Heading into the soaking start of the Japanese Grand Prix, there are five races left in the 2014 Formula One World Championship. Lewis Hamilton leads his teammate Nico Rosberg by a slim 3 points. Just a few weeks ago, this scenario seemed unlikely. Rosberg was 29 points ahead of his teammate, and seemed a lock to claim the 2014 World Driver’s Championship (WDC).
Then Italy happened.
Rosberg missed the Variante del Rettifilo chicane while leading. Twice. The second time, while under pressure from Hamilton, he surrendered the lead, and eventually the race win, to Hamilton. Rosberg finished second, and was clearly unhappy on the podium.
Then Singapore happened.
Hamilton claimed pole position from Rosberg by 0.007 seconds, and an increasingly frustrated Rosberg was heard screaming, “DAMNIT!” over the radio. Raceday was a disaster for Rosberg. The steering wheel electronics wiring loom on his W05 Hybrid intermittently shorted out, forcing him to retire from the race after a few laps. Hamilton drove a superb race, making a difficult strategy work, claiming the win and 30 points.
Over the course of two race weekends, Rosberg’s 29 point lead vanished, and he now faces a 3 point deficit. He will now have to fight back and beat Hamilton to claim the WDC. Barring reliabitilty issues with Hamilton’s Mercedes F1 W05 Hybrid, that is going to be a problem for Rosberg.
In the 14 rounds contested so far, Rosberg has finished higher than Hamilton six times. In Australia, Monaco, Canada, Austria, Germany, and Belgium.
Three of those were DNFs for Hamilton…Australia, Canada, and Belgium. Rosberg finished first, second, and second in those races respectively.
In Monaco, Rosberg’s mistake at Mirabeau, possibly cost Hamilton pole, and given the difficulty of passing in the principality, possibly a race victory. Late in the race Hamilton was second behind Rosberg, when he got dirt in his eye, and slowly dropped back. Rosberg and Hamilton finished 1–2.
In Germany, Hamilton’s front brake exploded in Q2, relegating him to 16th on the starting grid. Rosberg took the win, and Hamilton battled to finish third.
The only time I can say for certain that Rosberg outclassed Hamilton in 2014, was in Austria. A couple of mistakes in qualifying left Hamilton 9th on the starting grid, while Rosberg qualified third behind both Williams. At the finish it was Rosberg first, and Hamilton second, less than two seconds behind.
Hamilton on the other hand has finished ahead of Rosberg 8 times, twice because of Rosberg retirements. He has won 7 of those races.
In Bahrain and Spain, in the midst of Hamilton’s four consecutive race wins, despite being on the preferred tire, Rosberg was unable to pass Hamilton to take those wins.
In Hungary, Rosberg started on pole, and Hamilton started from pit lane after an engine fire in Q1. Yet Hamilton got on with his job and finished on the podium in third, while Rosberg could only muster fourth.
Then the aforementioned Italian and Singapore Grand Prix happened.
Rosberg has truly gotten the better of Hamilton once this year, in Austria. Maybe twice, if you consider Monaco. But head-to-head, when their Mercedes W05 Hybrid does not let them down, Hamilton consistently gets the better of his teammate.
As I watch Hamilton following Rosberg around Suzuka in the opening stages of this Japanese Grand Prix, I wait for Hamilton to make the move on Rosberg for the race lead…or for Rosberg to make a mistake, a la Monza…that gives Hamilton the victory.
If Rosberg does manage to win the WDC, I can only imagine it will be because of reliability issues with Hamilton’s W05 Hybrid. Or some strange turn of events that sees Rosberg win the double-points season finale in Abu Dhabi, and eek out the championship. What I don’t see, after near 3/4 a season of proof, is a sudden change where Rosberg starts getting the better of his teammate.
Photo Credit: Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team