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Rosberg still needs to beat Hamilton in 2015

Nico Rosberg celebrates his Spanish Grand Prix victory (Image: Mercedes AMG F1)

Nico Rosberg celebrates his Spanish Grand Prix victory (Image: Mercedes AMG F1)

Nico Rosberg took a big step forward in his 2015 championship campaign by winning the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday. But there’s still an important step Rosberg needs to take if he is to challenge for the championship this season – he needs to beat Lewis Hamilton in a straight fight for victory. That didn’t happen in Spain.

Let’s take nothing away from Rosberg’s Spanish Grand Prix performance. He did everything right. His race was faultless. He took pole, led from the start and didn’t put a wheel wrong all afternoon – all of which resulted in a commanding victory.

The trouble was Hamilton was never really in the fight for victory. Having qualified second, Hamilton started from the dirty side of the track (the part of the track not on the racing line). He made a less than perfect start and was passed by Sebastian Vettel into the first corner. From then until the second round of pitstops, Hamilton was stuck behind Vettel, unable to get close enough to pass despite having a much faster car.

Rosberg took full advantage of the situation and pulled away, creating a gap that Hamilton could not hope to close once he eventually passed Vettel using pit strategy. Full marks to Rosberg for controlling the race. But he will be aware that he did not actually out-drive Hamilton. At no point in the race did Rosberg have to pass Hamilton, or defend against him.

Had Hamilton made it into the first corner second, instead of third as was the case, then the race would have been entirely different. Rosberg would have had to fight Hamilton for victory from lights to flag. As it happened, the two Mercedes drivers were not really in the same race, although they ended up finishing first and second in the Grand Prix.

So Rosberg won fair and square. But at no point in the race was he actually racing Hamilton. In the entire weekend, Rosberg only really did two things better than Hamilton – he took pole, which is to Rosberg’s credit as that was a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers; and he made a better start, which is at least partly the result of starting on the “clean” side of the track.

So Rosberg’s satisfaction at winning the race, while significant, will be tempered by the knowledge that he still needs to assume some form of psychological ascendancy if he is to mount a serious title challenge. Admittedly, that wasn’t possible as the race played out on Sunday. Perhaps it will still happen.

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Rosberg already out of 2015 Championship

Nico Rosberg is no match for Lewis Hamilton in 2015 (Image: Mercedes AMG Petronas)

Nico Rosberg is no match for Lewis Hamilton in 2015 (Image: Mercedes AMG Petronas)

The 2015 Formula 1 World Championship is only 3 races old, and yet Nico Rosberg is already a non-contender. Yes, he has the fastest car, and yes, he’s a quality driver, but that’s not enough for him to compete with Lewis Hamilton for title glory.

Why is Rosberg out of the running? Because he’s already psyched himself out of it. After just three races, during which he has never looked like beating Hamilton, Rosberg is already complaining publicly that Hamilton is playing dirty. After today’s Chinese Grand Prix, Rosberg stated in the post-race interviews that Hamilton had deliberately driven slowly in order to back Rosberg up into the clutches of third-placed Sebastian Vettel.

Even if that’s true, it’s an extraordinary statement for Rosberg to make. It’s an admission that he is powerless to compete against Hamilton. He’s made it clear that Hamilton can, at will, dictate to him (Rosberg) on the track. Let’s be clear – if Hamilton were to drive slowly with Rosberg close behind, that would be Rosberg’s cue to pass him or make a change to his pit strategy that would give him a clear track and allow him to make full use of the pace of his car.

The only logical explanation for Rosberg’s post-race outburst is this: He knows he just isn’t quick enough to beat Hamilton, and so he’s resorting to badly-conceived attempts to draw Hamilton into a war of words that might distract him from his driving. Hamilton is a double World Champion, and has plenty of experience dealing with pressure at the front. Rosberg’s tactic is therefore extremely unlikely to work.

Hamilton should take confidence from Rosberg’s behaviour. Rosberg has acknowledged Hamilton’s status as number one at Mercedes. Now Hamilton only really has to worry about Sebastian Vettel, currently sitting second in the championship and no stranger to the pressures of a title fight. And Vettel’s Ferrari, while very quick, is no real match for Hamilton’s Mercedes.

Rosberg has effectively handed Hamilton the 2015 World Championship.

Mercedes: F1 Success Story of 2013

Launch photo of the Mercedes W04 in February 2013 (Mercedes)

Launch photo of the Mercedes W04 in February 2013 (Mercedes)

They may not have won either title, but Mercedes have nonetheless progressed perhaps more than any other team on the grid from 2012 to 2013. There are still two races remaining in the 2013 season, but with 17 races done this year it’s a good time to assess just how well the team from Brackley has done.

In 2012, Mercedes finished fifth in the Constructors’ Championship with 142 points. The team recorded one victory (Rosberg won in China), one pole position (again, Rosberg in China. It’s worth remembering that Schumacher qualified fastest in Monaco but had a grid penalty from the previous race) and three podium finishes. Although 2012 saw the first win for the Silver Arrows since returning to the grid in 2010, it was their least successful season in terms of the Constructors’ Championship in the same period.

At the end of 2012, Mercedes were considered to be about 1.5 seconds off the pace. That’s a long, long way. It seemed impossible that Mercedes could make up that deficit in just one off-season. But that’s precisely what they did.

Mercedes came out fighting in 2013, immediately challenging strongly in qualifying and delivering the sort of race pace that had been unimaginable in 2012. They struggled a bit with tyre management, which had been a problem for the team ever since Pirelli arrived on the scene in 2011. But those issues were generally manageable and were eventually sorted out.

Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull have dominated the last seven races. But before that, the season was quite open, and Mercedes were strong challengers. In the first 11 races of the season, a Mercedes driver qualified on pole position 8 times – 5 for Hamilton, including 4 in a row, and 3 in succession for Rosberg – and the Silver Arrows recorded three wins – 2 for Rosberg and 1 for Hamilton.

Between them, Hamilton and Rosberg have stood on the podium 9 times so far in 2013 – 5 times for Hamilton and 4 for Rosberg. They’ve each scored more points than the team as a whole managed in 2012 and both are in the top six in the Drivers’ Championship. Hamilton has a chance (albeit a small one) of finishing second in the championship. It’s more likely that he will overhaul Kimi Raikkonen for third place, as the Finn is just 8 points ahead of Hamilton with two races to go.

The Mercedes team of 2013 has stood out as the most improved outfit on the grid. This season the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships proved out of reach, but not by nearly as much as before. The amount of performance gained in the last off-season bodes well for next year, when massive regulation changes make pre-season development perhaps more crucial than ever.

Where Mercedes have perhaps fallen behind this year has been their in-season development. Winning championships is not just about producing a competitive car. The car must continually be improved and updated throughout the season or the competitive edge will be lost to other teams who are able to develop faster. This year it’s been Red Bull who have impressed most in their ability to improve their car through the season, and they have been rewarded with both championships for the fourth year in succession.

It could turn out that Mercedes are more capable of in-season development than they revealed this season. Next year’s major regulation changes – new power units and various aerodynamic changes – have meant that all teams have had to allocate some resources to next year’s car quite early in the season or perhaps even before this year started. Next year there will not be such a need to split resources early on, and as a result the true development potential of the Mercedes team should be seen in on-track performance in 2014.

Based on their massive progress from 2012 to 2013, Mercedes can be counted on to produce a competitive car for 2014. It will almost certainly be a race-winning car and, if they continue to improve as they’ve done over the last year or so, there’s a chance it could be a championship-winning car.

Vettel sprinting towards 2013 title

It's looking ever more likely that Sebastian Vettel will be 2013 World Champion (Image: Pirelli)

It’s looking ever more likely that Sebastian Vettel will be 2013 World Champion (Image: Pirelli)

The youngest triple World Champion in F1 history is set to become the youngest four-time World Champion at the end of this season. Sebastian Vettel just keeps on winning, and stretching his championship lead. With six races remaining in the season, Vettel is now 60 points ahead of main title rival Fernando Alonso and it’s becoming less and less likely that the Ferrari driver will be able to do anything about the German’s dominance this year.

To put Vettel’s lead into practical terms, let’s take a look at what his rivals must do in order to beat him this season:

Fernando Alonso

Alonso is second in the championship, 60 points behind Vettel. With six races remaining in the season, that means Alonso has to score an average of 10 points more than Vettel per race until the year is over. Plus one point, of course. That’s the equivalent of Alonso winning and Vettel finishing third at each remaining race (If Alonso does that, he only needs to equal Vettel’s points tally, as he will then have more wins, 8, than Vettel, currently on 7).

If Alonso finishes second at each remaining race, Vettel must finish sixth, and once Vettel must finish lower than sixth. If Alonso finishes third, Vettel must be eighth. If Alonso finishes fourth, Vettel must finish ninth, and have one result worse than ninth. If Alonso finishes fifth or lower at every race left in the 2013 season, Vettel will be World Champion, unless of course one of the other title contenders pulls off one of the miracles listed below.

Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton is third in the championship, 96 points behind Vettel. Hamilton must score an average of 16 points more than Vettel at each remaining round, plus 1 more point, in order to be World Champion. Let’s leave the gap to Alonso out of this calculation, as it will just get too complicated.

If Hamilton wins each remaining race and Vettel finishes sixth or lower, Hamilton will win the title. If Hamilton finishes second and Vettel ninth each time, plus one tenth or worse for Vettel, Hamilton will be World Champion. However, if Hamilton finishes an average of third or lower, he is out of the title race, regardless of what Vettel does in the remaining races.

Kimi Raikkonen

Raikkonen is in the same boat as Hamilton, being just two points behind the Mercedes driver. The only difference is Raikkonen needs Vettel to finish tenth or lower three times or worse rather than just once in the event that Raikkonen finishes second at each remaining race.

Mark Webber

Webber is fourth in the championship, 117 points behind Vettel. That means he has to score 19.5 more points per race than Vettel if he is to overhaul his team-mate in the title race. If Webber wins each remaining race, he has to hope that Vettel finishes an average of eighth or lower. If Vettel scores 8 more points than Webber at the next race in Korea, Webber will be mathematically out of the title race.

Nico Rosberg

Rosberg is the last driver in the points table who could still, in theory, beat Vettel to the 2013 title. Vettel is 131 points ahead of Rosberg with six races remaining. If Rosberg wins each race and Vettel finishes ninth or lower each time, Rosberg can be World Champion. However, if Rosberg does not finish at least 6 points ahead of Vettel at the next race in Korea, he will no longer be in contention (realistically or otherwise) for the 2013 title.

Realistically, only Alonso is in with a chance, and it’s a small chance at that. But a single retirement from Vettel could suddenly bring Alonso back into contention. A 60 point gap with 6 races remaining seems enormous. A 35 point gap (which is what it would be if Alonso were to win and Vettel score no points in Korea) with 5 races remaining seems slightly less daunting. Another retirement for Vettel with a win for Alonso would see it fall to 10 points.

At the earliest, Vettel could be crowned 2013 World Champion in Japan on 13 October. That’s if he wins the next two rounds (Korea and Japan) and Alonso scores 10 points or fewer in those two races combined. What happens to the other contenders in those two races is immaterial in that scenario.

So the title race is not over, not by any means, but the odds are stacked heavily in Vettel’s favour. It’s unlikely that he will take the title in Japan, but he could do so at the next race in India. That’s if Vettel wins the next three races, no matter where Alonso finishes.

Confident Vettel takes pole in Singapore

Sebastian Vettel on his way to taking pole position in Singapore (Image: Pirelli)

Sebastian Vettel on his way to taking pole position in Singapore (Image: Pirelli)

Sebastian Vettel was so confident after his first run in the final part of today’s qualfiying session, he decided not to go back out on fresh tyres and instead watched from the garage as the other drivers attempted unsuccessfully to beat his early lap time.

It almost went horribly wrong for Vettel. In the dying moments of the Q3 session Mark Webber, Nico Rosberg and Romain Grosjean all delivered strong lap times that secured each of them a top four grid slot, but they didn’t quite have the pace to knock Vettel off the top spot. As a result, Vettel will start this weekend’s race from pole position, his fifth pole of the season and the 41st of his career.

The top five drivers are not much of a surprise, although behind Vettel the order would have been quite difficult to predict. Vettel, Webber, Rosberg and Hamilton have been in the top few places in each practice session this weekend. Grosjean struggled on Friday but showed his pace when he was second fastest in final practice. The big surprise of qualifying came from Kimi Raikkonen, who failed to make Q3 and will start Sunday’s race from 13th on the grid.

Raikkonen’s woes started on Friday, when he hurt his back on the bumpy street circuit. In Saturday’s FP3 session, his running was limited by his back pain, which hurt his qualifying preparation. After having an injection for the pain, he was in the car for qualifying, but struggled to maximise the car’s potential. For Sunday’s race, he will be in the car, but it remains to be seen how well he will do at a very physical track while in a state of discomfort.

Fernando Alonso was outqualified by Felipe Massa for the fifth time this season and the second race in succession. Massa will start sixth, just behind Lewis Hamilton, with Alonso following in seventh place. The battle of the Ferrari drivers could prove entertaining tomorrow, as Massa has stated publicly that he no longer intends to help Alonso now that he is out of a drive at Ferrari at the end of this season. Only once this year has Massa finished ahead of Alonso in a race, and that was in Malaysia where Alonso crashed out.

This qualifying session marked the first time Esteban Gutierrez has featured in Q3 in his F1 career. He opted not to run in Q3 in order to save tyres and have a choice of tyres on which to start the race, but nonetheless qualified 10th, improving on his previous best of 14th. Gutierrez has yet to score points in Formula One, and will be keen to break that duck in tomorrow’s Singapore Grand Prix.

Full results from qualifying:

Pos No Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:45.376 1:42.905 1:42.841
2 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:45.208 1:43.892 1:42.932
3 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:45.851 1:43.957 1:43.058
4 2 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:45.271 1:43.727 1:43.152
5 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:44.196 1:43.920 1:43.254
6 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:45.658 1:44.376 1:43.890
7 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:45.115 1:44.153 1:43.938
8 5 Jenson Button McLaren 1:45.009 1:44.497 1:44.282
9 19 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:45.379 1:44.407 1:44.439
10 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:45.483 1:44.245
11 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:45.381 1:44.555
12 18 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:45.657 1:44.588
13 7 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus 1:45.522 1:44.658
14 6 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:45.164 1:44.752
15 15 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:45.960 1:45.185
16 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:45.982 1:45.388
17 14 Paul di Resta Force India 1:46.121
18 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:46.619
19 20 Charles Pic Caterham 1:48.111
20 21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:48.320
21 22 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:48.830
22 23 Max Chilton Marussia 1:48.930
Q1 107% Time 1:51.489
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