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Father-son world champions in F1

Nico Rosberg won the 2016 Formula 1 World Championship (Image: Daimler AG)

Nico Rosberg won the 2016 Formula 1 World Championship (Image: Daimler AG)

Like many occupations, motor racing tends to be a family affair. The children of professional racing drivers often become racing drivers themselves, to varying degrees of success. In very rare cases, both generations reach the pinnacle of their chosen racing categories. Let’s have a look at how this has happened in Formula 1.

In the history of motor racing, it’s not all that unusual for multiple members of the same family to race in Formula 1 (examples include Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve; Emerson, Wilson Jr and Christian Fittipaldi; Jody and Ian Scheckter; Michael and Ralf Schumacher; Jos and Max Verstappen) . Winning the World Championship, however, is a much more elite affair, so much so that only twice has a World Champion been related to a previous World Champion. In both cases,  the relationship was a that of son-father.

The first son of a World Champion to win the title himself was Damon Hill, in 1996. Damon is the son of double World Champion Graham Hill, who won the title in 1962 for BRM and 1968 for Lotus. While Damon was certainly exposed to racing from a very young age due to his father’s career, it was by no means a given that he would find success in Formula 1. Having started his racing career on motorcycles, Damon only started racing racing cars from 1983, when he was already 23 years old.

Damon Hill made his F1 debut for Brabham at the 1992 Spanish Grand Prix. At the time, he was 31 years old, which even then was unusually old for a driver to break into Formula 1. In the same season, he was a test driver for Williams, who signed him for a race seat in 1993 when Riccardo Patrese moved to Benetton. Hill won 3 races in 1993, providing his team-mate and eventual champion Alain Prost with a stronger challenge than expected.

In 1994, Damon remained with Williams to partner Ayrton Senna, and would no doubt have expected to spend the season as Senna’s number two. Tragically, Senna was killed at the San Marino Grand Prix, and Hill inherited the role of team leader and challenger to championship leader Michael Schumacher.

Schumacher would go on to take the title in 1994 and 1995, with Hill second in both seasons. 1996, however, was Hill’s year, and he fended off a strong challenge from Williams team-mate Jacques Villeneuve to realise his dream of becoming Formula 1 World Champion. In doing so, he became the first son of a World Champion to win the title.

For a while, it seemed that the Hill family might have a chance of producing a third-generation champion. Damon’s son Josh raced single seaters for a few years, progressing as high as the European Formula 3 Championship in 2013, but decided to retire from racing that season.

Nico Rosberg became only the second son of a World Champion to win the title himself when he beat Lewis Hamilton to the 2016 crown just a few weeks ago. Nico is the son of Keke Rosberg, who won the title for Williams in 1982.

Success at F1 level was a long time coming for Nico Rosberg. He made his debut for Williams in 2006, but had to wait until the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix, his 111th Grand Prix start, to take his first win in Formula 1. It was worth the wait, however, as the younger Rosberg would go on to win 23 races and eventually the 2016 World Championship.

Nico Rosberg owes his F1 success to a significant extent to the dominance of the Mercedes team over the past few seasons. That’s not to minimise his achievement – the vast majority of F1 championships have been won in the fastest car. However, being at Mercedes has also brought the challenge of being team-mate to Lewis Hamilton.

Rosberg finished runner-up to Hamilton in 2014 and 2015 before finally besting his illustrious team-mate in 2016. Such was the dominance of the Mercedes team, though, it could easily have been Rosberg who topped the standings in all three seasons. His defeat of Hamilton in 2016 was testament to Rosberg’s determination and consistency. Never before in the history of F1 has a driver beaten his own triple-World Champion team-mate to the title.

In winning the 2016 World Championship, Rosberg became only the second son of a World Champion to win the title. His shock retirement from F1 immediately after securing the crown means there are no drivers currently in Formula 1 who can repeat the achievement – assuming they continue to race in 2016, Max Verstappen, Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer are all the sons of former F1 drivers, but none of their fathers won the World Championship.

Who will be next?

In the junior ranks of single seater racing, no name is currently attracting more attention than Mick Schumacher. The son of seven-time Formula 1 World Champion Michael Schumacher, Mick is 17 years old and looks likely to make his Formula 3 debut in 2017.

Mick Schumacher seems to be more than just a young driver with a famous name. In 2016, he competed in Italian Formula 4 and German Formula 4 and finished runner-up in both championships, with a combined total of 10 wins and 8 pole positions.

The young Schumacher is currently racing in the 2016–17 MRF Challenge Formula 2000 Championship, which takes place from November 2016 to February 2017. He is fourth in the championship, with  2 victories.

Rumours over the last couple of years have linked Mick Schumacher with the junior programs of the Ferrari and Mercedes Formula 1 teams. Given the close ties both F1 teams have to the Schumacher family, it seems possible that Mick could be under consideration for a Formula 1 drive in the future, assuming that he continues to impress as he makes his way through the junior ranks.

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Rosberg heading for records in 2016

Nico Rosberg celebrates his Chinese Grand Prix victory (Image: Daimler AG)

Nico Rosberg celebrates his Chinese Grand Prix victory (Image: Daimler AG)

Nico Rosberg is currently leading the 2016 World Drivers’ Championship. Whether or not he wins the title this year, it seems inevitable that Rosberg will break at least one record this season.

With 6 races remaining (including tomorrow’s Malaysian Grand Prix), Rosberg already has 8 wins in 2016. That’s already one more than the highest number of wins without winning the title in a season. Currently the record stands at 7 (Alain Prost in 1984 and 1988, Kimi Raikkonen in 2005 and Michael Schumacher in 2006). If Rosberg loses out on this year’s championship, he will certainly break this slightly unfortunate record.

A happier record that beckons for Rosberg is the most wins in a season for a first-time champion. Currently the record stands at 9, achieved by Nigel Mansell when he won his only title in 1992. Rosberg has 8 wins with 6 races remaining in the season and he is in fine form, having won the last three races in succession. It therefore seems probable that he will at least equal Mansell’s 9 wins, and likely that he will exceed that number.

One other record is possible, but unlikely. Currently the record for most wins in a season stands at 13 (Michael Schumacher in 2004 and Sebastian Vettel in 2013). If Rosberg wins all 6 remaining races this year, he will have clocked up 14 wins in 2016. It seems improbable that Rosberg will break this particular record, as it would require him to win 9 races in a row. It would not, however, be the first 9-race winning streak in F1 history – Sebastian Vettel won the last 9 races of 2013.

Rosberg qualified second for Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix, putting himself in a strong position to fight for victory and draw closer to the title and a record-breaking total of wins in 2016.

Hamilton on pole yet again in Hungary

Hamilton took his 9th pole position of 2015 in Hungary (Image: Mercedes AMG)

Hamilton took his 9th pole position of 2015 in Hungary (Image: Mercedes AMG)

Hamilton’s incredible run of pole positions continued as the reigning World Champion topped qualifying for tomorrow’s Hungarian Grand Prix. Hamilton now has nine pole positions out of ten races in 2015, and five poles in a row. Nico Rosberg completed the front row of the grid for Mercedes, the fifth race in a row that has happened.

Who can beat Hamilton to pole? So far only Nico Rosberg has done so this year, and on only one occasion. The rest of the season, Hamilton has seemed untouchable. In qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix, Hamilton lapped over half a second faster than team-mate Rosberg, which is a massive margin in equal equipment. Rosberg didn’t seem to be able to put together a clean lap, perhaps a sign of how hard he is having to push to catch Hamilton.

Hamilton’s five poles in a row equals the most consecutive pole positions by a driver currently racing in Formula 1. Fernando Alonso achieved the feat in 2006 and Sebastian Vettel has done it twice – in 2010-11 and again later in 2011. Hamilton still has a way to go to beat Ayrton Senna’s astonishing record of eight successive pole positions, set in 1988-89, but it is certainly possible that Hamilton might dethrone Senna a bit later in 2015.

In a sport as competitive as Formula 1, any small advantage can be the difference between winning and coming second. Pole position provides at least two such advantages – pole position is generally on the “cleaner”, more grippy side of the track, which makes for a better start to the race than second place; the pole-sitter also controls the pace of the warm-up lap, which allows him to maximise the preparation of his own car for the start of the race. Pole position is definitely the place to be at the start of a Grand Prix.

Tomorrow, Hamilton will start from pole position for the ninth time this season. For the ninth race in 2015, he will have the advantages that make his race start a little bit easier and therefore potentially faster. And the Hungaroring, where the race is taking place, is a track at which overtaking is notoriously difficult. It’s not quite as simple as Hamilton needing to just make a clean start to win the race, but it’s not far off that. If Rosberg can pass Hamilton on track, it will be an impressive move indeed.

Once again, Hamilton has set himself up to have the best chance of victory in a Grand Prix. That’s just one of the many reasons he’s currently the man to beat in Formula 1.

Hamilton closing in on pole records

Lewis Hamilton (pictured in Canada) has dominated qualifying in 2015 (Image: Mercedes AMG)

Lewis Hamilton (pictured in Canada) has dominated qualifying in 2015 (Image: Mercedes AMG)

Lewis Hamilton is the reigning Formula 1 World Champion. He is leading the 2015 Drivers’ Championship and is the favourite to be this year’s champion too. One of the reasons for his current dominance is his qualifying performance. Hamilton has qualified in pole position for nine out of the first ten races of the season. That performance is remarkable, and could lead to Hamilton breaking some records in the not too distant future.

What’s perhaps most impressive about Hamilton’s qualifying record in 2015 is how much he has improved since 2014. Last season, Nico Rosberg had team-mate Hamilton soundly beaten in terms of pole positions over the season, taking 11 poles to Hamilton’s seven. In 2014 so far, Rosberg has just one pole position (in Spain), while Hamilton has had the top spot on the grid for every other race.

The record for most pole positions in a season is currently held by Sebastian Vettel, who was on pole an astonishing 15 times out of 19 races in 2011. Hamilton will need another seven pole positions this season to beat Vettel’s record. After this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix, there are nine races left in 2015. If Hamilton keeps up his Saturday dominance, there is a distinct possibility that Vettel’s record could be under threat.

Given the dominance of the Mercedes team since the start of 2014, it looks like Hamilton is set to have many more pole positions over the next season or two. And that puts a more significant milestone within reach – Michael Schumacher’s record of 68 career pole positions.

Hamilton is currently on 47 career pole positions (up to and including the 2015 Hungarian Grand Prix), 21 shy of Schumacher’s record. There are not enough races left in 2015 for Hamilton to challenge the record this season, but it could be within reach as soon as the end of 2016 if Mercedes can produce another dominant car for next year.

At just 30 years old, Hamilton still has potentially quite a long career in Formula 1 ahead of him. Even if he finds himself in less than dominant cars for a few seasons, it is still likely that he will ultimately beat Schumacher’s qualifying record.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that Sebastian Vettel (currently on 45 pole positions) will get there first.

Rosberg gets one over on Hamilton in Austria

Nico Rosberg celebrates his Austrian Grand Prix victory (Image: Mercedes AMG)

Nico Rosberg celebrates his Austrian Grand Prix victory (Image: Mercedes AMG)

Nico Rosberg has joined the 2015 Formula 1 World Championship fight with a superb victory at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. Rosberg beat team-mate Lewis Hamilton in a straight fight for the win, with Felipe Massa finishing third for Williams.

This is not Rosberg’s first win of the 2015 season – in fact it’s his third – but it’s a very significant victory. Why? Because it’s the first time in 2015 that Rosberg has beaten Lewis Hamilton in a straight fight. It’s a psychological victory more than a points victory and it signals the start of what could be an epic battle for the Drivers’ Championship.

Hamilton is the reigning world champion. He’s had the lion’s share of pole positions – 7 out of 8 races this season, with the other one going to Rosberg in Spain – and has been the man to beat in all of the races so far, winning 4 out of 8 in quite dominant fashion. And until today, it looked like Rosberg might not have an answer for Hamilton’s form.

It’s true that Rosberg had already won two races this season, but neither would have been as satisfying as today’s win. In the Spanish Grand Prix, Rosberg drove flawlessly to win from pole position, but was never in a straight fight with his team-mate, who had a poor start and was stuck behind Sebastian Vettel for much of the race.

In Monaco, Hamilton had the race firmly under control when his team called him into the pits at the wrong time in response to the safety car being deployed late in the race. Rosberg inherited the win, but it had clearly been Hamilton’s day.

While a win counts for 25 points no matter how it is earned, Rosberg will have been aware that he had yet to beat Hamilton in a straight for victory this season. But that’s all changed now. In Austria, Rosberg made a stunning start to beat Hamilton (who was on pole) into the first corner. He then fended off a determined attack from Hamilton into turn 2 and again into turn 3 on the opening lap.

Rosberg controlled the rest of the race to take a much-needed victory and close the gap to championship leader Hamilton to just 10 points. But perhaps more importantly for Rosberg, he had a wheel-to-wheel battle with Hamilton and won. In Austria, Rosberg was the better driver.

Until today, it was hard to imagine Rosberg beating Hamilton to the title. But now it’s a possibility. Hamilton and Rosberg could be locked in a battle for the title reminiscent of Senna and Prost in the 1980s. Formula 1 just got exciting again.

Mercs are so dominant they can screw up

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg dominated qualifying in Austria (Image: Mercedes AMG)

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg dominated qualifying in Austria (Image: Mercedes AMG)

Mercedes have the fastest car in Formula 1 at present. That’s no secret. But just how fast is their car? It’s so fast that both drivers can go off during what should be their fastest laps in qualifying… and they still lock out the front row. That’s exactly what happened yesterday in Austria.

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were fastest and second fastest in the final part of qualifying, when they started their final flying laps, each attempting to go quicker. Rosberg was ahead on the track and on a quick lap.

Hamilton put a wheel on the grass under braking for the first corner and spun, ending his chances of improving his lap time. Rosberg was up ahead, unaware that Hamilton had spun and pushing hard to try to take pole position. Going into the last sector of the lap, it looked like Rosberg might have just done enough to beat Hamilton to the top spot. But then Rosberg also went off, running wide on the exit of turn 8 before losing the back end of his Mercedes into turn 9.

Although Rosberg managed to catch his car in time to prevent a spin, he ran out of space and went off into the gravel on the outside of the corner, which put an end to his session.

In motor racing, the track typically (not always but usually) gets faster the longer a session goes on. That’s because the cars lay rubber down on the track on every lap they do. More rubber on the track means more grip, which means quicker lap times. That’s why the fastest lap in a qualifying session is almost always done right at the end, and the teams and drivers time their final lap to start at the last possible second to take advantage of the track being at its quickest.

Yesterday in Austria, Mercedes didn’t need their final laps. That’s how quick those cars are. Even without setting a lap time when the track was in optimal condition, they were still faster than everyone else. Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari was over a third of a second off Hamilton’s pace in third place, with no answer to the speed of the mighty Mercedes.

Can anyone beat the Mercedes drivers in the race? We’ll find out this afternoon, but I’ll be surprised if that’s the case.

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