jenson Button retired with a sensor issue after just eight laps. In a dismal season, they have had 10 non-finishes in just eight races.

"When you have a 10-second stop-go penalty retiring on lap nine is never a bad thing," Button said afterwards.

"I chose to have the penalties this weekend rather than Silverstone.

"Hopefully we will have a clean weekend."

It was doubly bad for McLaren, as they had been hoping to test many of the new parts on Alonso's car this week in Austria.

Instead they are frantically flying out spares. Mercedes and Rosberg will have a much calmer fortnight before the British Grand Prix. (©The Daily Telegraph)

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