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.
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.
Sebastian Vettel shocked the racing world this morning by announcing his retirement from Formula 1 with immediate effect. Vettel is looking forward to spending more time with his model train collection, a pleasure that his hectic Formula 1 schedule had made all but impossible for the past few years.
Speaking from his Thurgovia, Switzerland home today, Vettel expressed relief that he had finally come to this difficult decision, saying, “It’s such a weight off my shoulders. This whole domination thing… it’s not really me. I prefer to just have fun in my sport. Winning’s really not my main priority.
“It’s been hard for me in Formula 1. Although I come across as a ruthless perfectionist who will do anything to win a race, I’m really a softy at heart. I felt bad for all the other guys every time I beat them in the last four years. They wanted those championships so badly, but I was really just here for the free energy drinks.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was not surprised by Vettel’s decision. He praised the young German’s courage in taking such a selfless step, saying, “Seb’s just such a nice guy. He feels it’s time for Fernando [Alonso] to get that third title he’s wanted for so long, and he knows the only way that’s going to happen is if he [Vettel] isn’t there anymore.
“As for all of us at Red Bull, we fully support Seb’s retirement. Our projections for the 2014 season had us just beating Mercedes and Ferrari at the last race, but with Seb gone, it looks like we’re out of the fight now. It’s only fair, really. We’ve had enough success.”
Horner also suggested that Vettel may have patched up his relationship with Mark Webber, Vettel’s former team-mate at Red Bull. Webber confirmed the good news, describing the plans he and Vettel have for the future:
“Seb’s such a great guy. We had our problems in the past, but it was all because I didn’t understand Seb’s motivation. He didn’t want to beat me so comprehensively. All he really wanted was to make sure he earned as many free Red Bull drinks as possible. I didn’t know he got a crate for every lap he led for Red Bull. If I’d had that in my contract, I’d have driven a whole lot faster.
“Now that he’s decided to hang up his helmet, we’re going to spend some time together with our model trains. Between us, we’ve got a big enough collection to cover the Monte Carlo street circuit. We’re hoping to put it on show for this year’s Monaco Grand Prix, assuming Bernie [Ecclestone] will allow it.”
Ecclestone was not available for comment. He was too busy listening to the sound of V8 engines with a vacant grin on his face to answer questions about Formula 1.
11 Formula One teams head to Austin, Texas, this weekend for the United States Grand Prix. It’s the second running of the event at the Circuit of the Americas, which was purpose-built for Formula One.
The track is one of just five anti-clockwise circuits on the F1 calendar, the others being Singapore, Korea, Abu Dhabi and Brazil. The Circuit of the Americas consists of 20 corners, including some that are reminiscent of well known curves on other tracks – notably part of the first sector strong resembles the Maggots-Becketts-Chapel complex at Silverstone, and turns 16 to 18 are a mirror of the long, flat-out triple-apex turn 8 at Istanbul Park in Turkey.
Of the drivers racing this weekend, only Lewis Hamilton has ever won the United States Grand Prix. He won the last event held at Indianapolis in his rookie season of 2007 and won again last year when F1 returned to the US at the Circuit of the Americas. If Hamilton is to maintain his perfect record in the US (he has only raced there twice, and won both times), he will have to beat Sebastian Vettel, who is certainly the form man in Formula One after winning his fourth World Championship just a few weeks ago.
This weekend, for the first time since he returned to Formula One in 2012, Kimi Raikkonen will be absent from a Grand Prix. The Finn has elected to miss the final two races of 2013 in order to have surgery to alleviate pain in his back that has apparently troubled him since a heavy testing crash back in 2001.
Lotus have yet to announce the identity of Raikkonen’s replacement for these final two races. Nico Hulkenberg’s manager confirmed this week that Lotus had asked Hulkenberg to race for them, but Hulkenberg turned down the request as he is still committed to Sauber for the rest of the season.
Although Lotus have a full-time reserve in Davide Valsecchi, it looks increasingly unlikely that he will be asked to step in for Raikkonen. The strongest rumours at present are that Heikki Kovalainen will drive for Lotus in the USA and Brazil. The popular and highly-rated Finn has not raced in F1 this season, but has taken part in some Friday practice sessions for Caterham. Kovalainen previously raced for Lotus (when they were called Renault) in 2007, before moving on to McLaren, where he spent two seasons and scored his only F1 victory to date.
Pirelli are bringing their two hardest compounds – the hard and medium tyres – to this weekend’s race. Pirelli’s motorsport boss Paul Hembery explains the choice of tyres and what we can expect in terms of pit stops on Sunday:
“The hard and medium tyres are the best choice for the United States Grand Prix, because it’s a circuit that places several high-energy demands on the tyres, so you need the most durable compounds in the range. There are some fast corners and many rapid elevation changes as well: in that respect it’s a bit like Spa. When you have more energy going through the tyre, you have a bigger heat build-up – which is what increases wear and degradation.
“Now that we’re coming to the USA for the second time we have a better idea of what to expect, whereas last year – when we also nominated the hard and the medium – it was much more of a step into the unknown. This year’s compounds are softer, so we would expect around two pit stops in the race, depending also on the rate of track evolution. Even though it’s November we’re still likely to have warm weather, which obviously affects thermal degradation too.”
Circuit Length: 5.513 km
Race laps: 56
Race length: 308.405 km
Lap Record: 1:39.347 – Sebastian Vettel / Red Bull Racing (2012)
Race winner: Lewis Hamilton / McLaren
Pole position: Sebastian Vettel / Red Bull Racing – 1:35.657
Fastest lap: Sebastian Vettel / Red Bull Racing – 1:39.347
Accuweather.com is predicting a chance of rain on Saturday, which could result in a mixed-up qualifying session if the weather does intervene. Formula1.com, the official Formula 1 website, is showing a forecast of thunderstorms for Saturday. Friday and Sunday are expected to be dry.
The weekend should generally be warm, which will be good for racing and for race fans who will hopefully turn out in great numbers as they did last year.
If anyone other than Sebastian Vettel wins on Sunday, it will be an unlikely result. Vettel has won the last seven races in a row in commanding fashion, showing that he is in arguably the form of his career. At this point of the season, the Red Bull RB9 is easily the fastest car in the field, which makes it certain that Vettel and team-mate Mark Webber will be competitive this weekend. Vettel is the firm favourite to win in Texas on Sunday.
Qualifying could provide an interesting battle of the team-mates. In recent races, Mark Webber has found a bit of extra pace and has had two pole positions, including last time out in Abu Dhabi where he produced a stunning lap in qualfiying to relegate Vettel to second on the grid. With just two races left in his F1 career, Webber will be keen to end on a high note, and starting from pole position this weekend would certainly help his cause in that regard.
Sebastian Vettel secured his fourth consecutive World Drivers’ Championship last weekend in India, winning the race in commanding fashion and underlining just how dominant he is at this stage of his career. After the race, he celebrated by doing doughnuts on the start-finish straight. His celebrations earned him a reprimand from the stewards, who also fined his Red Bull team for the incident.
The rules of Formula One are clear – each driver must proceed directly to parc fermé after the race in order for the cars to be scrutineered in the condition that they were in when they finished the race. The purpose of that rule is simple – these cars run on the limits of weight restrictions and various other regulations and the rules are designed to stop the teams from, among other things, finding ways to add weight to the cars post-race.
And here’s why Vettel’s reprimand is ridiculous: his doughnuts after the race could not possibly have helped him in scrutineering. Spinning up the rear tyres as required for doughnuts heats them up and wears them down, which reduces the overall weight of the car. Additionally, revving the engine as required to do doughnuts burns fuel, which again reduces the weight of the car.
In Formula One, each car is required to provide a fuel sample after the race, and consequently each car must have a certain amount of fuel remaining when it reaches scrutineering. Vettel’s doughnuts, which would have reduced the amount of fuel he had in the car, could only have taken him closer to risking not having enough fuel for the required sample.
In short, by celebrating his fourth World Championship in the manner he chose, Vettel could not possibly have gained any advantage in post-race scrutineering. The problem then is not what Vettel did, but the rules themselves. They are intended to prevent post-race cheating, but they ended up punishing an action that was clearly not going to give Vettel or Red Bull any advantage.
Apart from the technical side of the rules and the offence, the reprimand showed the disregard that Formula One rule-makers have for the fans of the sport. Vettel’s post-race celebrations were very well received by an enthusiastic crowd in India. Formula One has been trying to build up a following in India, and what Vettel did can only have helped that cause. He engaged with the fans by sharing his moment of glory with them before he shared it with anyone else.
The FIA should be recognising the positive work Vettel has done in bringing F1 closer to the fans in India, rather than punishing him for breaking a rule in a manner that could not have given him an advantage anyway.